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It's like this: if you want to know if someone's barbecue is worth a damn, ask a Southerner.
In the case of Dagwood's Kansas City BBQ, I sought the expertise of our resident Texan, Rick Koster. I've had the stuff from Texas, too, and we both find it a massive drag to have our hearts broken time and again by subpar BBQ grub. Still, he's a trouper and sussed it out before I did and brought back a relieved seal of approval.
So off I went, after a marathon day, literally to bring home the bacon my husband for dinner. It pleases me to hereby concur with Koster.
His test for good barbecue is whether the brisket cuts the mustard, so to speak, so naturally, I sampled my beef brisket first. Tom Marion, the proprietor of Dagwood's, was good enough to separate the sandwich fixings (including the sauce) of my giant meal of beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches, two sides, and a half rack of ribs, so's not to soggify the sandwich buns - normally, pulled pork and brisket sammies come with coleslaw and pickles on top.
As it turns out, the brisket smells and looks too delicious not to sample before assembling a sandwich. It's tender and smoky, but not too smoky; the flavor of the wood that made the smoke balances the boldness of the smoky effect.
A note on the coleslaw: I don't tend to like it (or anything heavily doused in mayonnaise), BUT slaw Dagwood's-style is a crisp, crunchy mixture, more like the veggies you might find in a spring roll. The barely there mayo adds just enough moisture to make the slaw great sandwich topping.
After I graciously handed over the brisket to my husband (who has close ties to Texas and also approves), I tucked into the pulled pork, a tender, tasty preparation. It's significantly better with the house BBQ sauce, which is the tangy variety. What tasted like cumin (one of my favorite spices) kept the zing in its place, rounding out the sauce's overall flavor.
Between bites of our smoky victuals, we somehow crammed in helpings of Dagwood's outstanding macaroni and cheese and beans with meat. The mac and cheese is scrumptious, with what I suspect is corn meal as a topper. In any event, there's a subtle sweetness that permeates the cheesy, thick mac, and it's reminiscent of the sweetness of corn.
As for the beans'n'meat (beans also available without meat), they're a sweet, yet still a bit savory, maple-y delight - more like Boston baked beans than the spicier sort you'd get at a Popeye's - and they won us over in a big way. I love beans and have high standards for them, and Dagwood's met with a very high rating indeed.
After a break in all that eating, we moved over to our ribs, hefty specimens that let the natural flavor of the bones shine through, amid all that sauce, char, and smoke. They're moist, not greasy; tender, not gamey - and very filling. Take note when ordering your own feast.
But of course, no meal for this gal is over until dessert time, and luckily Dagwood's offers a tempting, gorgeous display of homemade cookies, billed in the shop as Dagette's Desserts. These giant, soft cookies, which more resemble a muffin top or wee cake, come in about half a dozen flavors, including the intriguing Nutella flavor that I will most definitely try down the road. For starters, we sampled a Triple Chocolate with Sea Salt cookie - beyond amazing, with the perfect dash of saltiness in every bite - and the Cake Batter Pudding cookie, made with actual pudding! The pudding cookie, decked with colored sprinkles, will make any child very happy, or bring out the child in most adults. It's like the world's smallest birthday cake, and downright delicious. Do not miss sampling these sweet, well presented confections.
Actually, don't miss out on Dagwood's, period (unless, of course, you're a vegetarian; then just have a cookie). Customers are guaranteed great, Kansas-style eats, gracious service and a very full belly if all goes right.
453 Montauk Ave., New London
(860) 437-0251; takeout available
Cuisine: Kansas City-style barbecue
Service: Super friendly and efficient
Atmosphere: Small, bright and clean storefront with cheery decor, including vintage rock and roll stuff. Drinks available in a cooler, along with the house "Pig Perfume" BBQ sauce.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Prices: The most expensive item its a full rack of ribs at $22. Sandwiches are $7.
Credit cards: All major.
Handicapped access: Decent. Small quarters are as spacious as they can be.