Update: Hoodoo Brown BBQ is now open! Click here for our review.
Call us jaded, but when we heard about a new bbq joint opening up here in CT we were a little skeptical. See, despite our undying hope, we’ve only found one spot (Bear’s in Hartford) that has both really good meats and really good sides. The rest of BBQ joints we’ve tried here in CT have had maybe one or two really good meats or sides, but never the whole package, ya know? Well, not to get ahead of ourselves, but we suspect things ’bout to change ’round these parts with the opening of Hoodoo Brown BBQ in Ridgefield on May 22 at 5:30 pm. We can say pretty confidently, based Dan’s recent tasting at an exclusive preview, that Hoodoo Brown BBQ has the potential to be the best in the state, if not the surrounding states. Wooooh, demm fighting words! Okay, let us explain:
As you get out of your car, savory smoke fills the air and you get that pain in your gut that blurts out, “FEED ME NOOOOOWWWW!” As you enter, the first thing you see is a giant glass window in back of the main dining room that gives you a nice view of the smoker in action. Oh, and that smoker? She’s a 108 inch Lang smoker that owners Cody Sperry and Nestor Laracuente (also Pitmaster) brought up from Georgia. They keep it on all day long at a nice and toasty 225º. Nestor is very proud of that view, saying that it helped bring a transparency to the bbq and experience at Hoodoo Brown. “We’re not taking any shortcuts here. It’s always low, it’s always slow. We’re only using wood here to smoke . . . no gas to speed things up like many places do.”
So, once you’re able to take your eyes off of the beautiful smoker, you see custom made tables in the main dining area with plenty of rustic, Texan and Wild West inspired decorations and touches, like big planked wooden panels. Those tables and some of the decorations were made just down the road by Rob at Board Silly Sawmill,fitting with their love of keeping things local. Just around the corner to the right you’ll also see a massive communal table that’s perfect for large groups, gatherings, or mixing and mingling with other people. That table? Also custom built by Rob. And, finally, you could go off to the left and check out the bar, fully stocked with a ridiculous amount of moonshines, bourbons, whiskeys, CT/TX beer . . . but more on this later.
Nestor Laracuente, Master Pitmaster
At the heart of any BBQ joint is the smoker, but a smoker is pretty useless unless you have someone manning it that is not only proficient, but also patient and experienced. Cody, who has lived in Ridgefield for almost 20 years, wanted to bring authentic Texas BBQ to town after a BBQ-laden trip to Austin changed his life. So,when he returned he got together with his friend Chris Sexton (Front End Manager), who he knew from all the way back to the sixth grade, and they formulated a plan. When they were ready, they placed an ad on Craigslist for some help in setting up a BBQ joint of their own . . . yeah, believe it or not, Craigslist!
Nestor saw the ad and was immediately drawn to it. Sure, he’d spent plenty of time at BBQ joints and had one of his most successful runs at Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn, pulling in countless award (like this one), but he wanted something different. So, he sent a response and Cody was immediately flattered and impressed that Nestor would be interested in working together. He knew Nestor’s work very well and was amazed that someone with his clout and expertise in the BBQ field would want to go into business with him.
Just taking a look at Nestor the word badass immediately comes to mind. He’s muscular, he’s gruff-looking, and he’s got that Sons of Anarchy vibe going on. But, when you talk with him, you see he’s just a big ‘ole softie in the middle. He’s also well spoken, has a heart for bbq, and is constantly making sure that everyone is happy and satisfied. And, unlike most Pitmasters that we know of, he’s a jack of all trades. When Dan was there, he tried a Sweet Georgia Peach Tea that he brewed himself, which was perfectly balanced, refreshing, and paired so nicely with the BBQ. And, you’ll see his touch on the menu with dishes like Fried Chicken over Red Velvet Waffles sprinkled with Ancho Maple Syrup, plenty of sides like Texas Ranch Potato Salad and Pit Beans, and some sandwiches that’ll take you over the edge.
Meats, Techniques, and Tasting Notes
Let’s start with Nestor’s meat (that sounds dirty, huh?) One option is to order the smoked meats by the 1/2 pound which include beef ribs, brisket, pulled pork, burnt ends, pork belly, smoked turkey (when available), St. Louis Ribs, Smoked Chicken, and Smoked Sausage (Jalapeño Cheddar or Provolone Parsley.) If you’re feeling especially adventurous and you’re with a group of people, definitely think about ordering their Holy Texas Trinity which includes ribs, 3 sausage links, brisket, and corn bread and feeds 4-6 people for $59. There’s also The Table Breaker which includes St. Louis Ribs, 1/2 chicken, cornbread, and a pound of two meats and feeds 8-10 people for $110.
Before Dan got to try the Beef Ribs, Crispy Pork Belly, and Brisket, he got to learn about the prep work that goes into the smoking of the meat. First of all, they use both Maple and Oak trees in the smoker, keeping with woods that are native to CT. This is another way, in addition to sourcing top quality meats, that Hoodoo Brown keeps things local and helps them to stay at the top of their game.
The first meat up was the Beef Ribs. First Nestor took out the middle of the three rib bones . . . this way you get the best deal possible without that extra weight. After that, Nestor cut into the hunking piece and you could see the flavor and juices trapped inside along with a nice pink O-ring. He then cubed it and gave it to Dan for his first bites. Exotic smoky notes came through with juicy and unctuous flavor bursting through. This was seasoned simply with salt and pepper. The meat itself stood strong on its own, but you should definitely try their Jalapeño Fire Roasted Chimichurri for a little extra spice and refreshing herby flavor. And, in terms of cook, the ribs were delicate and easily pulled off the bone. All told, best beef ribs ever.
Up next was the Crispy Pork Belly which came out in a nice thick slab. Nestor cut it up into nice, bite size pieces, and Dan dug in. The skin was super crispy and had a nice salty kick, which is a good contrast to the dueling fatty nature of the pork belly. It’s served up with their Hoodoo Sauce which is like a salsa being light, herby, vinegary, and refreshing, bringing another great contrast in tastes. This contrast is a manifestation of their positioning as Outlaw BBQ (Hoodoo Brown was a badass outlaw btw): they keep things traditional Texan, but throw in nice touches like the sauces and salsas. Above all, they want their meats to stand on their own without being buried and smothered in sauces.
Our tasting ended with their brisket that is smoked, depending on the cut of meat, for 14 hours or more. Quite simply, as Nestor put it, it takes three things to make their perfect brisket: “Salt and pepper brine, smoke, and time.” Nestor let Dan touch the brisket and explained that he’s been doing BBQ for about 20 years, so he doesn’t even need to take the temps anymore, he can tell when the meat’s ready just by feel. When he served it, he gave three separate samples: the flats, the fatty slices, and the ends. First up, the flats are the leaner part of the brisket, but it wasn’t dry like most other brisket we order is. In fact, this was the juiciest piece of brisket . . . the juiciest Dan has ever had and, dare he say, the best. With a simple movement of the fork, the brisket broke apart. The fatty part, unsurprisingly, was even more delicate and full of flavor. And the ends were a particular treat because, as Nestor explained, that’s where the smoky flavor concentrates. Nestor commented, “I only give these to people I like . . . but I’ll give you them anyway.” His sarcasm and humor were endearing and much appreciated.
Just a final note on the meats, whenever you order a selection, you’ll get a toasty French baguette that comes with an herbed bone marrow butter. Oh. My. God. In addition, there will be various sauces available should you want them like their Citrus Bourbon Glaze and Carolina Sauce. But, please, for the love of all things sacred and holy, taste the meats all alone before you put anything on them. You need to experience this BBQ in its purest form to really appreciate it.
Other Menu Options
Although Dan didn’t get to try any of these, we’re both pretty excited to eat the heck out of everything else on the menu. First up, you’ve got some apps to start with like Frickles, Smoked Wings, Tailpipes (BBQ Egg Rolls w/ Pulled Pork, Chicken, or Brisket), BBQ Nachos, Texas Poutine with Brisket Debris, and Smoked Meatballs. In addition to salads, there will also be two Southern Classic Entrees that include the Fried Chicken dish that we mentioned and also a Maple Bourbon Glazed Salmon. Also, it wouldn’t be BBQ without sides, right? They’ll have Mac & Cheese, Pit Beans, Texas Ranch Potato Salad, Candied Yams, Apple Vinegar Slaw, Collared Greens, Cajun Corn on the Cob, and Hand Cut Fries. And, wrapping it all up, there will be six sandwiches that you’ll wanna stuff your face with like Dutch Henry, which includes Burnt Ends with Whiskey Sour Pickles, or the Mysterious Dave, which comes with Crispy Pork Belly, Lettuce, Fried Green Tomatoes, and a Smoked Aioli.
CT/TX Beers and Plenty of Cocktails
Chris is very proud of Hoodoo’s selection of CT Craft Beer which includes, as of opening time, Relic, Shebeen, Black Hog, Half Full, Charter Oak, and more. In fact, they entered into a special partnership with the boys at Black Hog and will always have two Black Hog Brews on tap. In addition to keeping things local to the CT beer scene, they’ll also have Texas brews like Shiner available. But, if beer ain’t yo thang, there will be plenty of great options with an enviable selection of flavored moonshines and a formidable collection of bourbons and whiskeys. Oh, and they’ll be using those liquors to make creative cocktails, too, like their Peach Sweet Tea mixed with Peach Moonshine, Moonshine Sangria, a housemade smoked tomato mixture for their own Bloody Mary’s that could have chunks of brisket on top if you dig it. Plus, look for something awesome that Nestor has perfected over the years: smoked ice cubes. Yup, he smokes the water then freezes it into cubes. The result is a slightly cloudy cube that gives off a slight smokiness as it melts.
Hours, Future Plans, and Take Out
Hoodoo will be opening Saturday, 5/22, at 5:30. From there on, they’ll be open every day from 11:30-10 and maybe later over the weekend. It all depends on how much meat is left because once it’s gone, it’s gone until the next meat comes out of the smoker. Also, we did hear from Nestor that there are plans for brunch, too, so you should be all over that.
But, let’s say it’s a lazy kinda day and you just don’t wanna cook. How about you just roll up to the side window at Hoodoo Brown BBQ, place an order, and get it all wrapped and ready to go in just about 5 minutes? Um, giddy up cowboy!
Like we said at the start of this preview review, we think there’s a crazy amount of potential for greatness at Hoodoo Brown. The question that we need to figure out is what’s the rest of the menu like and does it live up to the BBQ that Dan devoured? If it does and if the drinks are pouring nicely, this will no doubt reach the top of countless BBQ lists and help put CT BBQ on the map. Imagine that, huh?
Hoodoo Brown BBQ
Address: 967 Ethan Allen Highway
Ridgefield, CT 06877