Our first out-of-town odyssey with Gerry was our venture just across the bridge to Fort Lee and the Korean, Masil House (see archives for November 9). When his turn to pick came up again, he took us further, a continuing theme for Gerry, when we traveled to Westchester for the not very exotic, though maybe it is for Westchester, barbecue. Here is what we experienced in the in Valhalla, New York in the fall of 2003.
It was a bit confusing to begin with. We were heading north looking for the Southbound Barb-B-Que. And north, in this case wasn’t the Bronx, it was Westchester, Valhalla to be precise, conveniently Gerry’s hometown as well as the final resting place of Babe Ruth. Rick had obliged to haul those of us who lived in the city in his all-wheel turbo Ram out of the bright lights and into the dark roads of Westchester. Gerry is a bit of a barbecue aficionado, so we all very much anticipated his choice despite the schlep out of New York City’s environs. Using my increasingly fading memory of Westchester and the vague directions Gerry gave me, we were able to find the restaurant without too much trouble. Stepping out of the “Ram,” I sniffed. There was nothing yet. . .nothing to indicate that we were in very close proximity to a self-proclaimed “butt kickin’ rib joint.” But as we got closer two huge exhaust ventilators were spewing the reassuringly familiar perfume of smoking meat.
The restaurant was painfully bright especially after navigating the black streets of Westchester. Gerry and Eugene were already present and so was our table for six. All of the other tables were occupied making Southbound Bar-B-Que one of the most popular of places we have experienced. Could there have been a little blurb in the New Yorker? Or was it that this was the real deal? Service started off slow, but the delay was more than compensated by very cold mugs of beer, endless baskets of freshly-made potato chips that kept arriving on our table, and recollections by Eugene about his first experience watching ESPN at the former incarnation of Southbound Bar-B-Que, a German restaurant named Franzl’s.
As is the case with most barbecue joints, the menu was not very extensive. Ribs were the advertised specialty and available in a half or full rack. The other typical barbecue items were pulled pork, smoked chicken, sausage, and beef brisket. With the exception of the chicken, we ordered everything, including two full racks of ribs. Then there were the sides; corn bread, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, corn, and “freedom” fries because the place would have been empty if they used the other F* word to define their fries.
Our food began to arrive around the first pitch of Game 5 of the World Series. And by the time David Wells left the game because of a bad back, the Valhalla chapter of the Hells Angels had entered the restaurant and took seats directly behind us. But neither the intimidating presence of the Angels nor the unwelcome David Wells’ situation deterred us from devouring the variety of smoked meats placed in front of us. The ribs, though spiced a bit blandly, were cooked perfectly, and the pulled pork was a true winner as was the beef brisket. The sides were nothing more than adequate; the corn bread a bit sweet and the macaroni and cheese unmemorable. The sauces were also a disappointment; all were overly sweet for my palate and the desserts good but indistinguishable. But I guess, despite the shortcomings, ribs cooked very closely to perfection in, of all places, Westchester, is a triumph in itself. I just hope the close proximity to barbecue doesn’t make Gerry complacent and limit his excellent efforts in that very same department.
I’m not sure when Southbound Barb-B-Que closed, but Gerry assures me it’s been gone a long time and that the food, after several visits following ours, went downhill very quickly. So, according to Gerry, its demise was no loss to him. The Yankees lost the World Series a few days later; David Wells’ injury pretty much doomed them and it wasn’t until six years later when they got back to the Series.
*The F word in the fall of 2003 was “French” for French fries. This was during the ridiculous hysteria during the lead up to the Iraq invasion when the French and their anti-invasion stance was vilified by Rupert Murdoch’s minions.