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.