Chow, Baby felt quite cleansed after last year’s Yom Kippur column (“My Name Is Chow, Baby,” Sept. 27, 2006), in which it revisited and reconciled with restaurants it might have been (OK, was) unfair to, and has decided to do this every year until it gets bored. Problem is, this year Chow, Baby’s conscience is clear.
As far as Chow, Baby knows, and the empty “Death Threats” folder in its e-mail program confirms, it hasn’t been unjustifiably mean to anything or anybody in the last year. Weird. Still, irrational unfairness and September go together like chopped beef and stale bread: For the seventh time in eight years, Railhead has won Readers’ Choice for barbecue in the Weekly’s annual awards. And it’s not just our readers who adore the place. Texas Monthly, Frommer’s, Zagat’s, zillions of guidebooks and bloggers – everybody loves Railhead. Everybody but one. Now, Chow, Baby isn’t saying Railhead is crap; only that it’s stunningly average. Pedestrian. Mediocre. Why, why, why is this place so popular?
Well, it’s theoretically possible that Chow, Baby is wrong, that it has fallen for its own anti-Railhead hype. You know, the required alt-critic posturing of “If it’s popular, it must be bad.” Maybe Chow, Baby has been unfair. Maybe Railhead really does have the best barbecue in town. One way to find out: Chow, Baby would conduct a scientifically valid blind taste-test on itself. Let the ribs fall where they may.
B. Materials and Methods
B1. Equipment and Materials. The equipment was take-out boxes and plastic forks. The material was one combo plate of ribs, sliced beef, potato salad, and beans from each of five barbecue purveyors, chosen mainly for their reasonable proximity to each other.
B2. Experiment Design. Chow, Baby purchased the same meal from each restaurant, marked each go-box with a letter chosen at random by pulling a Scrabble tile from under the back seat (Scrabble really isn’t a good road-trip game), placed each box in a separate hot-cold bag, and drove home. There, with Chow, Baby sequestered in another room, the beloved (who didn’t even know what places Chow, Baby had visited) randomly assigned numbers 1 to 5 to the letters and dished the food onto numbered but otherwise identical plates. Thus, while eating, neither of us knew which meal came from where.
The worst was pretty easy to pick out. The plate with crumbly-dry brisket, pathetically small ribs, no-flavor/no-texture potato salad, and canned baked beans had to be the chain: Dickey’s, 451 University Av. (combo plate $9.39). The surprise was the second-worst: insipid brisket, mushy-edged ribs, potato salad in which the potato flavor overwhelmed the mustard, pinto beans that tasted canned, and a watery sauce that actually detracted from the meat flavor … from Angelo’s ($11.95)! Really!
The clear winner, with moist, fatty, beautifully charred, very smoky brisket and large, meat-falling-off-the-bone ribs, was revealed to be this year’s Critic’s Choice: Mom’s, 1509 Evans Av. (and a best buy at $8.50). Runner-up, with sweeter meat and a slightly softer sauce, turned out to be Chow, Baby’s long-time-fave Wilson’s, 5633 Lovell Av. ($11.99). Sides were a delectable draw. And what barbecuer came in smack in the middle, with not-great-not-terrible chewy-dry brisket, smallish ribs with average meatiness, decent peppery sauce, banal sides, overall nothing special? In a word: mediocre? Yep. Railhead (also mid-price, at $9.95).
Scientifically speaking: Nyah.
Contact Chow, Baby at firstname.lastname@example.org