Give us your famished, your ravenous, your hungry masses yearning to eat freely—and chow down on ribs, beef brisket and chicken slathered in tangy sauce and smoked over a wood fire. Here’s where to find the local ’Que.
By Dina Cheney
Photography by Iko
Classic rock blares from speakers while the intoxicating aroma of wood smoke, mustard, and spices suffuses the air. A motorcycle club from Texas downs pints of beer and spoons brisket onto the white bread they’ve brought with them. While one club member heads to the kitchen to critique the pit-master, a neighboring diner in a Zegna suit and Rolex watch demurely cuts into his pulled pork sandwich and scolds his young daughter for squirting sauce all over the table.
This is a typical scene from a barbecue restaurant—and it could just be in Westchester County. In the past two years, three ’Que joints have opened—one in Valhalla, another in Port Chester, and the third in White Plains.
But, before we hit our local barbecue trail, some clarification is in order. Although many of us Northerners think barbecuing means grilling in our backyards, it actually refers to cooking “slow and low” over indirect heat for a long time. After meat is rubbed with spices, it’s cooked in a smoker, essentially a log-filled firebox with a smoking chamber on top. Ask to see these monoliths, which can be 2,500 pounds and as wide as three ovens—they’re the heart and soul (not to mention the pride and joy) of every barbecue restaurant.
After cooking on low heat for several hours, the meat becomes fork-tender and acquires a smoky taste and a pink hue. At this point, the meat is set on the grill or on the char-broiler, where it’s usually “mopped” with a ketchup-based barbecue sauce. This time, high heat warms up the meat and caramelizes the sugary sauce, leaving the exterior crisp, brown, and lacquered.
Hungry yet? We haven’t even gotten to the sides, sometimes the best part of a barbecue meal. Traditionally, barbecue joints serve up macaroni and cheese, collard greens, baked beans, cornbread, biscuits, coleslaw, and other high-fat, high-sugar, highly delicious fare. Remember to try everything—the one rule when eating barbecue is you must leave stuffed. Brad McAllister, a partner at Valhalla’s Southbound Bar-B-Que, says, “If you can’t pig out at a barbecue place, where can you?” Remember his words of wisdom as you prepare for your own cross-Westchester barbecue tour.
Q Restaurant & Bar
112 N. Main St., Port Chester
With its open stainless-steel kitchen, hanging globe lights, and orange plastic chairs, Q Restaurant & Bar looks more Manhattan than Memphis, but it turns out damn good barbecue.
In February 2005, husband and wife Jennifer and Jeffrey Kohn opened their doors. (You may know the Kohns from their bread shop, The Kneaded Bread, located just up the street.) This was no hasty maneuver: following his training at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Jeffrey worked at the Manhattan barbecue restaurant Duke’s and, with his wife, visited barbecue joints in Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, and Kansas City.
“Only a small fraction of barbecue cooks are formally trained,” he reports. “My training really helps me create good food.”
Kohn applied his education to the development of Q’s signature barbecue sauce. “I needed to achieve the perfect balance of acid, sugar, and heat,” he explains. That he did. The addictive sauce is slathered on every piece of meat that enters the massive Southern Pride smoker.
In addition to the sweet and smoky ribs, moist barbecue chicken, tender brisket, and pulled pork, you must try the wings. Smothered with sweet sauce, they’re crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and accompanied by a thick, tangy blue cheese dressing. With a side of crispy, salty hand-cut fries, you too might find the assemblage to be the best-tasting barbecue plate in the county.
But before you swear undying loyalty to the wings, try the collard greens—they’re simply the best I’ve ever tasted. Cooked until tender with sugar, vinegar, bacon, and ham hocks, they reach the perfect balance between sweet, salty, smoky, and tart.
301 Columbus Ave., Valhalla
(914) 644-7427, www.southboundbbq.com
(live music Friday and Saturday nights)
Although it’s less than two years old, roadhouse-style Southbound looks like it’s been there forever. It was, in fact, the first full-service barbecue establishment to open in the county. In October 2003, business partners and best friends Dan Sullivan and Brad McAllister converted a 50-year-old German restaurant, Franzl’s, into what is today a bustling, down-home source for authentic barbecue. “You can’t make it any more authentic—unless you fly to Memphis,” says McAllister.
The CIA-trained McAllister spent a year working a barbecue pit in South Carolina before heading north to start the business. Sullivan is no barbecue slouch either: he’s a certified judge for the Kansas City Barbecue Society and a member, along with McAllister, of the other NBA: the National Barbecue Association.
That background is evident in the results. Even from the street, it’s obvious that Southbound, with its neon pig and beer signs, is pure, downhome kitsch; you’ll swear you’re on Route 66 when you see the old rusted corrugated tin ceiling, license plates, framed velvet Elvis silkscreen, and sunglass-clad boar’s head hung over the kitchen door. With its loud classic blues and rock, Christmas-light-strung bar, and convivial, jeans-clad waitstaff, the restaurant is a great place to have a rollicking good time.
The unpretentious, fun attitude carries over to the food. Every meal at Southbound starts with warm, homemade seasoned potato chips, soon followed by melt-in-your-mouth-tender shredded beef brisket; thick, moist cornbread; sweet, slightly smoky baked beans with sausage, onions, and green pepper; and, of course, St. Louis-style ribs (center bone only, usually with a dry rub instead of wet sauce). All the meat has been lightly spiced and can be finished at the table with a variety of condiments, including four barbecue sauces. If you can manage to get up, ask to see the 2,500-pound J&R Manufacturing smoker, hand-built in Mesquite, TX.
“In our parking lot, we always have a half dozen license plates from places like the Carolinas and Texas,” says Sullivan. “They’re in here just daring us to make good barbecue, but they don’t think it can be done.” And? “Ninety percent of the time, they’re satisfied. Of course, they still give us advice.”
577 N. Broadway, White Plains
Jimmie Lee’s is probably the first barbecue restaurant to have a professional golfer as its muse—specifically, Jimmie Lee Thorpe of the Senior PGA Tour. Whenever he was in the area for tournaments, the North Carolina native would bemoan the lack of local barbecue restaurants.
Heeding this cry, Mike Subin, whose father is good friends with Thorpe, and his CIA-trained best friend and roommate, Mannah Kallon,
decided to open up shop. In preparation, Kallon spent several months on a research trip in North Carolina and joined the National Barbecue Association.
The result? A menu that says barbecue with an inventive touch. “We add a new element to everything we do,” says Kallon. That means a grilled chicken sandwich served with pickled jalapeÃ±os rather than pickled cucumbers; breaded and fried grits with raspberry coulis and a grilled peach; sweet potato soufflÃ© topped with marshmallow fluff.
Also, be sure to sample the macaroni and cheese—some of the best I’ve had. Elbow macaroni are swathed in a dry mustard-and-sharp cheddar sauce and topped with a crunchy crumb topping. Likewise, the chicken, smoked on top of a beer can, is moist and spicy; the Brunswick stew is complex and loaded with corn, beans, and tomatoes; and the cornbread with honey butter couldn’t be sweeter, more tender, or more decadent.
Unlike at Q, the meat comes to the table unsauced. “We want you to taste the meat before you apply one of our four sauces,” says Kallon.
While you’re pigging out, don’t forget to take in the working jukebox, license plates (“You can’t be a barbecue place without them,” says Kallon), bullhorns, and other Americana dÃ©cor straight from eBay and flea markets.
Food writer Dina Cheney learned that barbecue is addictive and she’s still dreaming of the wings at Q.