Great barbecue spots in the Hudson Valley
GalleriesQ Restaurant & Bar in Port Chester
Barbecue lovers are like those obsessed with golf: They are passionate, opinionated, optimistic and will do anything to satisfy their cravings. And in the Hudson Valley, those connoisseurs have a few options for the good stuff, although they may need to travel a bit to get their fix.
"People find us, although we're out in the country," said Chris Norstein, co-owner with her husband, Warren, of Big W's Roadside Bar-B-Que in Wingdale. "Around here, people who really love barbecue are almost like a wandering cult."
American barbecue is distinctly regional, with numerous cooking methods -- long smoking versus medium smoking, hardwood versus mixed wood, sauced versus nonsauced -- and a little of each can be found in the area. For the most part, though, you will find variations of what is called the St. Louis method, long-smoked over hardwood and served with a sweet-tart sauce.
Here are five area barbecue spots worth exploring.
License plates from three (or more) states shuffle in and out of this monument to porcine bliss in the Dutchess County hamlet of Wingdale, about 15 minutes north of Pawling (1475 Route 22, Wingdale; 845-832-6200; bigwsbbq.com).
By most accounts, this is the area's barbecue gold standard. Co-owner Warren Norstein has been at it for many years, and in several locations. Each week, he slow-cooks over hardwood some 4,000 pounds of meat and poultry. Most is sold for takeout, although there is a tiny, fluorescent-lit dining room, too.
"We still run out around 8 p.m. every day," he said.
Big W's meat is smoked for a relatively long time, resulting in more intensity of flavor than you might find elsewhere. Everything is recommendable: rack of pork, pulled pork, brisket and sundry sandwiches for eating in the parking lot. Among the many sides are smoky beans, sweet corn pudding, hush puppies and dirty rice. A hefty, one-person combo plate goes for $25.
Big W's is open Wednesday-Saturday from noon to about 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. The restaurant is closed Monday and Tuesday.
Holy Smoke in Mahopac
This 9-year-old, off-the-track barbecue and beer roadhouse is known for its sweet St. Louis-style ribs, as well as its 17-hour, dry-rubbed and smoked pork, beef and chicken (241 Route 6N, Mahopac; 845-628-9795; holysmokebbq.net). If you like smoked chicken, which tends to dry out during long cooking, try it here, as the birds remain moist and crisp. Another good choice is pulled pork, which is semisweet and cut with a little vinegar.
Portions are tremendous, and side dishes include meat chili, macaroni and cheese, cheesy creamed spinach and sweet potato fries. In addition to its popular barbecue, Holy Smoke is renowned in brewing circles, as it features 30 craft beers on draft and many more in bottles. The restaurant sponsors frequent beer events, some featuring visiting brewers from across the country. The dining room serves more than 100, so it can get loud. Servers are neighborly and hardworking.
Holy Smoke is open Tuesday-Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to about 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to about 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. The restaurant is closed Monday.
Max's Memphis BBQ in Red Hook
The large, pale yellow, clapboard building that houses Max's Memphis BBQ hardly looks like a smokin' barbecue shack from the outside, and the upmarket interior -- three pastel-shaded dining rooms with a large mezzanine and splays of flowers -- similarly screams anything but smoked meat. But the food tells a different story (136 S. Broadway, Red Hook; 845-758-6297; maxsbbq.com).
Max's hickory smoking is done in the St. Louis style; that is, on the sweet side and a little sticky. The meat smokes for up to 15 hours, which imparts a medium-intensity flavor. Among the most popular items are pulled pork, hickory-smoked chicken, smoked beef brisket, brined and smoked chicken, and a bracing Guinness Stout and mixed bean chili. There are also collard greens, cheese grits, macaroni and cheese, and garlic mashed potatoes.
Young couples gravitate to the citified 16-seat bar, where you'll find a small selection of New York State beers on tap as well as nearly 40 bourbons and other whiskeys. Service is more professional than at the average rib house. Max's sister restaurant, the Mexican hot spot Santa Fe, is in nearby Tivoli.
Max's is closed Monday and open Tuesday-Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m.
Q, as it's known, has avid partisans among area barbecue cognoscenti, and lots of them (112 N. Main St., Port Chester; 914-933-7427; qrestaurantandbar.com). Started eight years ago by Jeff Kohn, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and the owner of The Kneaded Bread bakery, the restaurant has an upbeat vibe and a retro '50s look. Adorning the orange walls are giant framed posters of the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Counter service and table service are offered.
Before opening Q, Kohn traveled across the country, sampling barbecue, and came back rating Kansas City-style tops.
"There's a lot of good and a lot of bad barbecue out there," he said. "Kansas City has a great way of cooking, and I like a little sweet-hot sauce, which they do out there."
On the menu, you'll find chopped barbecue salad, brisket, chicken wings, pulled pork, St. Louis ribs (meatier than baby back ribs, and with sweet sauce) and more. Sides are worth trying, especially the homemade coleslaw, hickory pit baked beans and collard greens. The small bar features regional beers on tap and a big selection of bourbons and other whiskeys. Monday is all-you-can-eat night for $19.95.
Q is open Monday-Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m.
The Cookhouse in New Milford, Conn.
For nearly 20 years, this barnlike, bi-level venue with 200 seats has turned out everything from burgers, steaks and soups to succulent, hardwood-smoked pulled pork, brisket, ribs and chicken (31 Danbury Rd., New Milford, Conn.; 860-355-4111; thecookhouse.com). Although its all-American menu is large, ordering a hamburger here would be like purchasing skis in Kansas.
Smoked barbecued ribs and pulled pork sandwiches are luscious and sweet. The smoked brisket platter is another winner, as are the hulking beef short ribs. As area rib houses go, prices are low: half-a-rib platters start at $17.99, smoked chicken platters at $14.99. Sides include dirty rice, Southern greens, homemade potatoes and French fries.
The place is teeming with partying carnivores most nights, and the din can be thundering. Service at times is extremely slow. The beer selection is nothing special.
On Monday through Thursday, there are a number of specials. The Cookhouse is open daily for lunch and dinner from noon to 9 p.m.