Last Sunday, we went to a street fair celebrating one of my favorite foods – Ribfest!
Ribfest was at Lincoln/Irving/Damen. Getting there was much easier than getting to Bluesfest the night before; mainly because we took a cab. But we did take the bus home, which only required 1 transfer at Irving and Sheridan.
When we got there, we bought tickets because these things all require tickets to buy food and drink. What I liked about this event was that the tickets were 1 for $1 and sold in books of 10, which makes it that much easier to figure out what you’re really paying for stuff. Beer, for example, was 5 tickets or $5. Compare that to the 12 tickets for $8 of Bluesfest where beers were 9 tickets. So that makes the beer cost, well, 9 is 3/4 of 12, so 3/4 of 8 is, um? Sigh.
Shortly after we arrived, we found the friends we had planed on meeting. They have a young kid too, and it made me feel very grown up in a pretend kind-of-way to be walking around at a street fair with strollers. But we weren’t the only ones. When you get to a street fair at noon on a Sunday, it’s all strollers. And it was jam packed. At this street fair, there was even a remarkably large kids area, with bouncy houses galore.
But on to the ribs. We had been informed by one of our friends that Horseshoe had the best offerings at Ribfest this year, so we started there. And we were not disappointed. These were indeed quite good, which was surprising since they are supposed to be Texas style bbq. When I think Texas bbq, I think beef. And the seasonings that go well with beef bbq rarely seem to go well with pork bbq. But they managed to do a really good job here. Although, they were finishing the ribs on the grill with a whole lot of sauce, which doesn’t strike me as very Texas-style. And it was a good way of covering up the fact that the ribs were a little dried out.
My choice for second place (of the four that I sampled) was Johnny Van’s. This was also a surprise to me because Johnny Van’s was another Texas style bbq. The flavors were really nice, and eventhough these were pork ribs, I still got a sense of the Texa-style. It was a lot less sweet than I am accustomed to with pork ribs, and the rub didn’t really need sauce. But the main problem with these was that they were terribly rubbery. My wife didn’t even want to eat hers. I think they tried to rush these ribs. It tasted like they were cooked too hot and too fast. It’s really too bad, though, because the flavors were nice. Had they been cooked properly, I would have much preferred these over Horseshoe.
Coming in third for me was Pitch Fork. The meat was probably the best cooked of the four that I sampled. But they were still quite a bit dried out. Plus, even after I had doused these in their sweet mustard sauce, the only flavor that I could detect was cayenne pepper and char. Now, I may be biased because, although I love spicy food, I don’t like spicy barbecue all that much. But the spice masked all the goodness of the pork. I think that, if were blindfolded and had to guess, I would guess that it was spicy, over-cooked, grilled chicken breast before I would guess that this was ribs.
What surprised me most was the Mrs. Murphy’s Irish Bistro ribs. In years past, I never tried the Mrs. Murphy’s Irish Bistro ribs because what would an Irish bistro know about ribs? I mean, this is ‘merican food. But the signs said that they were ribfest champions in 2010 and 2011 (years that I missed attending this event), so I decided to give them a try.
These were some of the worst ribs I have ever eaten. My wife took a taste, but that was it. They were drenched in sauce, which is fine by me. But the ribs were gritty, like there was sand in the sauce or rub or something. I get this from time to time when I try to make ribs in the oven at home. And it usually happens toward the end of the rib rack, which is the same place that this sampler came from. I’m not sure what it is, but I suspect that it is from the marrow or some other hematopoetic element that exudes during cooking.
Other aspects of the ribs that I particularly didn’t like was that they were came too easily off the bone, which made me wonder if they were cooked in liquid. And they were really greasy. Bleh.