>> Wednesday, August 01, 2012
We've had a gemstone hiding under our nose this entire summer.
Of course we've known about Formaggio Kitchen the store. How could we not? It's the most famous cheese shop in Boston and likely one of the best gourmet markets as well. It's not a surprise that Julia Child (who would have turned 100 this August) was a loyal customer of this market.
But Formaggio Kitchen is not just a store. On Saturdays from March to October, they serve a mean barbecue right outside the store.
Bryan and I decided to stop by one Saturday late morning (around 11AM) and were floored by how good it was.
There's tons of prep work that goes into all this fantastic food. Starting on Thursday, grill masters smoke the ribs and pulled chicken, pork, beef, and lamb over a variety of wood, such as apple wood chips. On Friday, whole chickens are split and marinated while the ribs begin their long 3 1/2 hour slow cook. Meanwhile, the pulled meats begin an even longer 10 hour slow grill.
After the crazy 10 hours of cooking, the grill masters manually pull apart the meat (which can be quite labor intensive!) and cook everything in large pots with seasoning and sauce.
On top of all this, they are baking cornbread, stewing baked beans, making cole slaw, potato salad, and all the necessary sauces to go with the barbecue.
In short, for what they charge, it really seems like a ridiculously good bargain.
Let me tell you though, the lines can get really long. It may look deceptively short, but because there are only two people manning the entire grill, each order takes quite some time. The same two people take your order, (sometimes) quickly grill your item to heat it up, make your sandwich, pack it all up for you, and then handle payments as well. You can imagine how the line could get backed up really quickly.
See the picture above? That's where I was standing, and I waited about 45 minutes before ordering. I showed up around 11:20AM, which is pretty early (considering they open at 11AM).
When I finally got to the front of the line, I had a hard time deciding what to get!
Here's their huge tray of cornbread.
Homemade potato salad
Apple Jicama Cole Slaw
BBQ half chicken ($9) and grilled peaches
BBQ Pork Ribs (1/2 rack) for $12 (full rack for $24)
Texas Style Beef Ribs - $3 each
You can get various types of pulled meat sandwiches, such as pulled chicken, pulled lamb, pulled chicken, or beef brisket ($6 for a small, $10 for a large). All of these are served on Iggy's bread, which is grilled on the spot.
Check out these pots of gorgeous pulled meats, all of which have been smoked, cooked, and stewed for hours on end.
Everything is served in a takeout container, so you can conveniently take it with you wherever you need to go.
One of the more unique things they serve is lamejun, an Armenian flatbread topped with ground meat, garlic, and parsley paste. It's grilled on the spot and topped with cheese and a tomato salsa.
So What Did You Try?
It was really hard to decide (and we still ordered way too much food), but we finally settled on trying a pulled lamb sandwich, beef brisket sandwich, grilled corn, lamejun, and a beef rib.
The pulled meat sandwiches were fantastic. I was floored by their beautiful, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness as well as their rich, intense flavors. If you've never had pulled lamb and like lamb a lot, you'll love this sandwich. Yes, it was quite messy to eat (I think we used a fork and knife!) but so worth the cost!
The rib was nicely charred and flavorful but not exactly fall-off-the-bone. We thought it was definitely solid but it did not blow us away in quite the same way as the pulled meat sandwiches did. If we came back again, we would probably skip this one and try something different.
The grilled corn was great - solidly made with quality ingredients. I still prefer my own Taiwanese grilled corn (perhaps I'm partial to Asian flavors after all), but if you like corn with cheese, chili, and lime, you'll probably enjoy this.
I really liked the lamejun, which was quite unique and not something you would typically find at a BBQ joint. It turns out that the owner is from Turkey, which may have influenced the decision to offer some Mediterranean foods on the menu.
The lamejun come from Eastern Lamejun Bakers in Belmont and are grilled and topped with Formaggio's own cheese and salsa. I'd never had one before, so it's hard to compare it with others, but I will say that I loved the balanced contrast between the crispy flatbread, savory meat paste, and bright salsa on top. It was also a nice "break" from the heavy barbecued meats we were eating.
I absolutely loved the barbecue here. My favorites by far were the pulled meat sandwiches and (surprisingly) the lamejun. The ribs were fine, but I don't think they were necessarily the best I've had. Similarly, the corn was solid but nothing particularly spectacular.
Is it worth the wait? Well, depends on the weather, I think. 45 minutes is quite a long time. Bryan sat at one of the outdoor tables (there are a handful of seats) while I waited in line. We would text each other periodically throughout the wait as we tried to decide what to order. If you're short on time, you're arguably much better off heading to Blue Ribbon in Arlington and getting barbecue that's still pretty darn good.
I think it's sort of a chicken and egg problem. If the weather's bad, less people will come out, and then the wait isn't so bad. I think it's better to come either really early (like right at 11AM), or pretty late, like at 2PM. However, if you come late you risk them running out of certain items.
You can order ahead, which might alleviate the line problem. Also, outside is cash only. If you don't have enough cash, you'll have to go inside the store and wait in another line to pay.
In short, it has become one of my favorite barbecue places in the city, and I'm not the only one who thinks this. They won Best Street Food by Boston Magazine in 2007 and Top Ten Best New BBQ Spots in the US by Bon Appetit magazine.
And all this is just a 12-minute walk from my home. How awesome is that?
Formaggio Kitchen Saturday BBQ
244 Huron Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138