Vermont: Curtis' BBQ, Country Girl Diner, Sams Steak House
Famous Ribs in Putney
By: Cisco - Jul 27, 2007
40 Old Depot Road
Putney, Vermont, 05346
Off 1 91 Exit 4
Country Girl Diner
Chester, VT 05143
Route 103 South
Ludlow, VT 05149
We hit the road for a bit of R&R and much needed escape from the mountains of boxes from our recent move. In addition to seeking out scenic Vermont villages and charming country inns there was also the ever diligent quest for unique dining experiences particularly barbecue. There are distinct regional styles of cooking smoked meat and normally one doesn't think of the genre north of the Mason Dixon line. Particularly, of all places, Vermont. Good heavens.
I spotted a barbecue joint. But it was late afternoon and not quite supper time. I asked if they had a small portion sampler just to try the meat and sauce. No luck nothing less than a half slab. Then I asked for a cup of coffee. That just got a nervous laugh and blank stare. Guess it was time to move on.
Arriving in lovely Chester late in the afternoon we explored. At the edge of town we found Curtis BBQ. It looked real promising but being a Monday it was closed tighter than a drum. Since we were staying over I was determined to come back for lunch on Tuesday. Again no luck. Reading the sign on the door it stated open Thursday through Sunday. Darn.
Inquiring of our inn keeper she confirmed that it was first class barbecue. As good as that famous pit down off I 91. On her recommendation we headed off for Sam's Steak House which was ten miles or so up the road. It was pricey for what you get. There was an outstanding salad bar and hearty warm bread but Astrid found her lamb chops to be tough and less than prime cuts. I tried the dry aged rib eye and it was perfectly done with a nice charcoal flavor. Overall, we enjoyed the meal but endured the loud conversation about the Lord from a neighboring table. There were several men debating the merits of the Roman Catholic Church in general and their local parish and its lack of amenities in particular. It was one thing listening to mediocre piped in music and quite another to be assaulted by a religious diatribe. We got out of there for about sixty bucks including one beer and no extras.
Turns out next day at the Country Girl Diner, where was dropped in for lunch, could have had a New York Sirloin Strip for $9.95. I had the first rate meat loaf. Always order the meat loaf at diners. It is how you rate such an eatery. And Astrid had the turkey burger. She was impressed by the fact that the menu states that no trans fats are used to prepare their food. The interior décor was classic diner and nobody has messed with it as has sadly been the case for the historic, now ruined, Miss Adams Diner back home in the Berkshires. I just love diners. There is something about that prefab metal, art deco interior that evokes such an aura of nostalgia. Overall, I would strongly recommend the Country Girl Diner if you are in the area.
Puttering around we drove through Brattleboro and got stuck in a traffic jam. That was just what we were intending to get away from and headed back North up 1 91and ended up in scenic Putney. Astrid spotted Curtis BBQ and immediately we were in barbecue heaven. Actually I had stopped there years ago and chatted with Curtis. Dropping by during the afternoon we scoped it out and after checking in at the Putney Inn got settled, poked around town, and returned for dinner.
Manning the pit was Chris Parker the son in law of the legendary Curtis Tuff. I asked if there was a connection with the Curtis BBQ up in Chester. "That's me actually," Tuff said. "I cook up there but come down here and help out. Curtis is 69 now so he only cooks on the weekends. Which is the busy time. Particularly on Sundays when the line is across the lot and down the street. As you can see this is open air picnic style so Curtis closes it in October and reopens in April. Up in Chester I am open year round."
So you married into the family to get the recipe I suggested. "No, not really, he still hasn't given me the recipe to the sauce, that's a secret," Parker said. "He makes the sauce a gallon at a time down in his cellar."
What sauce do you use up in Chester? "I buy it from Curtis," Parker said. There is also another difference. In addition to Curtis's open pit style Chris also does some smoking and serves brisket on Sunday nights as a weekly special. For the open pit style there is a funky setup made out of scrap metal on top of which is a broad, blackened grease thickened grill. Unlike home grills it appears never to be cleaned. I asked what wood is used. It turns out to be a variety of hard woods including maple. Out back there was a huge pile of split wood.
"When you put the slabs of ribs on the grill it gives off a lot of smoke," Parker said. "So it is smoked meat but different than putting it in a smoker. It takes about an hour and ten minutes to cook a slab." Depending on how busy it is there is enough room to cook a number of slabs as well as chicken. "The smoke penetrates pretty good so you get that flavor. Some folks trim their ribs but I give you the whole pork rib Memphis style which has more meat."
Of course it's all about the sauce. We took our tray out to the shed and tried to find a relatively clean picnic table. There was a biker club enjoying a meal at the next table. They were nice guys including a couple of senior citizens. Customers bus their own tables and are good about separating out recycles bottles and trash and bringing the trays back. One of the bikers told me "I like the ribs, but you have to tear into them. Next time I'm ordering the chicken which just falls off the bone." I got the half slab for $13 which had about 6 big, meaty ribs. A full slab is $24.75 and you can also get a medium portion for $10 or a small one at $6.25. The chicken is priced at $7 for a half, breast and wing for $4, with leg and thigh for $3.75. There are also a la carte sides. I got corn and Astrid ordered yams with her leg and thigh dinner. She asked for one of my ribs to try it out.
She tried the mild sauce while I went for the hot one. Of course they were superb. It is basically a tomato base and vinegar style sauce with spices and hot pepper. Parker says that every batch Curtis makes is different. On a busy Sunday they go through as much as sixteen gallons of sauce. You wonder if Curtis ever gets out of the basement. Or if Parker will ever get the recipe. Perhaps it was a part of a pre nup agreement. Guess Curtis wants to make sure his famous recipe stays in the family. Barbecue folks can be down right secretive. Anyone can smoke the meat, but the sauce, that's another matter. Y'all come back.