January 20, 2011

Smokin' Al's Famous BBQ Joint

 4847 Merrick Rd.
Massapequa Park, NY

This past Sunday, as we sat at Jeremy's house and watched the Jets shock the Patriots (while eating mediocre wings), our friend Pat asked us why we haven't tried Smokin' Al's wings yet.  Well, I had never heard of the place before, but tucked it away in my memory.  When it came time to choose a place to go for our Wednesday wing meetup, I threw out Smokin' Al's as a suggestion.  Knowing that Massapequa is a hike for me, Steve suggested Sly Fox Inn by St. John's University.  We decided to make our choice based on the menu.  I copied the descriptions into an email and sent them to Jeremy and Steve.  Sly Fox Inn offers "Jumbo Buffalo Wings... tossed in pepper sauce with bleu cheese dressing".  Smokin' Al's describes their "Some Like it Hot" wings as "Chicken wings, rubbed, smoked and then smothered with Al's Famous Rattlesnake Sauce". Steve's reply:
Rattlesnake sauce! We HAVE to go there!
Sorry Jody... My vote is for Smokin' Al's!

Fair enough, it's tough to argue with that. So I walked to the subway station, took the A train to Penn Station, took the LIRR to Bayside, walked home, got in my car and hopped on the Grand Central Parkway.  About two hours later I was in Massapequa ordering a Sierra Nevada and wings.

The waitress warned us that they didn't serve traditional pub wings.  They are conjoined, smoked and coated in BBQ sauce and she didn't want us to be disappointed.  We assured her that this wasn't our first rodeo and we knew what we were in for.  The wings came out very quickly and were as advertised.  I'd put them in the same category as Virgil's wings, which I really liked.  

Jeremy rolled up his sleeves and dug in first.  He gave his stamp of approval almost immediately.  The wings were cooked really well.  They are smoked for hours, seasoned with a dry rub and drenched in BBQ sauce.  They have just enough char on the skin and are moist and tender in the middle.  They were conjoined, pretty large and had a good amount of meat.  They offer two choices of sauce: regular and rattle snake.  As far as we could tell, the only difference between the two is some crushed red pepper in the rattle snake to give it a little more heat.  It didn't make it all that hot, so if you tend to shy away from very spicy foods, don't worry, you can probably handle the rattle snake.  I felt the sauce was strong on the vinegar and maybe a little thin.  Steve thought it was too sweet, which I agreed with.  Jeremy was the biggest fan of the three of us and didn't have much in the form of criticism.  Small critiques aside, we had no problem polishing them off.

Instead of ordering another plate of wings, we decided to mix it up and get a haystack and burnt endz.  The haystack is an obscenely large portion of fried onion rings piled about ten feet high on a plate.  Seriously, the three of us went to work on it and didn't even come close to eating half.  I'm not a fan of the huge portion.  I feel like it's gimmicky and most of it ends up wasted.  No question it was a tasty appetizer, but I'd say it would take about 6 hungry guys to polish it off.  That seems excessive to me.  The burnt endz were much more manageable (although they were served on a bed of haystack!) and we took care of them no problem.  These are the seasoned, crusted, burnt ends of their brisket that they chop off after smoking for 12 hours.  They are of course coated in their BBQ sauce. Unlike a lot of imitation BBQ places, the smokey flavor really comes through at Smokin' Al's.  I guess that's why Zagat voted them best BBQ on Long Island six years in a row.

Overall, I'd say they're a few notches below Virgil's but a solid choice if you're on LI and need some BBQ.  They also have a location in Bay Shore. Check them out.  Make sure you're hungry.  Really hungry.

January 11, 2011

Tracks Raw Bar and Grill

Located in the LIRR terminal of Penn Station
7th Ave. between 31st and 33rd Streets

Thanks to LIRR service cuts, I literally ran to track 18 in time to watch the 8:19 depart and had to wait an hour for the next train.  Bad enough I was working on a Saturday, now I was stuck in Penn Station. But, I decided to turn a negative into a positive by planting my tuckus at Tracks to watch the game, eat some wings and enjoy a couple of adult beverages.

See the tracks around the plate?
Get it?
The wings were cooked beautifully. Buffalo would be proud. They had a very crispy shell while keeping the meat juicy and tender. They were also meaty and had a nice coat of sauce.  So far, so good.  The problem though was the sauce. It was too sweet. It wasn't quite Redemption or Johnny Famous sweet, but still too sweet for my taste.  It was kind of a shame because there were some good flavors. This was another case of a ketchup based sauce ruining both the flavors and the finely cooked wings. They came so close to being a good wing, but it's all in the sauce.

While I can't quite approve these wings, don't let that stop you from stopping at Tracks to kill some time waiting for your train.  It's always a friendly, inviting atmosphere and a perfect place to grab one last drink before you head home.  You can also try their famous raw oyster bar. It's their claim to fame but I've never tried it.  Next time I'll ask for that instead of the wings.

January 05, 2011

Mets v. Yanks, Part 2 - Hard Rock at Yankee Stadium

Hard Rock Cafe
1 East 161st Street
Bronx, NY 10452

Now that Citi Field was on the board, it was time to check out what Yankee Stadium had to offer.  With tickets in hand, I jumped on the 4 and headed to the Bronx to meet my friend at The Stadium.  I went in with a little bit of a different strategy this time.  Instead of finding wings wherever I could, I wanted to eat wings from an establishment that was comparable to McFadden's.  There were a few places I thought I'd be able to order wings, but The Hard Rock Cafe seemed like it would be the best match-up.  I also went with a different entrance strategy.  Instead of going in before the game, I waited until after.  This had as much to do with McFadden's kitchen hours as it did with the fact that I was now watching the Bombers, not the Amazins.  I guess you have to give the Hard Rock a point there.  Being able to get wings before or after the game is a nice option.

Looks like something you'd get at a diner
The wings themselves though were unimpressive.  They had a good amount of heat, but that's about all they had going for them.  Other than that, they were kind of tough, the sauce was too thin and there weren't too many on the plate.  These fell into the "bad but they're still wings so I'm going to clean this plate" category.  I didn't hate them, but they were totally forgettable.

As much as it pains me to say it, I have to give the Mets the nod over the Yanks on this one.  Overall, they brought their A game and wanted it more.  Well, it was more like their C+ game but still, they had better wings.  Good thing the Yankees are still better at that whole baseball thing.

January 03, 2011

Mets v. Yanks, Part 1 - McFadden's at Citi Field

McFadden's Restaurant and Saloon
Citi Field
Behind Center Field on 126th Street
Flushing, NY

Remember that day that Steve and I went looking for McFadden's, to no avail?  Well, ends up we drove right by it.  Like, four times.  Steve had an extra ticket to a Mets/Phillies game and he invited me along (thanks again Steve).  Quick disclaimer:  I am not a Mets fan, I am a Yankees fan. However, pretty much all of my friends are Mets fans and I live in Bayside - heart of Mets territory at only 5.2 miles away from Citi Field (according to Google maps).  So, somehow I end up at more Mets games than Yanks games.  For shame, I know.

It's pretty clearly marked
Anyway, it's game day and Steve gets to the stadium before me.  He says he's in McFadden's and we should meet up there.  I'm thinking to myself, it must be inside the stadium since we surely couldn't have missed it if it were accessible from the outside.  Wrong.  I hop off the 7 train and start walking around to the bullpen entrance of the park, which is on the same street that we drove down last time we were looking for McFadden's.  Sure enough, there it is.  In our defense, it's tough to see... if you manage to look past the huge awning bearing the bars name as well as the additional signage that pretty much lines the whole block.  Long story short, we're idiots.

Just an average picture of some average wings

But how were the wings?  Eh, they were ok.  They had average flavor, were average size, had an average amount of heat... just all-around average.  The thing about wings though is that finding a place serving average wings is still a victory.  I mean, come on, they're wings.  You know that saying about pizza right?  Something like, pizza is like sex... even when it's bad, it's still pretty good.  Well, same goes for wings.  And being that these were better than bad, there were no complaints.

I'm so glad my doctor doesn't read this blog
We also ordered this heart attack on a plate, which was pretty decent - for those of you looking to supplement your wing intake.

We didn't want to stop there though.  We killed a lot of time at McFadden's and still hadn't even entered the stadium yet even though it was like the 6th inning.  We decided to finally make our way in and see what else we could find... and maybe even catch some live game action.  Unfortunately we were out of luck.  We tried the World's Fair Market and they had fried chicken but no Buffalo wings.  The concession stands had chicken tenders but no wings.  Looks like McFadden would have to be the lone wing representative for Citi Field.  Obviously our next task was going to have to be making our way to the Bronx to compare McFadden's wings to the wings at Yankee Stadium.  

For the baseball purists out there who might be upset that we spent so much time in McFadden's before actually entering the stadium, it gets worse.  While we were sitting there, watching the game on the LCD screens, we subtly pointed out to each other that R.A. Dickey was throwing a no-hitter - without using the actual words, obviously.  That put us in a tough spot.  Everyone knows that you can't move your seat when a pitcher is making a bid for the no-no.  But on the other hand, no pitcher in the history of baseball has ever thrown a no hitter for the Mets.  Not Nolan Ryan, not Tom Seaver and not Doc Gooden.  We couldn't miss witnessing the first in person... it would have been history.  Hell of a catch 22.  So of course, we moved... and got to our seats just in time to see Dickey give up his first hit.  So yeah, sorry about that.  Maybe next time.

Anyway... we did eventually make it to Yankee Stadium for a wing challenge.  Check in on Wednesday, we'll have part 2 posted then.