Wednesday, October 23, 2013
East Cambridge Rib Fest 2013: The Winners
There is something primal about eating ribs, hearkening back to our ancient ancestors. You grab the rib with your hands so that there is no distance between you and your food, as occurs when you use utensils. You gnaw the meat off the bone, like any carnivorous animal would. And the sauces that usually cover the ribs sticks to your hands and face, often reminiscent of blood. This past Sunday, I participated in such a savage ritual, on the streets of Cambridge, amidst a horde of other carnivorous diners. The glories of charred flesh.
East Cambridge Business Association (ECBA) presented their annual “Smoke This” Rib Fest 2013, pitting the chefs and pit masters of eighteen restaurants and establishments against each other in a culinary showdown on Cambridge Street to determine who made the Best Ribs. There were actually three levels of judging for this event. First, there were three more professional judges, including Dan Souza, senior editor of Cooks Illustrated Magazine, Nookie Postal, chef/owner of Commonwealth Restaurant, and Tyler Sundet, of Hungry Mother and State Park. Second, there were three local bloggers, including Erica of In and Around Town, Fiona of A Boston Food Diary and myself. This was my second year judging the event, and it was just as fun as last year. Finally, the the public had an opportunity to vote for their favorites too.
Bambara as the First Place winner of the Rib Fest (which won last year as well. They also awarded Second Place to East Side Bar & Grill, and Third Place to the Tupelo. The public had some different choices, awarding First Place to East Side Bar & Grill, Second Place to Tupelo and Third Place to ArtBar. Last year, the professional judges and the public did not choose any of the same winners but this year they shared two of the same picks, though in different positions.
Tupelo for their St. Louis Ribs with Tupelo's Secret Sauce. I am a fan of their restaurant (loving those fried grits) and I enjoyed their ribs much more this year than I did last year. The rib meat was tender and flavorful, and the sauce was complex and intriguing, with a nice balance of tastes. Third place was tough to decide as there were a few other close contenders, including Abigails, Lord Hobo, and Portugalia.
ARTBAR for their Baby Back Ribs with Apple Cider BBQ Sauce. Last year they went more nontraditional with their Spiced Lemon Confit Marinade Baby Back Ribs, but this year went were traditional. When I picked up my rib, the meat slid right off the bone even before biting into it. The meat was incredibly tender, with a superb and complex sauce, both sweet and savory, that was rich in complementary flavors. This is the type of rib that thrills your palate and which makes you immediately reach out for more. And I was very torn over whether this rib should take first or second place. A very,very close decision. ARTBAR also gets kudos for the extra items they served, including a tasty pulled pork, corn bread and apple cider donut holes. All of them were delicious, especially the donut holes!
First Place is awarded to Champions Sports Bar! This is their second year as my top favorite, and their ribs are essentially the same as last year. This is what I wrote last year and it stands again to represent my feelings. "These ribs had a Kansas City dry rub, were cooked over apple, hickory and cherry woods, and had a glaze that included apples and brown sugar. The moist, tender meat slid off the bone and the taste impressed with its complexity and melange of compelling flavors, both sweet and spicy. The sauce accented the ribs without overwhelming it. This was another clear "wow" dish and I was tempted to remain at their table and devour several more of these ribs. Kudos for such amazing ribs!" When you create such a compelling rib, there isn't much reason to change your recipe.
Puritan & Co. for their Moxie Glazed Lamb Ribs, one of the most unique offerings at the Rib Fest. These ribs seemed to be a bit fatty, due to the nature of lamb, and the meat was a bit tougher than many of the other ribs, but they packed in some delightful and earthy flavors, with a mild but compelling glaze. I am a fan of lamb so these ribs appealed to me, and I think lamb ribs have lots of potential and I would like to see more of them at future Rib Fests.