Thursday, March 30, 2006

Stalvey's BBQ - Jacksonville, FL.

Monday, Mike and I tried a BBQ place just down the road from his house called Stalvey's bbq. His parents really like this place.

I ordered the pulled pork, the ribs, and the brisket. In this image you cannot see the brisket, but its there. The sides were beans and cheese grits.

Let's start with the Q. I couldn't sense real smoke from anything except the slightest hint from the ribs. They had no rub or anything on them. They were typical Florida ribs. They were a little greasy, but they were the best thing on the menu. The pulled pork had no smoke and were pretty tasteless. The brisket was chopped up like pork, which to me is heresy. You slice brisket. People from Texas would be offended.

The beans were OK, but tasted like they were pretty much out of the can, and just cooked in the oven. The cheese grits were the worst. It was regular grits and they took bagged, shredded cheddar and just threw it on top. It wasn't even melted. The garlic toast wasn't even that great.

I know some of you think I am harsh on BBQ places, but let me assure you I am a lightweight when it comes to judging. You need to check out this web site:

He pulls absolutely NO punches. He has three kinds of Q:

1. Eating Q
2. Sandwich grade - second rate and better than throwing away
3. Inlaw/Dog grade - not worth eating.

Much of the Q he analyzes in TX bareley makes sandwich grade. I can totally relate to this. There is so much Q out there, but the problem is much of it is bad. The people out there with BBQ places need to wake up and stop being so lazy. I am convinced a lot of them think that they can just throw a hunk of meat on a grill and call it BBQ. People like me who really like BBQ are on a quest for those places who are as meticulous about their Q as a high class French resturant in New York by an Iron Chef. We expect the best ingredients and cuts of meat, natural ingredients (not packed with MSG and all that crap), and we expect attention to detail when it comes to cooking. This means a thought out process on the type of wood, how long to smoke, how the meat is treated after initial cooking. Its not just about the week. We want sauces that compliment the meat, not hide its problems. We expect side items that are the best we've ever had from grandma. In order to get this quality of food, we are willing to sacrifice cleanliness and the place being in a safe part of town. We willing to sacrifice however much $$$ to get the taste we deserve.

So back to my original thought - I taste a lot of Q. I am on a Quest and I expect nothing less than the best from every place. Because of this I am disappointed quite a bit. While something can be said for judging a place from one day and one specific order of meat, I still think on their worst day, the best BBQ places are obvious.

Well, I have a few more places to try before Sunday when Mike and I hit the road to Charlotte for another BBQ run to NC. We are on a trip to get some training for work. I'm mapping out all the places along I-95 to try this week. We will meet up with James Pulley, who promises me some good places. As a native of the area, my expectations for his taste buds to know premium q are high. We'll see.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Down South Barbeque - Ponte Vedra, FL

On 3/24, we tried Down South BBQ. It is located in Ponte Vedra, just past Sawgrass. This was the week of some golf thing so there was a bit more traffic than usual. Golf is useless. BBQ is not. Anyway, we tried it and it was .... OK. They had a lot of sauces to choose from. Many were on the sweeter side, but overall it was much better than the standard JAX place. I do like that they had 8 or so sauces to choose from. There was Georgia (which I thought was overall the best) which was a sweet mustard based. There was South Carolina (similar but tasted like it had horseradish in it), Memphis and Kansas City (sweet red sauces), hot, North Carolina (which was a vinegar base), and there was a couple of others I can't recall.

I had the ribs and pork combo with BBQ beans and greens. The greens were not that great. The BBQ beans were probably better than most around JAX so no complaints there. The "ribs" were baby back ribs and they were a little burnt. Had they not been burnt they would have been better, but these were like Applebees ribs, not "real" ribs. The pork was pulled but it was hard to find any smoke in either that or the ribs.

So overall, Down South rates about a 5.5 or so. It's not great, but its edible, and the sauces are much better than the standard JAX sauces. They are not too expensive so somehow their location in Ponte Vedra hasn't affected them - yet.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Clarks Fish Camp - Jacksonville, FL

Last night we tried Clark's Fish Camp off of St. Augustine Rd in Jacksonville. It's been over 10 years since I was there last. Since then I have traveled quite a bit and samples a lot of great places. This place is right on the water at a boat dock on the river and it opens at 4:30 p.m. and it startes filling up fast after 5 p.m. So we go over there and the first thing we see on the menu is that they use MSG in their spices. That's strike #1. They do have a full menu of stuff, and even wild game. This is the first place I have seen where you can order Kangaroo!

I had the charbroiled grouper and some steamed mussells. I wasn't impressed. The fish was overcooked on the top and the mussells were real chewy. The sides were the best. The hushpuppies were good, the green beans were also good. But it was probably injected with MSG flavor enhancers.

The one thing I can say is that the service was good. I just cannot for the life of me figure out what makes this place so popular. The food I saw on other people's tables just didn't hit me as all that pleasant looking. The smell in the bar area was very musty (wet I suppose from being on a dock basically) and there was this very thick moldy stuff covering the air vents in the ceiling. It definitely needs a little clean up job. But when we left they had cars parked all along the sides of the road, and this was on a Wednesday night. So you would have thought this was the best place in town. NOT! I am still looking for a good seafood place. We are in Florida and less than 10 miles from the beach so you would think this would be relatively easy. So far it has not been.

Today we are going to try "Down South" BBQ out at Ponte Vedra. We'll see if the fancy, dancy part of JAX has anything better to offer than the mustard swill found in other places.....


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Dixie Bones - Fairview, VA

Here is a pic of Dixie Bones in Virginia. The folks there are originally from Alabama, so that is the kind of BBQ it was. It was not that impressive, but they had a white sauce that was almost like ranch dressing. It was good, but I would not consider than a real BBQ sauce. I remembered Bob Gibson's place in AL had that crap too. People were starting to line up on a sunday morning at a 11 a.m. as you can see:


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Wilber's BBQ - Goldsboro, NC

Alright, so everyone on this messageboard was talking about Wilber's BBQ in Goldsboro, NC:

So we decided to take a little deviation from our regular route to find this place. My Microsoft Streets and Trips 2006 was useless. When I looked for BBQ places in Goldsboro, this place never came up. Then I looked up addresses and to make a long story short, we went on a wild goose chase all around Goldsboro until we found it. We were looking for 4192 EAST Hwy 70, and we ended all the way across town at 4192 WEST 70 thanks to Bill Gates and his wonderful staff of map readers. So while we were over there I snagged this bit of trivia for ya. NC wants to prove its the pork capital of the world, but if you see this sign you are on the opposite side of town than Wilber's:

But I had come too far to be denied so after a bit of a search we finally found it and here's proof:

And here is the plate I ate today:

This was authentic East Carolina BBQ. This means that the pork does not hide behind any sauce, but a vinegar base is used to keep the pork moist. Since it is basically pork by itself, it will be either great or suck. In this case, it was good. The chicken has a vinegar base and also a clear, cream sauce, almost like cream of chicken soup. It was not what I would call BBQ, but its what the locals call it. I would say this is a unique BBQ class on its own. I would like to try others, but I am not sure you can compare it to others. This means I have a hard time putting a rating around it. I wasn't totally blown away. However, they did a good job with the sides. The cole slaw was better than all the places in Jacksonville put together. It had a tad of horseradish in it which gave it a nice bite. The potatoe salad was also decent, and I'm not really a potatoe salad kind of guy. The waitress was very friendly and when she found out we were on the quest for Q, she brought us out a local favorite side for free - the boiled hot potatoes. These are basically boiled potatoes with hot sauce in the water. It gives it a unique flavor. I would not have thought of that, for sure. So I have to say this was at least a 7 on the Q scale, if nothing else than for originality and service. The plates were about 8 dollars or so.

Just FYI - The western part of NC celebrates the "Lexington" style, which is closer to the Memphis style with a red sauce. I'm still looking for a good example of this. Perhaps we will find something enroute back to Nashville since we are going back a different way than we came.

Soooo..... we ended up in Richmond, VA at the end of the day. I am doing some research on the web tonight to see where our next adventure in Q will take us. Today was a nice change of pace.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Bull's BBQ was a Bono's copycat, and not as good. The following day we tried a place called the Rib Shack just down the street. It was recommended on a blog somewhere. Man, I don't know what these people have been eating all their lives, but no one yet has come up with a good recommendation for BBQ. Jacksonville seems to have the suck factor on high when it comes to good Q!

We are now on another one of our infamous road trips. Today we hit Florence, SC and tried Roger's Barbeque. It was bragged about in a couple of places. First off, this place ain't even in the league. Its a family style buffet with seafood, BBQ, and home cookin viddles. It just happens to have some BBQ in it. That includes ribs, chicken, and some pulled pork. If you look at this place as just a home cookin soul food type of place, its ok. The greens had fatback in them, the fried fish were good. But this ain't no competition BBQ meat, that is for sure. It's smothered in sauce. There is no dry rub option. Its like someone cooked BBQ on their home GAS grill and stored it in tin foil until the relatives came over to eat it. So, although this is a good down home place, they should just name it "Roger's Placet". We wanted to at least give them a try because they are only open Thursday through Sunday and usually those are the kinds of places that are really good. So I would give this place about a 5 on the scale of 1 to 10 when it comes to real Q, but about a 7.5 as far as overall food. The place was a little bit TOO down home for my taste, as all the people looked like my relatives and I felt like I was at a family reunion or something. There were no booths or seperation of tables, just as many as they could fit in a room bunched up together. Right now my gut feels like someone sucker punched me in the stomache about an hour ago. Guess I'll need to sip the pink stuff tonight in order to get to sleep.

Still searching for the true Carolina BBQ. Tomorrow we hit Richmond, VA and we'll see what wonderful things we find.....


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Boulder Trip and Bull's BBQ in Jacksonville

I have been slipping in a little Q into my diet lately, while still trying to keep what weight I have lost off of me. Just got back from Boulder and Denver on a business trip. Had fun, but there is no Q over there to speak of. I did try a coffee shop called Peaberry Coffee, and it is probably one of the best coffees I've had. I have been trying to do more tea and decaf drinks instead of coffee. I have had two cups of regular coffee since I quit in January. I am getting to where I don't miss it. Instead, I am drinking more hot tea, which I understand is good for you anyway. I like peppermint tea and some of the other decaf blends. I have about two hot cups a day at least, which the boiling water and splenda. I have been drinking unsweet ice tea and adding splenda if they have it, or else nothing added. I think keeping the sugar down if I can is probably a key to my success for feeling better. While we were in Boulder we had to check out Celestial Seasonings. Their HQ is just north of Boulder and they have over 96 flavors of tea. We bought just a little because we could only fit so much in our suitcase for the flight home. I'll be buying some more online once we settle down somewhere and stop traveling so much.

If you are ever in Boudler and want to stay in a REALLY nice place, check out St. Julien Hotel and Spa. Its new and upscale. The rooms are great. I suggest suite 356. It is possibly the best room with the biggest private balcony with a view of the mountain. You can sit and dine on your balcony and watch the sun set. The 42 inch LCD digital TV on the wall is a nice touch. The bed is one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in. Check out the Walnut Brewery for some huge salads too!!

On my last trip to Cincinnati about a month ago we decided to stop by Jucy's on the way home. It was good, as usual. I have been trying to eat less when I do eat the Q so I can enjoy it more frequently. If I can keep my exercise up and watch my portions, I might be able to sneak it in more often. Since I haven't totally given up coffee (but just rarely drinking it) we also had to stop by Jungle Jim's and get some of that Highlander Grogg - but this time the decaf version. It smells so good I could just grind it up to smell up the house and it would be ok with me.

We had to go down to Sebring, FL for a couple of days around 2/24, and we stayed at "INN on the Lakes" there. I would definitely recommend their Hong Kong wings at the internal restaurant Chicane's. We ate them every night. They are really good. Got us hooked back on wings again.

Monday we tried Gator's Dockside Wings in Jacksonville. It has been about 4 years since I have had their grilled wings, which I do like. They weren't as good as I remember, but this was the Baymeadows location. At the other end of the strip mall is "Bull's BBQ" and I saw smoke so I figured I would give that a try. So yesterday we decided to stop in for an early dinner. I got the chicken and rib combo. This place is what Bono's would be if they sunk to a lower level. The ribs were definitely sub-par and a little too greasy. The chicken was a little more moist than Bono's (which can sometimes be a bit dry), but their sauces were not decent at all. The sweet sauce wasn't really sweet, the hot mustard sauce was not even hot, and their standard mustard sauce tasted like they put a bunch of oily italian salad dressing in it. Their baked beans were basically Bush's beans poured right out of the can and heated up. The slaw was limp and had little flavor outside the mayo that coated it. I would give Bull's about a 3 or a 4. It's not inedible, but I would go to Bono's over them any day, and that's not saying much about Bono's so don't get the wrong impression.

I am going to try another place today called the "Rib Shack" which is close to where we are staying that I did not know about. I recently got Microsoft Streets and Trips and I just found the feature where you can locate all of the BBQ places within a certian radius. It's a pretty cool feature that will help you find those out of the way spots you won't see from just driving down a busy street.

Anyway, I saw on one blog where they have good BBQ and bananna pudding so I'm going to try that. Will have a review right here.

We will be taking a trip over the weekend all the way up to near Philadelphia, PA. I intend to use my new tool to find out all the BBQ places within 2 miles of the main roads we will be on. You can bet I'll be talking up the good spots so I don't forget.