Of the 46 different restaurants that appeared on Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list on Wednesday, none elicited such quick rebuttals as the pick of Twin Anchor. We should know, as it was one of the first places we called out. From our point of view, it seemed like an inferior choice next to the authentic barbecue of Smoque BBQ, and certainly not worthy of being in the same class as Frontera. But while classic Chicago “tavern-style barbecue” may be boiled and have no smoke flavor, it’s still wildly popular. Plus, some of the terms meant to deride it, especially the “meat jello” slam, didn’t make much sense to Kevin Pang. So we really have to hand it to him for exploring why Twin Anchor makes foodies so upset. Surely Pang knows a few things about barbecue, and he also brought in barbecue expert Gary Wiviott to figure it all out.
At first, Wiviott attacks Twin Anchor in the normal manner, simply stating that it is not barbecue and an “abomination.” Basically, there is no smoke and the meat falls off the bone. But Pang keeps questioning him, bringing up a series of great points. First off, though the restaurant bakes the ribs, never does Twin Anchor say that it is serving barbecue. Second, some people actually prefer for the ribs to be that tender. How can a preference be so ridiculed?
Pang also brings up the term “meat jello,” which barbecue aficionados use to describe inferior barbecue. “But there are plenty of people, my grandmother for one, who covets ‘fall off the bone.’ I like pot roast or veal shank that falls off the bone.”
That’s when we thought, “hey, we love pot roast, too!” Has our judgement been clouded by what barbecue experts have been telling us for years? But then Wiviott kind of hits it out of the park:
When you’re using something like veal shank it’s absolutely delicious. Baby back ribs, which is what Twin Anchors uses, are essentially bones from pork chops. Baby backs don’t have a lot of connective tissue and succulent fat, they’re a fair bit leaner. So you’re essentially braising the flavor out of it and you’re not left with that richness. You’re basically left with mushy, bland meat that’s being amped up flavor-wise with sugar-laden barbecue sauce that’s caramelized.
And there it is, all in plain English. Heads up to Pang for properly digging into the issue and not just accepting the party line, and to Wiviott for finally articulating why Twin Anchor’s ribs suck. For what it’s worth, Wiviott does recommend the burger.
The Michelin Guide Twin Anchors and the Merits of Meat Jello [The Stew/Trib]