Right on Q
Tangy marinade, a slow and steady smoking process, and sauce singing with secrets prove Westchester’s barbecue is as hot as ever.
Full rack of baby back ribs with sides of BBQ baked beans with pork, and a baked potato with butter, sour cream, and bacon bits from Smokehouse
There are few things as all-American as barbecue, or “Q,” as the cool kids call it. I’m not talking backyard grilling—though I’m a big fan of throwing shrimp on the barbie, along with burgers, hot dogs, and corn—but true smokehouse/roadhouse barbecue fare in which ribs are slathered and glazed in special sauces, pulled pork is delivered on squishy white bread, and chicken is bathed in a blend of secret ingredients that have you licking your fingers long after you’ve devoured the last bite. And though Westchester is still this side of the Mississippi (and Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, and St. Louis…), when it comes to barbecue, it does have some talented pit masters who do their best to bring big, bold flavors to our neck of the woods. You just have to know where to look.
AJ’s Burgers (542 North Ave, New Rochelle 914-235-3009) may be unassuming—and it’s more all-American diner than Southern barbecue—but the barbecue (made from a recipe which boasts more than seven different spices along with a few “hush hush” ingredients we’re not allowed to know) is outstanding. The base of the sauce is a mixture of vinegar and molasses mixed with a little apple juice. All meats are smoked low and slow on hickory wood, and then char-grilled for that extra well-done finish. The St. Louis-style ribs are tender and easy to eat, while the fall-apart-tender pulled pork is the result of flame-seared goodness.
Take a deep breath and enjoy the artistry that is Bob-B-Q’s (958 E Main St, Shrub Oak 914-214-8239). What this small eatery lacks in space it makes up for with its larger-than-life savory entrées—items like pulled pork, brisket, and St. Louis-style ribs served dry-rubbed and smoked or mopped with slaw. Another specialty: the slow-cooked baby back ribs, overflowing with perfectly cooked, slightly smoky meat. Add some of the roasted garlic mash, a dollop of creamed spinach, or roasted veggies, and you’re in barbeque heaven.
It’s a true Southern experience at House of Soul (65 E Prospect Ave, Mount Vernon 914-663-7685), where Jean Parker and her family—former owners of Yvonne’s—serve old-fashioned dishes straight out of the recipes passed down from the family, many of whom hail from Alabama and Mississippi. Come hungry, as portions are large and plates are filled to the rim with barbecued chicken, oxtails, smothered turkey wings, and spare ribs, among other dishes. Do, however, save room for dessert. The peach cobbler tastes like it was made from scratch by someone’s aproned grandmother.
Maybe it has something to do with the Culinary Institute of America training of Chef Andreas Nowara, but, at Memphis Mae’s (173 S Riverside Ave, Croton-on-Hudson, 914-271-0125), where world-class aromas envelop you the minute you walk in the door, barbecue is taken very seriously. That’s because Ace, as Nowara’s known, is fanatical about creating an intense flavor profile packed with a substantial punch. Most popular here—and worth every napkin—the Memphis ribs, the Texas brisket, and the Carolina pulled pork, all of which are served in mountainous portions, meaning doggie bags are the norm. The restaurant is as serious about its “fixins’”—like drunken yams (baked with orange bourbon sauce); fried pickles (marinated in a jalapeño brine for 48 hours, then breaded and fried); and homemade peach applesauce—as it is about its succulent meats. Co-owner Jeff Matros says the eatery works hard to appeal to vegetarians as well as serious meat-lovers. Indeed, the Tennessee buttermilk cornbread paired with a salad or sides is often dinner enough.
It’s all about the sauce at Piri-Q (360 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck 914-341-1443), where chef-owner Rui Correia, formerly the chef at Oporto in Hartsdale, serves up the house speciality “Frango,” traditional butterflied chickens roasted over an open-fire charcoal grill, complete with piri-piri sauce. As Piri-Q’s website says, its piri-piri meets barbecue (hence, the name). Piri comes from the word “piri-piri,” which is a hot sauce prepared from tiny but explosive malagueta—an African bird’s-eye chili pepper widely used in Portugal. Correia adds his special touch with different kinds of vinegars and other secret ingredients. Also look for barbecued ribs (seasoned with Portuguese spices) and bitoque (beefsteak served over Portuguese chips with fried egg and garlicky wine sauce).
The menu is simple and straightforward at Q Restaurant and Bar (112 Main St, Port Chester 914-933-7427), where the perfume of smoking meats has your stomach grumbling the minute you walk in the door. Order a combo platter to get a taste of the eatery’s delights—or, for those willing to share, try the sampler plate with chicken, brisket, ribs, and pulled pork. The meats here are always spectacularly tender with that tell-tale pinkness that confirms their having been smoked (not oven-cooked), the perfect
example of a flawless technique. Sides, too, deserve attention, especially the hickory-pit baked beans and cheesy corn. I’m also a big fan of the iced tea (available sweetened or unsweetened) served in a take-home Mason jar that makes you feel, at least for the moment, that you’ve crossed the Mason-Dixon line.
The atmosphere is a little worn at Sherwood’s (2136 Boston Post Rd, Larchmont 914-833-3317), but that’s the way the patrons seem to like it. It’s the kind of neighborhood favorite you can count on for dripping-with-flavor baby-backs, Memphis dry rub, barbecued shrimp and chicken. All are slow-cooked and topped with the tavern’s special (and secret!) sauce. The fact that you need a lot of napkins should be your indication that the place—in business 20-plus years—is doing something right.
Yes, the Smokehouse Chili-Grill (606 North Ave, New Rochelle 914-813-8686) recently remodeled its interior, but don’t worry…that doesn’t mean the food has changed. It just means there’s now more space to sit, plus a bar featuring a distinctive selection of local and craft beers, as well as wine. While chili is the star of the show, there’s also a nice range of barbecue with four different kinds of sauces. Opt for the barebecued baby-back ribs, which feature a smoky, rich, dark flavor, or dig into a juicy Smokehouse burger oozing with spiciness (think barbecue meets Buffalo chicken wings). The pulled pork features a Carolina-style concoction made with apple cider and vinegar, leaning towards the tangy side. Finally, there’s a honey-barbecue sauce, sweet and sticky, and great for dipping.
Dinner for Busy Moms author and frequent Westchester Magazine contributor Jeanne Muchnick (jeannemuchnick.com) admits she needs at least five napkins every time she eats barbecue.