Update: We have a few things to report on right now:
- Nestor left Mason Dixon in early January. He does have future plans and things in the works.
- Mason Dixon was closed yesterday for mechanical issues, but they are up and running and are open for lunch right now.
- The new Pitmaster, Ryan Cuber, has been working with Nestor since opening and had a BBQ catering company of his own, Savory Smoke Catering.
- Ryan left and, soon after, they closed for good.
Once upon a time, Mason Dixon was a line that clearly divided the North and South, but now–in Stamford–Mason Dixon is a Smokehouse that clearly divides killer BBQ from, um, well, pretty much all the rest. Yup, as we shared back on October 1, Pitmaster Nestor Laracuente was on a mission to open up a new BBQ joint, a joint that would clearly draw a new line for BBQ in Fairfield County. When we discovered the Brooklyn Pit Rat chose to open that joint in our very own Stamford, we were thankful AF we were on the right side of the line.
So while we were eager to get in there as soon as it opened, we like to give a restaurant a few weeks to work the kinks out before we review. As you can imagine, the suspense was killing us, even more so because we follow their hot, meaty, BBQ porn laden Instagram account . . . ooooh yeaaaahhh . . . ok, we digress. So yes, we finally dropped in with our friend Nicole and her friend Justin and took down pretty much EVERYTHING from cocktails, to sides, to apps, and of course to the MEATS. So, let’s break it on down:
Cocktails and Drinks
Let’s not pretend here. If you’re going to a real-deal BBQ spot, you cannot and should not pass up the drinks. And, while we love the combo of beer and BBQ (especially when they have 8 on draft and 18 by the bottle here) or maybe even a big ole bold wine which they have a nice selection of, we couldn’t resist digging into their creative cocktail menu, mainly because, well, Bourbon was a key ingredient in a bunch of the drinks. F’ yeah!
First up was the Snake In My Boot which is a drink Dan has been searching for ever since a trip to The Bearded Lady in Portland, ME. This cocktail, made with Rittenhouse Rye, Mezcal Vida, Averna, Hellfire Bitters, and Velvet Falernum, has a smoky undertone and a leathery kind of punch. Yes, leathery . . . trust us, it’s there. This is definitely a liquor lover’s cocktail because those are the dominant flavors. We’d suggest pairing this up with some of the heavier choices on the menu like the beef ribs or brisket.
Also up on the cocktail queue was the Southern Revival, a citrusy drink with lemon coming through. It had a bright bite, and just a perfect punch of sweetness. We also dug a Shallow Grave (points for that pun, right?) with the peaches adding a tart and fruity feel. Again, there was a great balance between liquor and sweetness. After that we took a trip over to the Wild Wild West cocktail that had that tart sweet punch from grapefruit coming through . . . another definite must order. And, because the owner Cristina Ramirez had suggested to it to us during the meal, we went with the White Lie. The pineapple sneaks up front with the gin finishing in a gentle undertone. We’re not gonna lie (ha, see what we did there), it was our favorite cocktail of the night and a great drink for the gin-shy or the afficiando.
As fans of food in all its glorious forms, we cannot pass up apps . . . even at a BBQ restaurant when you know you’re gonna feel like the greasy pig you ate for at least 24 hours after. So . . . Pork Rind Nachos. Pork Rind Nachos, yes. Motherf@#ker, these were some seriously awesome nachos. Why? Well, the pork rinds lay on the bottom like little prizes in your cereal box, some super crispy, and some softer all sopped up with sauce. The pulled pork on top was flavorful, delicate, juicy, the guac on top added a rich creaminess, and the sour cream helped to cut the in-your-face flavors of the entire dish. MUST. ORDER.
Justin wanted the Rib Tips, so we were more than welcome to oblige with an order. The pork flavor came to the front with a smoky and unctuous slap. Yeah, that’s right: freakin unctuous. If you’re a fan of the crispy and crunchy parts of the rib, this is definitely your jam. We also went with the chicken wings, but had trouble deciding between Buffalo, Jerk, or BBQ. But, since we figured we’d be having plenty o’ BBQ, we went with the fun Jerk style. The drums were crispy on the outside, while juicy in the middle, but the flats weren’t as crispy. So, half of us (Dan, the drumstick man) were satisifed, and the other half (Kristien, who loves the flats) wanted more crunch from the skin. We did love the Jerk sauce that had a nice kick to it, though.
One of the many things we love about Nestor (don’t let the badass, devil horn throwing, slayer overall wearing exterior scare ya, he’s really a teddy bear . . . a demented teddy bear that may or may not be sinisterly plotting your demise while you cuddle it in your sleep, but a teddy bear nonetheless) is that he sees the importance of the sides being as good as the meats. In fact, he actually started off as a chef before he even got the BBQ bug.
Up first were the Brisket Beans which were spicy, smoky, rich, and also tasted great the next day. We loved the chunks of brisket, too, adding a nice texture and flavor to the beans.
Also, the Mac-N-Cheese: Kristien’s Achilles’ heal! Yum! Like a classic, old school kinda dish with plenty of rich and melty cheese. A definite win.
Collard Greens: Excellent, cooked just right, but Dan thought just a bit too salty. Kristien says no such thing.
Vinegar Apple Slaw: Fun, with a nice sweetness to it. The bright flavors are a really nice way to break up the heavy and rich BBQ . . . it felt like a vacation for your mouth.
Loaded Potato Salad: This was our least favorite of the evening. Not bad by any means, but it just seemed bland and unoriginal considering everything else was so damn good.
Cornbread: This is some of the best cornbread that you’ll find in any BBQ spot in the Northeast. It was delicate, moist, and wasn’t too dense. Oh, and it stood the next day test quite well, too. ;) Kristien about near died of cornbread overdose.
We started with the Beef Ribs which Nestor brought over to us. So, we wondered how this would compare to the last time we had his ribs . . . oh, hot damn they were excellent as always. First of all, it looks like you’re about ready to tear through a serious dinosaur bone, that’s how massive these bad boys are. When you bite in, you get tastes of some of the most delicately cooked BBQ here in the Northeast. The crust, nice and simple, adds a great texture contrast and flavor punch. The chimichuri sauce on the side is bright, even refreshing . . . excellent with the ribs, but we prefer to just take them in all by their lonesome at least for the first few bites. Yup, that damn good.
Our other fave from Nestor was his pork belly, so we made sure to order that again. It came out with the crispiest skin we have yet to taste elsewhere. After cracking through, the pork belly was the perfect mixture of fatty goodness and delicate meat. Savory, unctuous (there’s that word again), best effing pork belly you’ll ever have. And it’s been a couple weeks, so it’s not like that’s the post pork-gasm high talking.
Chicken. Yes, we ordered chicken, and here’s why: chicken is a great way to evaluate a BBQ joint. Most of the time, BBQ chicken comes out dry and bland oh, but definitely not at Mason Dixon. First up, the skin was so damn crispy, wow, and seasoned as hell with delicious flavor. The meat itself was juicy and had a nice level of smoke hitting it. Also a hit was the Jalapeno Cheddar Sausage, which had a spicy kick and a great juicy texture.
We also ordered the brisket because, well, it’s a freakin BBQ requirement (and Kristien’s favorite). Again, Nestor does it up just right with some juicy cuts that are so delicate that they break up with just a little touch of the fork. Best brisket in Fairfield County? ABSOLUTELY. Best Brisket we’ve ever had? Quite possibly, and Kristien’s eaten at pretty much every BBQ joint in Austin, TX.
And, rounding out our meal we had an order of St. Louis Ribs. To be frank the jury is out on these guys. Granted, it was our last dish, we were meated out, and it was the end of the night for them, but when we took our first bites, they were a bit dry. Yes, the smoke ring on these were excellent, and yes, the taste of the ribs was on point, but they just weren’t as juicy and tender as everything else. At that point in the meal we had our backs against the meat wall, so we took a whole bunch of stuff home including those ribs . . . which is why the jury is still out. See, we reheated them for breakfast and lunch . . . and it’s like The St. Louis Ribs were resurrected from the dead. They were actually plenty juicy and meaty with no signs of dryness that we experienced at the restaurant. Perhaps we had tried the one rib on the plate that wasn’t as good as the others? We’re not sure, but we really dug them . . . and that rosemary punch was nice too.
Although Mason Dixon hasn’t been open for too long, Nestor’s vision and skill as a pitmaster and chef are legendary AF. To us, Mason Dixon Smokehouse draws a new line, a line of standard for BBQ in Connecticut that really, only maybe one other spot comes close to (that’s Bear’s Smokehouse in Hartford). It’s what BBQ should be . . . the kinda joint you can hit up for some wicked cocktails, nom worthy apps and sides, and decadent succulent meats. The total BBQ package, if you will, complete with the quintessential, kickass pitmaster! Prices were great to boot, with our total bill coming in lower than what we had expected. So, all in, what the hell are you waiting for? Make your reservation and get in there already.