Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Aug 22, 2010
01:50 PMSmall Dishes
I was invited by Shinji Muramoto to a rib tasting at his downtown restaurant, The Haze. His purpose was not to secure bragging rights for his own product, but to better understand what people look for in a good rack of ribs. His hope is that the tasters’ comments will help The Haze refine the art of barbecue. And, I personally know, it is an art that requires much trial and error before one achieves success.
In Wisconsin, the word “barbecue” covers a multitude of sins. Properly speaking, it refers to meat that is slowly smoked over hardwood rather than grilled over a flame. These were the type of barbecued ribs we critiqued at The Haze, acquired as carryouts from seven of the top BBQ joints in town. All of the ribs were spareribs except for those from Porky Pine Pete’s that only serves baby back ribs. Also, all the ribs were served plain with any available sauces served on the side. The assembled eight judges sampled the ribs separately without knowing where they were from. It was a diverse group of tasters, but there was definitely a consensus when it came to the final ranking. Here is the ranking of the combined scores; the comments are mine.
1. Fat Jacks. Definitely the best looking ribs, a St. Louis cut with all the waste trimmed off. They were meaty, had a lovely smoke ring and excellent flavor.
2. The Haze. Ribs with a nice smoky flavor and an interesting and pleasing rub (seasoning). My only fault was they seemed a little greasy.
3. Porky Pine Pete’s Smokehouse BBQ. The only back ribs in the bunch and characteristically meaty. They were exceptionally tender, but lacked smoke and I wasn’t crazy about the rub.
4. Smoky Jon’s. There was a virtual tie between Porky Pine Pete’s and Smoky Jon’s. Though they were excellent ribs, they tasted more like they had been grilled over charcoal than smoked. The end ribs were burnt and very dry.
5. Brickhouse BBQ. These ribs were almost too tender and had virtually no smokiness. In fact all I could taste was the pepper in the rub.
6. Papa Bear’s BBQ. I wouldn’t say they were bad, just very unremarkable in every way.
7. Famous Dave’s. Quite honestly, I’ve had ribs from here before and don’t remember them every being this bad! The meat had an unpleasant grayish color and a very tired taste.
We also commented on the sauces, which for the most part were good, but not anything that I’d be anxious to make myself. Finally, we also sampled beans from each of the same seven restaurants. For the most part, they were out of the can, sweetened up with brown sugar and ketchup. The Haze combines several different dried beans with onion and thyme and I liked their heartiness though others found the included butterbeans mushy. Brickhouse BBQ’s beans looked great, but were oddly and unpleasantly sour.
If anyone questions that Shinji is serious about The Haze and barbecue, he plans to have a tasting for pulled pork next. (I hope I’m invited and I can talk him into cole slaw, too.)