Lakeland Barbecue Co.

I don’t remember exact flavors at Good Buddies, exempt them dirty fries. Why my phantom taste buds can recite this one menu item among all the others is beyond human comprehension. Yet, as an ode to the restaurant that once bustled then succumbed to a tragic fire a half dozen years or more in downtown Lakeland, my French fry cart The Root concocted our own version of dirty fries. Unfortunate or indifferent as it is, Good buddies isn’t back although the team that once brought some of the best BBQ around is. And what’s in a name really? For me, it happens to be nostalgia for  something I honestly can’t really remember too much of other than my brain verifies they was awesome. Lakeland BBQ Co. has risen out of the ashes of a burned down building and years worth of domination in local BBQ competitions. That is what their reputation of this new to you named BBQ Co is built upon.

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This isn’t really a review, think of it more of an introduction to how I gauge my barbeque.
When you walk in, head toward the bar in the far reaches of the building where you might see someone waving a wooden stock pot spoon at you to control foot traffic in the right direction. If you don’t already know how to order BBQ from a new place here’s how you do it. Everyone’s got one or two favorite cuts of meat or preparations. From birth I’ve been a rib guy, mainly spare with the tips attached. If that’s not available, I wont always go for the back ribs as the next option. If not pork ribs, ill usually gravitate (if available) toward more rare white rabbit type forms such as Burnt Ends, In House Smoked sausage, Pig Belly and Mutton. If you don’t have a preference with BBQ I think you’re on the verge of being lost. I’m saying this because we have rules. Without rules, chaos reigns. When chaos reigns, you get your queues from a talking fox. On the first trip to a new BBQ restaurant or frankly one you’ve never been before, always order what you already love. This is your gauge. If you don’t think they do what you like very well, you probably aren’t going to like the rest. I would never order pulled or chopped pork over ribs, brisket, sausage, lamb, duck or even chicken, so why would I judge based on that? Chopped pork is way down my list, but this is  not at the behest of anyone that likes it. We all have our security blankets.

The ordering structure at Lakeland BBQ co. makes it easy to perform a second test because the subject is already at the table. Saucing. Take your less predominant index finger  out. Place a few dabs of whichever sauce you think you’ll enjoy. You want control, which is why I squeeze with my right and test with the left. Their spicy sauce is not overbearing on the heat index, but it’s cold inside to be honest. Usually shivering will cause you to feel the heat more than it’s meant to be felt, so sit near the window for maximum effort. It was very tolerable nonetheless. I detected a flavor combination with a subtle complexity right off the bat. I think I got some coffee and smoked chile, caramelized brown sugar in there somewhere.

As for the ribs:

The smoke ring was there as you see, but the smoky flavor wasn’t as bring you to your knees powerful as you’ll find at other joints.  Because of these factors, the texture made me think more of deeply roasted shoulder. I respect the restraint they exhibited as it caused me to actually taste pork. Kind of the reason we like the stuff in the first place.

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The menu is brief with the main and sides at a minimum, so you don’t have a myriad of options. I’m fine with that. I’d rather have fresh tasty sides done very well, over a pliable sheet panned week old macaroni and cheese. Opting for what I perceive everyone will gravitate toward, Cheesy Hash brown casserole was my side of choice, although the following visit allowed me to put their Collards under the microscope. You see, in actuality making good Collard Greens isn’t tough. Just don’t serve them raw in a salad or turn ’em to mush. everything else within the spectrum is allowable. The problem is people who make really good Collard Greens don’t want to admit anyone else does them good.  I have to admit, they done did the Collards right. Tender, ham hocky, salty and tangy with some great pot likker broth to sip as an after meal digestif.

A fitting suprise was the wedge of cake like cornbread on my lunch tray. I wasn’t expecting it, probably didn’t need it from the generous amount of ribs they provided, however I was very happy to eat the entire brick. Restaurant cornbread can be as fickle as a newspaper editor, twice as crummy and three times, no four times as dry. Not here.

Since they’re only open for Lunch, this new place might not end up on everyone’s to do list. If you’re a fan of Good buddies, maybe you’ll try this and think it’s just like they used to do it. Maybe you’ll think they have grown from the years being on the circuit. Maybe you’ll be elbow deep in pork fat  and far too busy to pontificate over these trivialized matters.

Asiadog – New York City, NY

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I’m going to suggest that when it comes to New York hot dogs, you forget Nathan’s, forget Sabrett, forget Hebrew National. While all of those venerable names have provided tasty dogs to hungry patrons for decades, there is a new dog on the block, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s from Asia.

Owners Mel and Steve are celebrating their diverse Asian background by applying old world flavors to the humble New York staple. Asiadog is the manifestation of their desire to combine two corners of the culinary world to create seven tantalizing dogs with flavors from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. As with most brilliant ideas, once you see it, you wonder why this hasn’t been done before. Maybe it has, but there’s a reason I’m here talking about Asiadog and not some other lackluster joint. They get it right, and for all the sumo-sized flavors they’re pumping out, it all starts with the dog. You can pile any number of delectable toppings on a bland dog and it’ll fall flat, but start with a plump and juicy dog, bursting with unctuous saltiness, and you’ve got the perfect platform for a winning weiner.

Of the seven individuals on the list, I went with my soon-to-be-best-friends, Wanging and Vinh,  respectively of Chinese and Vietnamese descent. Wangding came fully loaded with a healthy pile of Chinese BBQ pork belly, thinly sliced cucumbers and scallions. It was actually reminiscent of a Peking duck bun. The omnipresent sauce tasted a bit like hoisin and the pork belly chunks had the same juicy tenderness of a well-roasted duck, pair that with a slightly sweet, spongy hot dog bun and you’re in for a Chinese chow-down.

Vinh was a nice compliment to the assertive Wangding. It traded the powerful brown BBQ/hoisin sauce for pickled carrot and daikon, fresh cucumber, jalepeño, cilantro and pork paté. Where the Wangding is something you’d appreciate on a frigid day in Beijing, the Vinh is a refreshing summer snack that you’d like to enjoy under cay hoa sua tree in one of the many parks in Hanoi. My only complaint was that the flavor of the paté was too timid compared to the pickled veg and jalepeño. Granted it did lend creaminess to the affair, but I really wanted a good slab of paté that made itself known. I’m nitpicking though, both dogs were just unbelievable, the best I’ve had in recent memory.

Not in the mood for a dog? You’re crazy, but it’s cool, Asiadog has a handful of alternatives that look just as tasty. A Korean bulgogi burger topped with either kimchi or Asian slaw, a pulled pork sammy with ginger BBQ sauce again with kimchi or slaw and the most intriguing, a kimchi pancake corndog, deep-fried and served with Korean chili sauce.

Asiadog, I love you guys, you hit all the right notes, a simple menu full of savory dogs, fresher than fresh, expertly executed Asian toppings and a well designed menu and graphic style to boot. Visiting New York? Living in New York? Why haven’t you been to Asiadog? I’ll definitely be back, kudos Mel and Steve, thank you so much for sharing your food with the world and keep up the good work!

P.S. Please make t-shirts with your logo on it, I know I’m not the only one who wants one!

Asiadog on Urbanspoon