Archive for the ‘Destinations’ Category

9 Days, 2603 miles: The Blue Ridge Parkway twice (south to north in one day), The Dragon’s Tail, The Devil’s Whip and Diamondback, Hellbender, The Cherohala Skyway… and I am ready for more.

Three

Photo Credit: Sheila Chudik

Ride hard, ride safe, and enjoy every mile.

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I’ve been wanting to try B.T.’s Smokehouse in Sturbridge, Massachusetts for quite some time now. And when I say “quite some time,” I’m not talking about weeks, or months. It’s been more than a couple of years. Alas, poor B.T.’s, I can attribute my failure to get there to nothing other than pure laziness. Finally the wait was over and this review has since been written based on my first experience at 7:15 at night Thursday, April 24,m 2014, and my second at 2:00 in the afternoon on Saturday, May 3rd, 2014.

First Visit: April 24, 2014 (7:15 on a Thursday Evening)

It really says something for a BBQ joint to be packed at 7:15 in the evening. Usually I would expect that to be an off-peak time. Less people. Less waiting. I was wrong on both counts.  But that’s OK. My wife and I weren’t in a rush. A table opened up and we grabbed it. Looking around I realized B.T.’s was BYOB – coincidentally we had a 6 pack of Baxter Brewing Co.’s Stowaway IPA in the car. It wasn’t ice cold, but it held us over. The soda cup looked so sad and useless at the table as we drank our beer.

I figured I would use the wait time to grab an assortment of sauces and garnishes. The “Hellish Relish” was great; the pickled onions and habanero infused carrots were good – although I’m sure much better on a sandwich. I dipped my finger in the “meat heat” sauce, as well as the other sauce options. They were good – some hotter than others, and neither of the sauces had a thick consistency. After the anticipation and buildup, I expected greatness. My wife ordered a brisket platter, and I ordered a brisket sandwich. We also had macaroni and cheese and slaw as our sides. Finally my name was called to pick up the order. Everything looked really good on the tray, and the brisket was cut thick and piled high. Finally I was able to dig in…

…I hate writing these words, but I was disappointed. And I felt dirty thinking it. But my head was filled with some of the adjectives any Q’er hates to hear describing their art. The brisket was lean, dry, and tough; I had to bathe it in sauces to get it down – once again, I tried all the sauces, only this time out of necessity. Fortunately for both my taste buds and B.T.’s, I have a “try everything twice” policy. [As an aside, we were in a car and not on a bike, so maybe the motorcycle gods were getting back at me.]

Second Visit: May 3, 2014 (2:00 on a Saturday Afternoon)

Saturday morning I get the call: “Garganoooooo, I want to ride today. Let’s get some brisket.” And with those words, I was ready to give B.T.’s there second chance. I hoped it would be busier on a Saturday afternoon, resulting in food that wasn’t sitting around as long; with this logic, the quality had to be better – of course there is a fundamential problem with this logic. Go ahead, think about it for a minute.  That’s right, B.T.’s was very busy on that Thursday night,. so my rationale, at least in theory, makes little to no sense. I can only assume on that night it had been a short while since the brisket left the smoker. But back to the now… We (Todd, Angela, and myself) arrived at B.T.’s at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Although parking was sparse – as I imagine it usually is when a joint has fewer parking spaces and many diners – surprisingly the wait was not long at all. We had either come at the tail end of a rush, or we just beat it. Or it wasn’t a busy Saturday. Either way, we weren’t complaining. We quickly ordered and easily found a seat. Once the food was ready and the pictures were taken, it was enjoy time.

The Order: Andrew – Brisket Reuben and a side of pulled pork. Todd – Brisket sandwich and pulled pork sandwich. Angela – pulled chicken sandwich and french fries. And a round of bottomless sodas. Those cups now had a new found purpose!

The Reuben: This was an interesting choice. I’ve wanted to try this sandwich for a long while. The brisket was definitely tender and juicy. The bread was soft, but had the nice crispiness to it one can only get from the grill. It had a very good flavor, however I felt the dressing overpowered the taste of the brisket. Meaty brisket was definitely the mildest of the flavors of this sandwich.

The Brisket: Todd proclaimed this to be the best brisket he has had in his  life. And I will vouch that it was very very good. Heck, it was excellent! Tender. Juicy. Nice smoke ring. Easily pulled apart with fingers. What more can you ask for?

The Pulled Pork: My portion of pulled pork was fatty and it contained a lot of bark. Typically I don’t complain about too much bark. But if I separated the shreds of pork from the fatty pieces and bark, I would be left with a pile of pork significantly smaller than the rest.

The Chicken and Fries: Angela thought the chicken was slightly dryer than she anticipated, and less flavorful than the other foods on the table. The tiny forkful that I had was dry. The portion of french fries was heaping, and as far as french fries go, they were very good.

The short and skinny from the tall and fat… Wow, I am glad I made it out a second time. You know that old adage “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression”? Well, it’s wrong. When one takes advantage of a second chance in the way B.T.’s unknowingly did, it really makes you forget the first impression. Portions are a good size. I would recommend trying the brisket. And on future visits I must try the ribs. Every order of ribs I saw go out to the customers looked absolutely succulent. There are many more options on the menu than your typically BBQ place. That’s OK. Breathe. Choose wisely. You will be back a second time. And most likely a third. There will be plenty of opportunity to sample the remainder of the menu.

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B.T.’s Smokehouse on Facebook

B.T.’s on Twitter

B.T.’s on the web

Address: 392 Main St., Sturbridge, MA 01566

Phone: 508-347-3188

 

Ride hard, ride safe, and enjoy every mile.

Yesterday was supposed to be a beautiful day of riding around the Quabbin Reservoir in Mass. I met Jim in Sturbridge for breakfast at Annie’s Country Kitchen (much to my amazement, I was a few minutes late and he was about 40 minutes early so I didn’t have to wait for a table). Over a few cups of coffee and and egg sandwich we decided rather than ride the Quabbin, we would head south into CT, then head west across CT-20, north up 8, and scoot over the Pike so he could be home for a dinner reservation.

The ride south and west was uneventful, but after we passed through Granby and were headed toward Winsted, it occurred to me we had the New England Air Museum nearby at Bradley Airport. I hadn’t been since I was a kid, and I knew from previous conversations it was something Jim would enjoy. And so we turned around and headed to the museum.

As much as I am fascinated by airplanes, I don’t know anything about them and their history. Walking through the NEAM was great, and having it basically in my backyard makes me wonder why I haven’t been there in the 13 years I’ve lived in the area. We didn’t do a ton of riding, but that was OK.  It was more exciting to see and do something new…

Here is a gallery of Jim’s photos from the NEAM:

More Information:

New England Air Museum

38 Perimeter Rd., Bradley International Airport (Windsor Locks, CT)

Phone: 860-623-3305

Web: http://www.neam.org/

Admission: $12/adults (12 and up), $6.50 (ages 4-11), Free (3 and under), $11 Senior Citizens 65 and up

 

Ride hard, ride safe, and enjoy every mile.

 

August 16-18 were the dates for the 2nd Annual Weekend Motorcycle Trip. We (Melisa, Todd, Kim, and I) settled on Burlington, VT as our home base and rode up Lake Champlain and through the Adirondacks on Saturday. Sunday would be our long return trip home. Over the three-day span, we clocked almost 800 miles on the odometers, drank some decent (and some better than decent, and some not-so decent) beers, ate both good and disappointing food, saw some unexpected sights and places, experienced a ferry ride with the bikes, got crabs, cherished great company, and enjoyed every mile of the trip.

The one thing missing from this trip is a photo of the four of us. It really bums me out to realize we missed the opportunity to take one.

The Good

Asiana House (191 Pearl St. Burlington, VT) – This was great sushi. No complaints could be heard at our table. After a disappointing plate of chicken sate the night before, the sate here was the exclamation point on an eating experience filled with tasty rolls, and tuna and salmon sushi.

Fiddlehead IPA – This beer was consumed at Asiana House, not in the Fiddlehead taproom. It proved to be the best non-Hill Farmstead or Lawson’s beer I had all weekend. It was hoppy and citrusy with just the right bite! A close second was the Lompoc LSD at The Farmhouse.

Blackback Pub (Interesection of Main and Stowe, Waterbury, VT) – I couldn’t imagine being within 20 minutes of this place without stopping by. Faithful readers know this is a favorite location of ours, and the hour stop on Sunday early-afternoon was well worth it. Lawson’s Double Sunshine was my draft of choice.

The Could Have Been Much Better Than It Was

The Vermont Pub & Brewery (144 College St. Burlington, VT) – I am hoping we were the victim of the late night menu. The food was sub par at best (in fact, my rare burger was probably the best offering at the table and that’s probably because it was unintentionally undercooked), and worse, the beer was not memorable.

The Farmhouse Tap & Grill (160 Bank St. Burlington, VT) – I don’t feel right putting this in the “The Could Have Been Much Better Than It Was” category, but it’s primarily because of the beer selection. For a 24 beer tap list, I expected so much more. The aforementioned Lompoc LSD and the Hill Farmstead Edward were the best offerings on Friday night. And both kegs were killed by Saturday night (fortunately the Edward was followed by HF’s Society and Solitude 7). Clearly this is the hip and happening place in Burlington. Another drawback in my book.

The Scenery – We’ve done some great riding over the last few years, and unfortunately we all agreed that the scenery on this route was a bit disappointing. All roads are not created equal, and it’s ok. We still had a blast.

The Unexpected

Lake Placid – Never thought I would ride through this town on this trip. I had seen a few shots of the ski jumps some friends took on a June trip, and I at that point I wanted to eventually get to Placid. The town was packed with tourists, and riding down the main street reminded me of riding through Freeport, Maine. Long story short, I would like to spend at least a day exploring Placid in the near future. Of course, riding through the town wasn’t enough to make me want to sit through the movie of the same name.

Fort Ticonderoga – It is difficult to ignore pieces of American history, and it seemed a no brainer to take the short road up and try to see the fort. It just wasn’t in the cards for that day. Unfortunately we pulled in minutes after the gates closed to the last tour. I think the $17.50 price tag per person to visit is rather steep, but it really punctuates the point that nothing is cheap nowadays – including history! When I visit Placid again, I will be sure to visit Fort Ticonderoga.

Breathe Right – Thanks to these wonders of modern medicine, Todd really didn’t snore. Of course, he supposedly woke up looking like he played the role of punching bag to Mike Tyson (1980’s vintage Mike, not the Mike we’ve been subject to in later years) – again, one of those photos that unfortunately was never taken on this trip.

780 miles later, here is a map of the route, with the letters representing our various stops along the way:

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 3.36.16 PM

A: Starting and end points (Enfield, CT)

B: Hotel (Burlington, VT)

C: Jon’s Family Restaurant (Malone, NY) – A very enjoyable lunch stop. Food was very good with no complaints.

D: Lake Placid (Lake Placid, NY)

E: Essex – Charlotte Ferry (Essex, NY)

F: Hotel (Burlington, VT)

G: Blackback Pub (Waterbury, VT)

H: Start of Route 17 (Waitsfield, VT) – See below.

I: Fort Ticonderoga (Ticonderoga, NY)

J: Joe’s Crab Shack (Latham, NY) – First time eating at a Joe’s, and probably my second or third time eating crabs. Very enjoyable. And costly. But enjoyable and worth it.

Road highlights: Route 73 in New York, and Route 17 in Vermont. The recommendation is to ride all of route 17. The Mad River portion of 17 is very twisty with ascents, descents, and hairpins. Unfortunately, the road is in horrible condition.  In my opinion, riding the Mad River portion of 17 is best done west to east ending in Waitsfield rather than east to west. But of course, it’s all subjective. Route 73 was the best stretch of road on Saturday’s Adirondack ride. It meets with Route 86 south of Placid and meets up with 9N (N apparently does not mean north) which took us to the Ferry.

Although we didn’t stop, we passed a bbq joint called Tail O’ The Pup in Raybrook, NY. The place was packed tighter than a can of sardines (I think that’s a decent cliche). This is a definite must stop in the future. Further research shows it to be lobster and bbq. This may just be food Heaven, but I won’t know until we go back.

And finally, a gallery of our trip:

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[Note: Purposely omitted was our stop at Green Mountain Harley Davidson where Kim fell in love with a Wide Glide. I chose to leave it out so this post does not pour salt in the wounds of her aching heart.]

Ride hard, ride safe, and enjoy every mile.

Ride Date: August 8, 2013

I started looking into motorcycle availability and rental options 5 minutes after my Alaskan vacation was booked last October. And each time I said the same thing, “I can’t fathom spending $250/day to rent a bike.” Then the vacation came. I almost rented a 2002 Goldwing in Ketchikan but still refused to part with $125 for the first hour and $25 for each additional hour. And after that bug bit, stung, and drew blood, I inquired about renting a BMW or Goldwing in Fairbanks. It too would cost $250 for the day, with an additional $100 fee to ride the Haul Road – or Dalton Highway as it is known.

When I arrived in Anchorage I decided to make one last call to check availability at House of Harley. They had two bikes available and both had to be back by 4:00 pm. The rental rate was $25/hour (plus I would receive 20% off because of my HOG membership). How can I pass this up? I went to bed hoping for the weather to cooperate.

Waking up to rain is not a good sign when you want to ride. And it’s even worse when a dream ride is ahead of you. Melisa and I made it very clear to ourselves: unless the weather is horrible, we are going through with the rental and riding from Anchorage to Hope, Alaska – Hope was the site of the first gold strike… read about it here.

As luck would have it, the skies cleared. We set ourselves up with the rental of a 2013 Ultra Classic, spoke with Jolain at the rental desk about our route, and we were on our way. The journey wouldn’t be long, about 90 miles each way down the Seward Highway, but it was a perfect jaunt to fit into our 5 hour rental time frame.

Hopping on an unfamiliar scoot, or worse, one that doesn’t belong to you, is always nerve racking. A few feet into the trip the jitters go away and it’s time to enjoy the ride. After a few turns we were on the Seward Highway and heading south.

There is no sight like it in the United States – or at least none that I know of. While riding the highway, you are at sea level with the water on one side and the mountains immediately on the opposite side of the road. Train tracks run parallel the majority of the route as signs declaring avalanche dangers garnish the roadside. The water is known as the Turnagain Arm and it is part of the Cook Inlet. Apparently it was aptly named because of the glaciers that blocked safe passage through the water, and while Captain Cook steered the ship, it was always necessary to “turn again.”

We hit some rain for a 10 mile stretch. In fact, I think the rain stayed there all day. The cloud cover was low and the rain fell. And eventually we rode out of the rain. And it wasn’t until our return trip that we hit the rain again… for the same stretch of road.

Continuing down the Seward Highway, we passed the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, and rolled by the Whittier turn off – we were now heading into the Kenai Peninsula. Water was no longer on our side, and instead, we cut through stretches of lavish greenery, snow-capped peaks, and valleys filled with lush vegetation. Occasionally rushing streams (or more like rivers) cut through the landscape.

Within time we hit the right turn off to Hope, Alaska – a sign promised Hope to be 15 miles away. As we rode toward Hope, we were on the opposite side of Seward Highway, once again with water separating us from the Seward Highway. We knew a city wouldn’t simply “pop up out of nowhere,” and it didn’t. But sure enough, at the 15 mile marker, we started to see signs of civilization; albeit, small signs of civilization. A motel, a grocery store, and a gift shop all in one. A café and camping ground. A sign welcoming you to Hope. And suddenly the sign I jokingly thought I would see. “Road ends in 1 mile.” Then “Road ends in 1000 feet.” Finally, “End.” If you chose not to turn around, you could continue into the Porcupine camp ground, but we weren’t camping.

Turning the bike around, we tried to find more of the city of Hope. Turning left at the Welcome sign, the half circle road took us to 4th street, 3rd street, 2nd street, and back to Main St (apparently Main St. is the unnamed stretch of road into Hope). Although the town with a population of 200 was sparse at best, it boasted a free museum touting Hope’s integral history during the gold rush.

We had two hours to make it back so we quickly hit the road. And we hit the road quickly. Making it back by 4:15 – we had a half hour window we could take advantage of and we opted to use it.

The only regrets of the trip would be time. In hindsight, seeing and exploring Hope’s history would have been fascinating, and stopping for a bite to eat at a barbecue joint called “Turnagain Arm Pit” would have been, if not tasty, a great photo opportunity.

Chalk this up as a great ride all around. I enjoyed it. Melisa enjoyed it. We experienced the wide sweeps of the Seward Highway, the vast Alaskan scenery, the ever-changing climate, the modern of Anchorage and the old in Hope.  Riding a rental wasn’t bad, but I can’t help to think how much better the roads would be on my Bea.

Ride hard, ride safe, and enjoy every mile.

451.9

Posted: June 22, 2013 in Destinations, General Musings, Photos

Yesterday I embarked on my longest day of riding to date… not in the number of hours, but in the number of miles. Left the house at 5:55 in the morning to meet Todd at 7:00 in Lee, MA. We hauled down 90W into New York and then up Route 30 through the Adirondacks. This was a work trip for Todd, but it’s hard to fathom a better way to spend a Friday.

Here are a few pics.

Along Route 28

Route 30 North

Todd riding up 30 (actually heading south)

The Route

Ride hard, ride safe, and enjoy every mile.

Bikes and barbeque seem to go hand in hand. Like Tom and Jerry. Like ketchup and mustard. Like meat and potatoes. Like bacon and, well, anything. So when the opportunity to finally ride out to Wingdale New York to try Big W’s Roadside Bar-B-Q presented itself, I couldn’t resist. Big W’s was brought to my attention two summers ago, and the first ride was planned for last summer until things, as they say, got in the way.

Now, I’ve been to Big W’s twice, and both times I was impressed. The ride on its own is beautiful, and the Q makes it even better.

The First Visit: Sunday April 28, 2013

Three of us (myself, Todd, and Kim) rolled into Big W’s around 2:00 pm. I didn’t think it until my second visit, but our arrival time might have made a difference here. We were hungry to say the least. And from the moment we pulled in we were hit with the sights and smells of barbecue; from diners enjoying large platters of food on the outdoor picnic tables, to Big W carving pounds of brisket, ribs, and chicken on the cutting board as you walk through the door. Our senses were hit immediately and stomachs groaned for food.

Big W’s serves three basic sizes: truly sensible, sensible, and roadside. Story has it that roadside, the largest portion, dates back to the earlier days of Big W’s as a roadside eatery without tables. Diners would get large portions of ‘cue and often split it amongst multiple people. One platter and multiple forks is a size option suitable for me, but even I couldn’t bring myself to order the roadside portion on this visit.

The Artist and His Canvas

After staring in wonder and awe for a few minutes, it was finally our time to order. There is something exhilarating about ordering for the first time at a restaurant you’ve looked forward to visiting. Am I ordering the right thing? This looks good, but so does that… I have a simple solution. Order more than necessary. That’s right, be a glutton when possible.

Between the three of us, we ordered 1/2 dozen of the smokey hot wings, and three sandwiches (or as they call them at Big W’s, Smokin’ Wich) – beef brisket, pulled pork, and burnt ends. Each Smokin’ Wich was ordered in the sensible size and came with a side of slaw and your choice of regular or spicy sauce (or both).

Neither of us was at all disappointed in the food. I focused my efforts on the brisket and wings, eating only a few of the burnt ends and a small portion pork. In fact, when sampling a new barbecue joint I will typically choose brisket as to me it is the best apples to apples comparison between restaurants. If one screws up their brisket, I probably don’t want to be eating there. Much like I will judge pub fare by nachos and wings. If you can’t make a good nacho platter, why am I to think anything else will stand out?

The wings and brisket.

So, on to the brisket. The brisket was extremely tender, trimmed perfectly, with the proper amount of char to get both the flavors of the meat and the flavors of the burnt ends in a single bite.  I found it much easier to eat some of the brisket with a fork, as the mountain of meat makes it a more difficult sandwich to eat by hand. And please, understand, this is a compliment to Big W’s, not a complaint. The more the better, especially when quantity does not sacrifice quality. This brisket rates much higher than many of the briskets I have eaten locally.

Between three of use, eating a half dozen wings should not have been a problem. Except for the fact that it was. We filled up on meats and could not bring ourselves to finish the wings. I brought three of the 6 home. They were smokey, and they were spicy, just as the name implied. The heat was not a buffalo/hot sauce heat however, and they were a welcomed change from traditional hot wings.

Kim ordered the pulled pork and she enjoyed it, as did I enjoy the bite or two I took. However the big surprise was the burnt ends. I get it, as I smoke by own BBQ at home, the burnt ends are the best parts of the barbecue. We make jokes that the burnt ends are nothing more than smoked carcinogens, but that doesn’t stop us from eating them. And fighting over them. In fact, it’s like fighting over the turkey skin on Thanksgiving, only no one makes a turkey skin sandwich (quite unfortunate I say). But Big W’s makes a Burnt Ends Smokin’ Wich with all the charred and meaty goodness. On this visit, the burnt ends were smoky, they were meaty, and they were still, surprisingly, a little moist.

The burnt ends were definitely the star of the show. With our Smokin’ Wichs gone and the wings packed to go, we made our way out of Big W’s and on home. I knew I would have to make the trip back sooner rather than later. And I did…

The Second Visit: Sunday June 9, 2013

Sometime after our trip to Big W’s in April, we all hopped on the bikes and made our way back to Bub’s BBQ in Sunderland, MA to compare the two. We remember Bub’s to be excellent. And next to Big W’s, it was not. So our mind was set to journey back to Big W’s. The biggest difference between this trip and the last, Melisa was able to join us. The second biggest difference, everyone had burnt ends on the brain.

I again ordered the sensible brisket. Only this time, instead of supplementing the meal with wings, I added the mac and cheese and the sloppy ribs instead. Ordering the sloppy ribs was actually a mistake, as I thought I was ordering a pound of ribs on the bone, not a pound of rib meat. Had I paid attention to the menu, I would have known the difference, but no harm no foul. They were certainly sloppy and the meat was extremely tender. I can only imagine how messy this would be on a Smokin’ Wich. And how tasty as well!

Melisa, Todd, and Kim all ordered the Burnt Ends Smokin’ Wich. The burnt ends on this visit were drier than the first visit, and accounted for a slight fall off in quality, but we could only attribute this to our later arrival time… after 5:00 on a Sunday. This will by no means prevent us from coming back and ordering them again. Interestingly, although I ordered the brisket, I ate more burnt ends this time than the last. And my wife ate the majority of my brisket as it was more tender. This again, is not the fault of Big W’s. Why a woman whose idea of cooking meat is walking a cow through a warm room would ever order something called burnt ends is beyond me. But she did. And her loss was my gain. Of course, I did lose out on my brisket in the process.

The short and skinny from the tall and fat… For the second time in less than two months we walked onto Big W’s hungry, and we left full and satisfied. It’s been decided that next time, and there will be a next time, we are cutting to the barbecue chase and ordering the “For the Table.” It will give us a great sampling of everything… 1 whole rack of ribs, 1 whole chicken, 1 pound each of brisket and pulled pork, and 6 large sides. I think the “For the Table” leftovers is the real reason I bought the tour pack…

Website: http://bigwsbbq.com/index.html

Address: 1475 Route 22, Wingdale NY

Phone: 845-832-6200

Ride hard, ride safe, and enjoy every mile.