Judith Roll, creator of the popular Tabouli Mediterranean Grill in Stamford, felt that the dining neighborhood north of Bullshead was underserved. “The area needed something a little hip,” she told CTBites recently. “So I thought, take a chance, and try Barbecue.”
As if by wizardry, wisps of sweet hickory smoke were soon wafting over High Ridge Road, not far from the Merritt, as Judy’s Bar + Kitchen opened its doors to a diverse (and hungry) local crowd.
Even though she bills her dinner dishes as “Low Country,” Judith made no pilgrimage to Memphis and Carolina to study the nuances of time, temperature, cuts and woods. Rather she stayed in the neighborhood and developed her menu out of a culinary sensibility honed at CIA and the kitchens of gifted chefs like Wolfgang Puck.
“Simple and fresh are my style,” she says. “Good meat, cooked low and slow, what more do you need to know?”
Case in point: the Smoked BBQ Trio -- a suite of a quarter chicken, half a rack of St. Louis Ribs, and a choice of either brisket or pulled pork. “Simple” describes their rub: just salt and pepper. And “Subtle” defines their smoke: almost ethereal. Judith feels the meat should star. The rub and smoke lend notes.
However, every table offers a basket of sweet and pungent sauces so some Good Old Boys can flavor to taste. To our palate, none of the meats needed any anointment. “Lost in the sauce” is an all too common gaffe at Connecticut BBQ joints.
In fact, many of the St. Louis ribs we have tried elsewhere (including Missouri) are slathered in goo. Judy’s succulent and glistening iteration is non-drip, but still finger lickin’ good. The ribs come with fixins – two sides and chunks of homemade cornbread.
When it comes to Brisket, as most home cooks and bbq-ers know too well, the cut requires a long cook to melt the connective tissue, often at the peril of drying out the meat. Judy’s version is not only juicy, but fall off the fork and melt in the mouth tender. Because of the moistness (and the refinement of the smoke), the meat tasted more braised than barbequed. It is served sliced for dinner and as a sandwich for lunch -- with house-made chips.
Starters more than whet the appetite. They can be nicely combined with other apps for a lighter meal.
A top choice is the pulled pork slider. Removed from the smoker at 195 degrees, the meat shreds easily, then is generously piled on a tasty bun from Good Breads Bakery in Port Chester. We couldn’t resist asking Judith what a nice Jewish girl was doing serving pork. “I guess I practice Judy-ism,” she laughed. If so, might pairing the slider with fried dill pickles (frickles) or onion rings, accompanied by a cold beer, approach a religious experience?
The smoked chicken wings also rank as a house favorite. The bites are served with a choice of dressings, BBQ or Buffalo.
… we are not usually fans of the wings genre. First, there’s that mess. And the grease. Then there’s the thin ratio of meat to surface and bone. But here’s the big thing: chicken wings often serve as just a delivery system for their sauces, at the cost of a soggy exterior and dried out interior. Chicken skin, on any part of a cooked bird, should be crisp and the underlying meat moist -- texture as critical as taste.
We ordered Judy’s smoked wings with BBQ for lunch. The meat was flavorful and moist, but the pieces came drenched in a sugary sauce that overpowered the smoking, rendered the skin chewy, and demanded an unrelenting supply of wet wipes.
However, on a subsequent visit, we ordered the wings plain, unencumbered with any dressing. The skin was crisp, the meat moist, and the smoked flavor came through delicious, deep and delicate. Without dressing or deep fried grease, Judy’s smoked, naked wings are a one wipe meal! If you’re winging it, we recommend going bare.
Though the menu is largely influenced by the smoker that dominates the kitchen, non-carnivores can enjoy distinctly Southern-themed choices such as lump crab cakes with a side of Louisiana remoulade slaw, jerk salmon, or fried chicken tenders and Belgian waffles coated in dark Maple syrup and honey butter.
And of course, from the woman who gave us Tabouli, there must be plants: Farm Stand Veggies and Hummus, a Veggie Chili, and an array of salads, including the Harvest, a mélange of spinach, romaine, apples, blue cheese and walnuts.
Oh, one more thing: Judy’s legendary desserts. Created with a dash of southern style, the sweets are listed on a huge chalkboard overlooking the dining room. Though tempted by the recommend banana cream pudding, we chose a peach cake, baked and presented in a miniature cast iron skillet. Simple, unadorned, the light crunch of the pan crust gives way to a cake as soft and sweet as a warm Georgia kiss.
Like the food, the setting and signature of the restaurant are unpretentious: spacious seating for around 75 people, a relaxed outdoor patio, and an inviting bar, boasting a wide marble top for dining as well as drinking.
With ample free parking, straightforward, creative cooking, and a popular, lively Happy Hour, Judy’s Bar + Kitchen has been a chance well taken – a restaurant warmly welcomed to the neighborhood.
927 High Ridge Road 203 890-9999 judysbarandkitchen.com
[Photography by Alix Brown Photography]