Thursday, October 25, 2012

Our Winners At Rib Fest 2012

It was all eyes on this prize last weekend at the East Cambridge Business Association's third annual Rib Fest:  Smoke This.  Over twenty restaurants competed for the title of best rib, including Abigails, ARTBAR, Atwoods, Bambara, Catalyst, Champions, CRLS Students, East By Northeast, East Side Bar and Grille, Filarmonica Santo Antonio, Lizzy's, Lord Hobo, Midwest Grill, New Deal Fish Market, Ole Mexican Grill, PF Changs, Portugalia, Redbones, Trina's Starlight Lounge, Tupelo, and West Bridge.  Everyone is to be congratulated.  It was a very tough competition with worthy ribs at nearly every participant's table.  I was joined in my judging duties by fellow bloggers Richard of The Passionate Foodie and Erica of In And Around Town.

It was a great community atmosphere and everyone we talked to in the large crowd was more than eager to give this judge his or her opinion on who had the best rib.  As usual, there was a huge range of choices corresponding to the array of different tastes.  So, it was quite  interesting to see how varied everyone's choice for winner actually was.

I enjoyed the ribs from the minute I started tasting and continued through the afternoon, trying to pace myself but still ending up stuffed.  There were lots, of course, of classic style southern ribs of all varieties, both dry rub and wet and of every region.  I'd give special recognition here to Chris Kosinski and Robert Escamilla of East Side Bar and Grille, third year winners of the People's Choice ballots and to Chef Doug Pini of Champions, winner of quite a few national competitions.  (You can watch our video interview with Chef Pini on our Youtube sidebar on the left).

My favorite of the more traditional ribs has to go to Tupelo.  Rembs Layman's Asian five spice rub and house barbecue sauce just hit all the right notes for a classic rib and I would happily go back for more.  I made it pretty clear beforehand, however, that I would really be looking for the offbeat, unusual or different and I found that in my two top winners.

Second place for me went to Chef Matthew Gaudet of West Bridge.  First of all, he served a mammoth beef rib, one of only two in the competition to do so.  He offset traditional ingredients such as mustard, onions, molasses and brown sugar with a fantastic dried cherry rub and applewood smoke.  The result was large on flavor.  The meaty, rich texture with that mild but very discernible cherry taste instantly set it apart from the others.

Our top choice went to Brian Dandro of ARTBAR.  Chef used a Lemon Confit on his ribs and added rosemary, thyme and chili flakes.  The taste was unexpected, unusual and very pleasant.  The spices stood out well, the chili flakes gave just a hint of heat and the rib had a nice bite to it (no instant mush mouth feel), all without losing the flavor of the pork.  Standout creativity.  Congratulations!

I would be remiss without mentioning two other highly successful tastes we had, both of which were served by Chef Suzi Maitland of Trina's Starlight Lounge.  First, their cole slaw (not pictured).  With just a few extra ingredients such as jicama and peanuts, Chef Maitland transformed the standard slaw we have all had a thousand times over into something innovative.  Then there was the corn bread.  A dense slab of creaminess with real corn kernels mixed in and topped with honey butter.  This was truly one of the highlights of the afternoon and now tops my all-time favorite Durgin Park as the best corn bread in Boston.  Great addition!

Volunteers (l to r) Lenora, Amalia, Evelyn and Patricia.  It goes without saying that the many volunteers made this event the fun time for everyone that it was for all of the judges, sponsors, restaurants and participants.  What a great, enthusiastic food community East Cambridge is. Perhaps the biggest kudos go to them.  CONGRATULATIONS all!  Judge or not I will certainly be back next year.

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