Kobe Dogs & a man with a 68" cucuzza

Let’s go by phallic measurement, or pecking order if you will. Click the image above to see the article and the guy who grew a cucuzza- an Italian squash, and euphemism for his sazeech, his gabadone, his pistole- that was as tall as he was. Of course, the guy’s name is Ben Longo. Yes, look at Longo’s enormous cucuzza.

Cucuzza are relatively tasteless like large zucchini, but when cooked in a tomato based sauce with hot peppers, sort of like ratatouille, they are excellent and absorb all the flavors. They look like a lime green baseball bat and if you see them at your local farmer’s market, give them a try.
Next, I finally had a “Kobe” hot dog. I highly doubt that high quality wagyu beef was used in these. I had them at Legends, the sports bar in the mid-30s that shows the LSU football games in Manhattan. They were good hot dogs, admittedly, but no better than some non-Kobe franks I’ve had. In fact, they tasted like Hebrew National. I’ve avoided Kobe sliders and franks because of this; it’s like using Beluga caviar to make an omelet, or top shelf liquor for most mixed drinks- you’re not going to taste the difference. I sure didn’t. I liked them, but the Usinger’s hot dog at Big Daddy’s is more memorable. If I want “Kobe” or wagyu I want it rare and mostly untouched. Sorry I’m singling out Legends- they’re a good bar with a good menu, and this was hardly a bad meal. It’s just endemic of the Manhattan bar food world, that “Kobe sliders” are used to sucker people in, when a good bit of ground chuck cooked right would taste nearly as good, without the caché.
Firecracker got a crockpot and made some kick-ass pulled pork, which we turned into Memphis style BBQ sandwiches. I brought the corn! I do cook, and made bacon-wrapped hotdogs recently- photos will be shared soon. This was some really good BBQ. If you love you some pork, a crockpot is definitely a must. Make your own!
Another time, for breakfast, my girl made me waffles. Isn’t she the best? I made the bacon and eggs- cooked in the bacon fat, of course- and decided to make a breakfast sandwich out of them. Now, am I the first guy to think of this? I’ve had ice cream sandwiches made of waffles, but it makes you wonder why more breakfast sandwiches aren’t made this way. I once made a peanut butter and honey sandwich out of Egg-Os, and I heartily recommend using waffles as bread. The honeycomb structure is ideal for collecting drips of egg yolk, as well as the standard maple syrup. Give it a try.

Restaurant Week: Blue Smoke BBQ

Restaurant week in NYC is a great pastime. 3-course dinners for $35 per, and 3-course lunches for $24 per. Hard to beat. I’d wanted to try Blue Smoke for a while and compare them with Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, having heard good things from my co-worker, Loudest Woman Alive. I opted for the restaurant week prix-fixe menu and Firecracker had the Rhapsody in ‘Cue platter and some “shrimp corn dog” appetizers that came with a fresh avocado-dill sauce. Very tasty. I got grilled baby octopus salad for my appy, and was quite pleased. The little buggers were very tasty, fresh and not overcooked, with a nice light dressing and some grilled eggplant as well.
I couldn’t get ‘cracker to taste it. Little baby octopi are a hard sell. My entree was braised beef short ribs with succotash, and it was quite excellent. Very meaty, I was surprised that I didn’t get any bone. How’s that a rib? There was plenty of connective tissue slow-cooked to gelatinous yummy goodness, making it very tender and tasty. It had a light glaze but the meat spoke for itself. The succotash of corn and butter beans was excellent as well. The ‘Cue platter came with barbecued chicken, pulled pork, Kansas City style ribs, and smoked sausage. The sausage was great, and tastier than Dino’s; the ribs were excellent, tender and tasty and not overpowered in sauce. This style was better than the last rack I had uptown as well. But the pulled pork was shredded so thin it seemed like shaved or chip beef, and didn’t pack much flavor. I was disappointed. Dino’s pulled pork is much, much better. The chicken was good and smoky, and an oft-overlooked BBQ staple. Very tasty.

We didn’t get any sides but they have quite a selection. I’d definitely come here for ribs again, and to try more of their appetizers. The ‘cue platter is $24, not bad for NYC. The dessert I had was Key Lime Pie, my favorite. Their version was almost like iced cream, with a flavorful buttery crust. I prefer a chiffon but this was perfect for a hot humid summer day! This is a great spot for Restaurant Week. It has my seal of approval. Their beer selection is quite good as well. I had a Smuttynose IPA on tap and Sierra Summerfest; Firecracker had their house ale (not bad) and Blue Point Toasted Lager, a fine NY staple. They have a lot more in bottles, too. If you can’t make it uptown, and prefer ribs over pulled pork, Blue Smoke is worth your while.

Second Helpings – The Dover Grill and Lil Burgers

Milky and I went back to The Dover Grill last weekend, and if anything they’ve improved. They have more hotdog combos, more sides, and more entrees. They seem to be doing very well- we had to sit outside! This time I had a Reuben dog- sauerkraut, swiss, thousand island dressing- and it was excellent. The American with chili- bacon, coleslaw and jalapenos- is still my favorite, the Jersey version of Crif Dog’s Spicy Redneck.

They also have fried mac’ ‘n cheese triangles, which are very tasty. Johnny had a Volcano- like the American without cole slaw- and fries with homemade tangy onions, his mainstay. The Dover Grill is worth a second trip, though sadly it is out of the way if you don’t live near Route 46. The onramp for I-80 just west of the grill is closed, so it makes for at least a 10 mile detour if you’re traveling on the interstate.

They also make little burgers, cheese steaks, and regular burgers- none of which I’ve tried. The hotdogs are too good! Besides, I have Lil Burgers for sliders. While I’ll always love Rutt’s and Hiram’s, the Dover Grill remains my favorite Jersey hot dog place.
Speaking of Lil Burgers, we’ve been there several times since my original review. Their burgers are still excellent. They now offer bacon, after my urging. A bacon cheese Lil Burger with ketchup and pickle is pretty awesome. They also have Lil Chicks, tasty chicken tender sandwiches on their famous potato rolls with honey mustard; the Wrangler, which is a Lil Burger with an onion ring anf BBQ sauce; at 50 cents extra I’ll take bacon instead. They have a “Burger Sub” of three patties on a hoagie roll, but it’s not the same. The potato roll is king. The owner mentioned a full size potato roll perhaps in the future, and I look forward to it.

They also have Lil Fishie fried fish sandwiches, hot soup and Slush Puppies available now, but we haven’t tried either of them yet. The lil Chicks are very good, and they make great broccoli cheese bites. We’ll probably try the Slush Puppies this weekend and maybe I’ll get a fish sandwich, but the Lil Burgers are hard to resist. And they still make great sweet potato fries.

We’ve also been to Dinosaur BBQ a third time and I had an excellent brisket sandwich with their house-cured bacon & swiss. It was fantastic- very tender and tasty. Dinosaur BBQ continues to amaze. They need a sandwich with their Elgin sausage. They also make Churrasco chicken sandwiches we need to try, and their barbecue chicken. Chicken always gets overlooked at ‘cue joints. And we still haven’t had room for dessert at this place!

I love trying new places, so when I go someplace for a second or third time, they’re getting the seal of approval. And these places are definitely among my favorite junk food joints.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

I’ve been wanting to here for a while- a big barbecue joint in an industrial section of Harlem, known for 2 hour waits, excellent ‘cue and a great beer selection. The Firecracker and the Beast had gone a few times; hell, even the Lou Costello-esque guy from Miami teaching me some IBM crap had been there and loved it. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is the best I’ve had in the tri-state area.

We made reservations with Open Table and got seated on time; I’d recommend it for this place, where even Sundays mean a long wait. The bar is often 2 or 3 deep, and they serve lots of upstate NY microbrews. There are highboy tables to wait at, and you can order appetizers there. The decor is typical BBQ roadhouse – license plates and old signs, tons of crappy old wood they probably paid a fortune for. Once you get seated it’s cozy but not cramped. A group of 16 was seated nearby. It’s not a bad spot for a group, and they also do take-out and catering.

Their menu is typical southern-style BBQ- but they do it right. For appies we had a “Swag platter” for two, which comes with 2 each of excellent hot wings in a sweet and spicy sauce, crisply fried green tomatoes with a remoulade, and creamy deviled eggs, plus a handful 0f some cold peel ‘n eat shrimp done in a spicy boil. It’s just enough to sate you after sitting at the bar waiting to taste some of that ‘cue you’ve been smelling as it passed by on platters. The tomatoes are especially good, and they sell a BLT sandwich with them in the tomato slot- I’ve got to come back for lunch sometime and try it.

The one thing we didn’t get between us was chicken, which I’ll try on a second run. BBQ chicken gets unfairly ignored, and I’ll be back to rectify that. The pulled pork is nice and tender, and only gently sauced; the pork flavor comes through fine. The folks at Dinosaur trust their smoker and they don’t slather the meat in sauce to cover up. The ribs are not fall off the bone tender, put they are pull off the bone tender, the right way. The meat is flavorful and the crust of rub and sauce has great smoky flavor with a tinge of sweetness. The brisket, which my Miami pal loves, was quite good too. They put a few slices of jalapeno next to it, and I wrapped each slice around some pepper. It went together great. In the meat deparment, the real surprise was their Elgin Texas sausage- which was nicely seared, had great snap to it, and excellent, juicy flavor. It’s not often that I talk about biting into a juicy sausage, but this time I will do so unashamedly. If you pass on their sausage, you are missing out.

BBQ is also about the sides, and sadly we only tried two- mac ‘n cheese, which was deliciously creamy, with a nice crunchy topping, and a real surprise- salted fingerling potatoes. They were great, sweet and covered in a thin butter sauce that didn’t drown the potato flavor out. And they’re the perfect size, too. Even the cornbread is pretty damn good. This is the best BBQ I’ve had up north- they beat Brother Jimmy’s handily on all counts. MoGridder has some strong competition, too; His BBQ truck is worth a visit to the Bronx, but you’ll freeze your ass off, this time of year. So wait until summer for Mo’s, and come to Harlem for Dinosaur BBQ, if you can get in. If ‘cue ain’t your thing, they have burgers, sandwiches, and buckets of shrimp boil to sate you. They cure their own bacon, and they definitely make their own pickles- they were crispy, tart and had more than just dill in there- ginger, I think.
We’ll be back to try sandwiches and dessert sometime- Key Lime pie made with real key lime juice, sweet potato pecan pie, peanut butter chocolate pie, and so on. After our platters there was no room for dessert, but if it’s as good as the rest of the meal, it’s worth gorging yourself on. If you’re on the Jersey side, we had no trouble finding free parking on a Saturday night, and they’re an easy shot from the George Washington Bridge- just take the Hudson down to 158th, and then take Broadway to 131st, hang a louie and park before 12th ave.

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Greasy Spoons – Bourbon BBQ of Wyckoff, NJ

Blue Meeny” at Bourbon BBQ

The Mouth from the South passed along a suggestion for great ‘cue in Jersey- Bourbon BBQ of Wyckoff, in the northeast corner of the state. We decided to try it out this Saturday, since it’s a short ride from the Ramstein Brewery, and sort of on the way home. On Goffle Road, just past the Goffle Grill- a hot dog joint we’ll try next time- it’s an unassuming little roadside shack with only a small sign proclaiming “BBQ” to lure you to their lot. If you pass it, turn around- there’s some good eats to be had here.

Guest scarfers Firecracker and Milky

I eyed their menu and noted “The Elvis,” a pulled pork sandwich with pickles, coleslaw and sauce, and the “Texas Hold ‘Em,” a foot-long chili dog with cheese and onions. Firecracker and I split those, while Milky had a Texas Weiner with the spicy fries. The fries turned out to be the best surprise of the visit- battered and tangy, they are crisp and tasty. They prove that the joint uses fresh oil, they are a pale gold and harbor no oily aftertaste. Bourbon BBQ also is one of the few places I’ve seen that carries RC Cola and Diet Rite- two colas of the past that are hard to find nowadays. They also have Stewart’s root beer.

The Elvis, a mound of pulled pork with onions, slaw and pickles

I wish we’d come for dinner, for they had a St. Louis Style rib full rack for only $19.95, $5 off regular price, for their Saturday “Credit Crunch” special. Their menu has one for all seven days of the week, so come for a bargain. But is it good barbecue? I haven’t had the ribs, so I can’t say. The pulled pork was very tender and tasty. It could have used more smoke flavor, but you can add sauce and seasoning yourself. The pork was delectably moist and tender, much better than the Front Street Smokehouse and Saloon in Elizabeth, which was my pick for best BBQ prior to this find. The Texas Chili Dog tasted a little bland to me, but Firecracker and Milky loved it. I guess Crif Dog’s Spicy Redneck, and Hiram’s have made a hot dog snob out of me. I loved “The Elvis,” and would highly recommend it. Their sauce is a vinegary style Carolina type, also a rarity here up north.

Milky shows off his foot long

This was a “first taste” and we’ll be going back for dinner to try their award-winning ribs, and fried chicken too. We grabbed a “BBQ Pork and Black Bean Empenada” and I thought it was great- tender, tasty and crispy on the outside. Deep fried of course! And a tasty, Latin addition to a BBQ menu. The sides were also tops- usually the weak spot at a NJ ‘cue joint. I got mac ‘n cheese, which was delicious and creamy; Firecracker got mashed potatoes, which came with a rich mushroom gravy, and the Spicy Fries deserve mentioning twice. They’re that good, and I bet they’ll be great with some fried chicken or a rack of those ribs!

Texas Hold ‘Em and an empenada

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Greasy Spoons: Chap’s Pit Beef, Baltimore

I heard about Chap’s on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” via The Mouth from the South- a true connoisseur of barbecue. He couldn’t make it, so I have to describe the culinary experience for him vicariously. Chap’s is a great little find, and definitely worth stopping by if a road trip takes you through Baltimore.

Baltimore stoops to conquer

Up north we don’t get BBQ joints of this caliber, except in rare circumstances. Even the normally reliable Munchmobile of the Star-Ledger pointed me to Smitty’s in Lyndhurst- and they do have decent barbecue for up here, but nothing to write home about. About the same as Jim Dandy’s in Nutley. Falls off the bone, but has that spongy quality that tells you it’s been injected with sauce to get it tender. It’s much better to head to Montclair’s Indigo Smoke, which may be a bit pricey for ‘cue, but serves up the real deal. If you cross the Hudson, MoGridder’s in the Bronx, and Brother Jimmy’s in 5 locations now, are all good bets.

Pit Beef & sausage sandwich will cure all ills

But in Baltimore I’d say try Chap’s. Baltimore has their own barbecue creature called Pit Beef. I first heard of it in John Waters’ movie Pecker, and was finally reminded when I watched Guy’s show. If you ride past the Fell’s Point area down Orleans, past the typical Balitmore row houses with their white stone 3-step stoops, a few more blocks down Pulaski you’ll find this unassuming box next to a gentleman’s club. You’ll follow the smoky scent of charred meat past around the parking lot, and inside you’ll find a real picnic table, a few gambling machines, and huge pumps of BBQ sauce and ketchup. The wooden walls painted red and purple, looking like they’ve absorbed countless amounts of grill fumes. A sign above reads, “The only difference between this place and the Titanic… was they had a band.” So yeah, a real dive.

Boss Man had the ribs, which he said had too much sauce. I opted for a pit beef sandwich with hot sausage on a kaiser roll, having seen the show and lusted after one ever since. They also have a “Guy Special” now with corned beef, pit beef and turkey. We got mac ‘n cheese and rice pudding as well. The sandwich was excellent, and really, if you come here you have to have the pit beef and sausage. They are outstanding.


The beef is juicy (I had mine medium rare) and flavorful, never stringy or chewy. The sausage is spicy and has good smoky flavor, and they slice it into three slabs so your sandwich doesn’t fall apart. The poppy seed kaiser roll is strong enough to hold it all together and not get mushy, even if you slather it with their BBQ sauce. Don’t use too much sauce, the meat is tasty enough. The mac ‘n cheese was dry and tasteless, but the rice pudding was thick, creamy and not too sweet. Just enough cinnamon, and the small size was pretty filling.

A little too saucy for me, Bearnaise.

On a Monday afternoon there was little crowd, but like a good truck stop, you could tell this was a hidden gem. It reminded me of Ann’s Snack Bar in Atlanta, home of the ghetto burger. That place deserves a “blast from the past” blog post, and will get one soon. This is a must-visit in Baltimore. A combo sandwich on a kaiser will make a big lunch or a good sized dinner, and you can walk it off at Fort McHenry National Park, just a few miles away, if you want the exercise.

By the pit beef’s surly bite

MoGridder’s BBQ and Auto Service

I’d been wanting to go to MoGridder’s since I heard about it on the Food Network, on “Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives.” (As soon as the bleached-hair guy on the show has a heart attack, I’ll swoop in and take over the show). It’s out in the Bronx in Hunt’s Point, where all the rental truck returns, auto shops, and chop shops are. It’s one of the best rated rib joints in New York, and they offer a combo oil change and rack of ribs for $34.95– a bargain in these days of $135 crude and rising food prices.
Since it was Saturday in New York, we ran into an impromptu parade and/or protest, a road closure, a crane blocking the street, and a street that the GPS did not know had changed into a one-way. We drove over with the top down, and I felt like Ace in Escape from New York, which is playing on UHD this month.
It’s hard to miss. Parked in front of the auto shop on a 5 way corner is a fire-engine red trailer with a propane tank and smoker on the front. There’s a big sign showing a hillbilly with his popgun chasing a pig riding a steer plastered on the side, and some picnic tables set up outside. If you want classier digs, around the corner in the auto shop is the “MoGridder’s Lounge” which has tables and condiments, and a big wash sink to clean your sauce-encrusted mitts after gnawing the bones clean.

They serve the barbecue standards- ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken, and sausage. Firecracker got a pulled pork cheese steak with a side of potato salad, and I got a 2-meat plate of brisket and ribs, with beans and collard greens. They also serve fresh lemonade. It could be sweeter, but it’s nice and refreshing. We lugged our prizes to the cushy lounge to keep watch over my double-parked car, and had ourselves a hearty lunch.

The ribs are damn good- meaty and tender without having that “fall off the bone” quality that means too much sauce, or injecting, in my book. The meat didn’t need sauce to taste good, which is a must. The sauce was not too tomatoey or sweet, but had a nice smoky flavor. The brisket was delicious too, with good beefy flavor and just the right amount of fat. It was sliced too thin for my liking, and for $13 I expected more than 4 ribs and 4 thin slices of brisket. Next time I’ll get a full rack, or we’ll split one of the huge combos.

The pulled pork cheese steak was a thing to behold. The pulled pork was flavorful and tender, reminiscent of the Kalua pig from Hawaii. It came with peppers and onions, and enough Cheez Whiz to feed Philadelphia. It’s a great idea, mixing the classic pulled pork sandwich with the Philly cheese steak, and it’s worth driving into the Bronx for.
The sides were very good as well. The beans were spectacular, with tons of sweet smoke and spice. The collard greens were a little bland; they could have used some more bacon fat. They were tangy but mostly flavorless, like most collards, and a little too soupy. The potato salad was heavy on the mayo, northern style. The resident Southern belle wanted some egg or spice in there, so I used the last of my Tony Chachere’s packets to spice it up. Overall it was a very good meal, a little on the pricey side for truck food, but we both left stuffed and sated and glad we made the trip.
It’s worth the trouble, even if you don’t have the map from The Brain telling you where the mines are on the Bridge. Brother Jimmy’s might have more Southern specialties, but their ribs and beans aren’t this good. There you can have an Abita, some peel ‘n eat shrimp, or fried pickles… but good luck getting your oil changed. MoGridder’s is unique road food, a little out of the way for most travelers, but where else can you get award-winning ribs and a tune-up while you wait?