Tuesday, March 17, 2009

BBQ and The Arizona Kid

When we left Memphis, we both agreed that it would be some time before we have the urge to eat pork barbecue again. While Chuck had that brief encounter with pulled pork at Joe’s Farm Grill in Gilbert, AZ, I had abstained until I learned that Guy Fieri (yes, him again) had eaten at a local BBQ joint, Thee Pitts Again, in Phoenix. So off we went to this reproduction of a 50’s diner located in the Glendale area. Seating was in two large dining rooms, both with the traditional 50’s pink color scheme. We took a green booth.

"Back in 1979, Roger Wagner became a night cook at a place called Thee Pitts in Phoenix. One day the owner asked him if he would like to compete in a barbecue competition in Scottsdale representing the restaurant. Of course, he subsequently won and the owner then offered him part ownership in the restaurant. They were open for eight years before closing, when the family moved to Michigan. They finally returned to Arizona in 1995 and reopened as a family-run restaurant, calling it Thee Pitts Again in the hope of drawing back old customers" (Guy Fieri, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives).

The menu contains all of the standard BBQ joint items--ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken, pulled turkey and sliced ham--plus a few more unusual (for a joint) entrees like smoked salmon, smoked and grilled shrimp, beef short ribs, and fish and chips.

Having been disappointed with his Texas brisket experience, Chuck was still looking for good brisket. As a result, he chose one of the combo platters: pulled pork, brisket, fries, mashed potatoes and gravy (yes, you read that right), and corn bread. My selection was the half rack of pork ribs served dry with fries, slaw, and corn bread. As if that wasn’t enough food, we added an order of onion rings.

There were winners and losers--and I ended up with the loser. First, the fries that came with both of our lunches were very good and were dusted with what might have been the BBQ rub. My slaw was also very good and was made with a four to one ratio of mayo to vinegar with the addition of a small amount of sugar. And the sauce--Worcestershire, ketchup, brown sugar, and those ever popular secret ingredients--accented rather than overwhelmed the food. The corn bread was on the dry side, but since I usually don’t pay attention to the corn bread (except at the Turquoise Room in Winslow), I didn’t much care. As for my ribs, they were not very good ribs. Light on meat and heavy on fat, they came dry, i.e., without sauce, as ordered and were dry from overcooking. Not even the very good sauce could save them.

On the other hand, Chuck’s lunch was extremely good. Both the brisket and pulled pork were moist and juicy. The smoked flavor of both meats was enhanced by the excellent sauce. Having been disappointed with Texas brisket, this thinly sliced and tender portion was just what he had been looking for. Thee Pitts Again smokes their meat over mesquite rather than the more traditional hardwood and the taste difference was noticeable. Mesquite tends to impart a stronger wood flavor and is especially suited to strong meats like beef and game. I didn’t bother to taste his mashed potatoes (Have I mentioned before that I don’t like mashed potatoes?) so don’t have a firsthand review. When I asked Chuck how they were he answered “They were very good.” I’ll leave it to you to interpret.

Finally, the onion rings. These were the antithesis of what we like. We prefer thin rings lightly coated. These were fat rings thickly coated. You’ll know we didn’t like them when I tell you we did not finish the order.

Roger still finds time to compete in national barbecue challenges. Under the name The Arizona Kid he has accumulated nearly 400 awards. Some of the trophies are displayed in the restaurant.

So what is the final rating? Many things about Thee Pitts Again were very good but a BBQ joint that serves fatty and dry ribs that are light on meat only warrants a 3.5 Addie rating.

(I would give Thee Pitts Again a 4.5—the best brisket I’ve found and pulled pork barbecue as good as the best of Memphis. --Chuck)

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