Blue Ribbon BBQ: Make Sure you Wear Pants with an Elasticated Band

Worcestershire Sauce

Image by Peter Baron via Flickr

Blue Ribbon BBQ has such great food, you will forget you are north of the Mason Dixon line.  Blue Ribbon has two locations, one just outside of Arlington Center and the in West Newton. Both areas are lousy with shops, bars and even a movie theater, so whether you are a 80-year woman at heart (like me) or a young’un looking for a great dinner before a night on the town, Blue Ribbon is in the perfect location.

Blue Ribbon is unassuming.  The decorations are a little over the top in terms of trying to impart that Southern service station / diner feeling, but it has character and it works.  The dining areas are utilitarian and small.  It’s really a take-away place, so don’t go expecting table service or a large dining area and lots of music / people / lively atmosphere.  It’s small and laid back.

For those of you that really like Southern food, they do have sweet tea and it is delicious without being diabetes-inducing sweet (I judge all Southern food by how good their sweet tea is and how likely that sweet tea is to give me diabetes).  For the record and before I receive some comments on this, I know the factors contributing to diabetes are complex and sweet tea alone will not cause diabetes.  I have just had some sweet tea (looking at you McDonald’s) that has been so sweet as to make me to Google the symptoms and causes of diabetes.

Since the Arlington location is closer to our home, we generally find ourselves at that venue, so my comments are really based on my interactions with the staff in Arlington.  On our most recent visit a few weeks ago, I asked the cashier which items would be suitable for a person with a gluten allergy.  The gentleman was very nice, but clearly got nervous when I said food allergy, so he called over his manager.  The manager came over and pulled out a list of items.  Blue Ribbon has developed a guidance sheet for its staff of gluten-free items.

The staff have told me different things are safe for my gluten-free consumption on different visits.  I think this is due to the Worchestershire sauce they use in many of their dishes.  Worchestershire sauce is tricky.  It looks like it should contain gluten and in fact, in the UK, many varieties are made with malt vinegar and therefore do contain gluten, however, here in the US, most varieties are made with distilled white vinegar and certified gluten-free (such French’s and Lea & Perrins). 

On my most recent visit, the manager told me suggested I avoid most of their sauces since they contain Worchestershire sauce, which was news to me.  I had been a few times without hearing this.  Since I don’t know of any widely utilized malt-based Worchestershire sauce used here in the US, and had had the sauces before without incident, I decided to have the BBQ sauces anyway.  I was fine, but I did keep the sauce down to a minimum.

I emailed Scott, the general manager of Blue Ribbon to see if he could provide a brand or a definitive answer.  Scott stated that Blue Ribbon currently uses a generic brand of Worchestershire sauce, which has not been certified as gluten-free, so they advise customers with gluten allergies to avoid items containing Worchestershire sauce. So, if you are extremely sensitive, I would urge you to err on the side of caution.

While the BBQ sauces many be contentious, many items are suitable for people with gluten allergies.  I was told that the burnt ends are dusted with wheat flour, but most of the other types of meat are ok, including the pulled pork and chicken; just ask them to omit the North Carolina sauce.

From the sides, the corn, collard greens, cole slaw, green beans, mashed potatoes and rice & beans are ok.  The desserts are not ok, nor are many of the specialties, but there are still plenty of choices.

I went for the North Carolina pulled pork platter with black-eyed corn, mashed potatoes and cole slaw.  For $11.99, I got enough food for 3 meals.  Granted my husband says I eat like a pigeon, but nonetheless the plate was awe-inspiringly large.

The meat was tender and juicy.  I loved the super spicy BBQ sauce: it burned my tongue a little, but had just enough sweetness to make it a hurt-so-good kind of hot.  When I needed to cool my tongue down, I went for the more vinegary golden BBQ sauce, which is actually a mustard-based sauce.  Really tasty.

The cole slaw offered a nice chance to cool my tongue after a heaping helping of super spicy sauce.  The corn was fresh, but not particularly distinctive.  The collard greens were excellent.  They had just enough chili flakes and smoky ham flavor to make them interesting and offered a nice balance with the earthy flavor of the greens.

Like I said, it is mostly a take-away place, so there is no real opportunity to linger after dinner and enjoy a drink / coffee.  Luckily, downtown Arlington (or Newton Center) is not too far away, so it is easy to waddle down town afterwards to burn off some calories and find a place to lounge away while the food baby digests.

Gluten-free Friendly Rating

Food Taste & Quality

Lemon Macaroons

Since meeting the excellent folks from White Lion Baking Company, I have been experimenting more with almond flour.  This flour is high in protein and has a low glycemic index.  It’s a great way to add some protein into your diet.  I also like that almond flour produces a beautiful, light batter with no weird aftertaste.

The first thing I think of when I think of almond flour is French macaroons.  I had my first French macaroon in London.   The firm I worked at occasionally ordered macaroons from Paul Patisserie for afternoon meetings.  Since I worked nights, I got to sample a lot of left over pastries.  Every time I found macaroons in the kitchen, I housed those things.  I loved the delicate crunch of the cookie and the flavors; just hints of pistachio or chocolate or vanilla.

When I finally made my way to Paris, I was enchanted by their presentation: rows of drool-worthy rainbows of cookies lining the windows of just about every patisserie.

However, making macaroons has been a less enchanting experience.  The list of ingredients is short, but the list of things that can go wrong is pretty much endless.  I have been a little afraid of making my own since my first two attempts came out mediocre: they were either dry or overly toothsome without the pretty little “feet” typical of the ones made by the pros.

Two things were critical in overcoming these barriers: the first is this helpful article by Helen Dujardin aptly entitled Demystifying Macaroons, and the second was reading Elena Amsterdam’s the Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook and learning about the importance of the brands of almond flour.  I had been using Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal Flour, readily available at my local Whole Foods, but this coarser grind almond flour does is a bit heavy for a delicate recipe like this.  I bought Honeyville Farm’s almond flour online (recommended by Amsterdam) and have been pleased with the results.

Be sure to keep almond flour in the fridge to avoid spoilage, especially on those odd days it is actually warm and humid this summer.  Nut flours are prone to molding.

Despite the expert opinions I had read, my first batch of egg whites fell flat and didn’t whip into stiff peaks.  I got to soft peaks, but after 20 minutes with the mixer I had to admit defeat and tossed the marshmallow-y mix into ramekins and baked at 325 for 20 minutes.  They made nice little angel food-like cakes, which I served with fresh fruit for dessert.

The second time around, I managed to get the stiff peaks I was looking for.  I can’t really account for how or why I was able to get it right the second time around, but I do know that it is worth trying again rather than moving forward with so-so egg meringues.


4 extra large egg whites

dash of salt

If you like to be precise in your measuring, try these dash, pinch and smidge measuring spoons, available on Amazon

¼ tsp cream of tartar

zest of one lemon

4-5 drops yellow food coloring

½ cup extra fine sugar

1 ½ cups almond flour

1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar


2 tsp lemon curd

½ cup mascarpone cheese

2 T Greek yogurt

2 T confectioner’s sugar

Makes about 28-32 macaroons, depending on how large you pipe out the rounds

1. Separate the eggs while cold.  Allow the whites to sit out on the counter and come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.  Instead of tossing the yolks, try reserving them for fresh lemon curd.  Line 4 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Pulse the almond flour and confectioner’s sugar together until well blended, about 15-30 seconds. I neglected to sift my flour mix.  That was a mistake, so make sure you sift this mix!  My batter came out a bit lumpy.

Be sure to stream in your sugar slowly. I put in about a teaspoon at a time and count to ten before adding more.







3. When the egg whites are at room temperature, put them in a mixing bowl and starting on low speed, start to beat the egg whites.  Add the dash of salt and the cream of tartar.  After about 30 seconds, move the mixer speed to medium, mix for another minute or two, until the egg whites start to turn white and foamy. Turn the mixer speed up to high.

4. When the eggs look like melted marshmallows, starting add the superfine sugar, very slowly.  I try to add about a teaspoon at a time, allowing each addition a few seconds to become incorporated.  The meringue should whip into stiff peaks.  This video is a fantastic guide to making meringue.

5. Add the lemon zest and the food coloring.  Mix until incorporated.

6. Folding in by hand with a spatula, gently fold in the almond flour mixture in thirds.  Try not to over mix; sifting the flour will make this easier.

It's easier to pipe these out if you make them like drawing spirals or coils.

7. Using a pastry bag, pipe little circles (about 1-1 ½ inches in diameter) onto the lined baking sheets.  I start by piping in a circle from the center.  The macaroons will look a little flat.  That is normal.

8. Tap the baking sheets on the counter firmly.  Go ahead: give them a good whack.  It releases air bubbles and helps the cookies to rise.

9. Preheat the oven to 325°F / 160°C.  Allow the cookies to stand on the counter 30 minutes.

10. Bake for 10-15 minutes.  The macaroons should puff up and have those little “feet” that Dujardin writes about.  They should just start to brown a little around the bottom edges.

11. Allow to stand for about 10 minutes.  Carefully remove from baking sheets and transfer to a cooling rack.

Make sure you allow the cookies to cool completely before you fill them. Since they are so small, this is pretty easy.

12.  Make the filling by combining all the ingredients and stirring together.  At least the filling is easy!

13. When the cookies are completely cool, spread a little of the filling on the cookies and sandwich together.  If you want a little extra lemon zing, spread a little additional lemon curd directly onto the cookies.

I suggest you store these in an airtight container separated by layers of wax paper.  They should keep in a cool place for 3-4 days.


These go well with DiSarano and coffee!