THE BITE: Before I begin this, I must tell you a little about my background. I have been competing in the competitive barbecue circuit for about eight years. I won awards for my barbecue. The Daily News, Time Out New York, New York Magazine and other places have published my recipes. I have appeared on multiple TV and radio shows to talk about barbecue.
When it comes to barbecue I know of what I speak.
As a result of my passion for the ‘Que, I am very particular when it comes to restaurant “barbecue.” Simply dousing meat with “barbecue” sauce does not equal barbecue to me. True traditional barbecue is a cheap piece of meat that has been slow smoked for hours. There’s a magic that occurs in the smoke. Tough, chewy, dense meat is broken down, until it is juicy, tender and just about perfect. It’s pretty simple stuff and most shops offering barbecue don’t even begin to get it right.
But, when ShadowLock recommended that I check out Wildwood Foods (1204 Neptune Avenue) for their barbecue ribs, I couldn’t be more excited. Had one of our readers stumbled across some real BBQ in our neck of the woods?
As I pulled into Wildwood’s parking lot, I was immediately accosted by a rather large man in a chicken suit who shoved a coupon into my car window. After I parked, I looked over the flier and discovered Wildwood’s “7 for $7” deals. These deals range from “Wildwood Wings,” to a “Wildwood BBQ Salad.”
The deal that really caught my eye was the offer for a one-third slab of St. Louis ribs with two sides and corn bread.
Now a slab of pork ribs can contain anywhere from 11 to 14 bones, depending on how the pig is butchered. One-third slab meant that I was going to get 3 or 4 bones for my meal. This looks like it’s going to be a great deal.
Walking into the store, I was a little hesitant. Would I be able to find real, slow smoked barbecue here? There was no hint of smoke in the air and none of the usual decor traditionally associated with barbecue. On first impression, Wildwood Foods reminds me very much of Chicken Masters with it’s big open room and counter in the back.
Stepping up to the counter, I immediately ordered the rib platter and ask the cashier to recommend some side dishes. It was an odd conversation as she wouldn’t commit to any. I’ve encountered this before, but usually if a waitstaff won’t recommend anything in particular, they’ll at least offer up one dish, saying, “Well, the collard greens are very popular” or something to that effect. Here, nothing.
When asked about the choice between the corn bread and biscuit, suddenly the cashier had an opinion and highly recommended the biscuit. It was a very good choice. This biscuit wasn’t flaky as its consistency was more like bread, but it was very tasty and surprisingly light. It was far and away the best part of the meal.
For my two sides, I chose the baked beans and the potato wedges. The beans were tasty, but generic and could have come from any grocery store shelf. The potato wedges, on the other hand, looked like they came from a spray tan booth as they were an orange color not found in nature. They ranged in size from what appeared to be a wedge cut from a potato the size of a grapefruit to wedges cut from potatoes the size of grapes. They were lightly salted, and due to the size variations, some were overcooked while others were still hard and raw.
As for the ribs, well, they were the very low point of the meal. The menu advertised “St. Louis cut” ribs, and these were not. A St. Louis cut is a very specific method of trimming a rack of ribs where the rack of ribs is cut into a rectangular shape that allows for even cooking. It’s a fairly long process, but essential in creating the perfect meaty rib. It’s a time consuming process, but friend Joshua Bousel from The Meatwave has a great post on how to do it. You can check it out here.
Picking up the un-trimmed rib, taking a bite, I was immediately hit with a surprisingly spicy sauce that had a great snap to it. This was a brave choice as most barbecue sauces tend to be overly sweet. Things were looking up, but, unfortunately, dropped quickly from there.
The meat of the ribs tasted as if they were boiled. There was no hint of smoke; not in the smell, not in the taste. The meat of true barbecue ribs will often be pink, or at least have a “smoke ring” of pink meat on the outside of the rib. Here the meat was uniformly grey.
The meat seemed dried out and overcooked, which could be the result of being held too long after cooking. I encountered something I’ve never experienced before: this meat was falling off the bone, a sure sign of over cooking, but it was hard, chewy and still had un-rendered fat pockets which usually indicates that the ribs are under cooked or cooked too fast. I’m a bit dumbfounded on how they pulled this off.
Was Wildwood Foods really as bad as all that? It’s hard for me to say. I’ll admit it. When I go into a restaurant offering barbecue, I usually have a chip on my shoulder. It’s very difficult for a barbecue restaurant to impress me. Sometimes I’ll admit to myself that I’m being overly critical and I approach restaurant barbecue much as the Miranda character approaches Andy as she disses the cerulean sweater in The Devil Wears Prada.
Wildwood Foods, 1204 Neptune Avenue, (718) 676-5888.
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.