I almost passed on a chance to taste some of the new barbecue menu from Albany's Classe Catering when yesterday's forecast changed to a sweltering fug of haze, heat and humidity, but I really wanted to meet some of my fellow Capital District food bloggers and scope out a local company to see what they do and how hip they were to the gluten-free deal. Of course I got stuck in some urban traffic in my non-air-conditioned jalopy to and from my destination so as to enjoy this steamy weather pattern even further, but the overall foodie trek was well worth it.
Classe Catering is a local fixture on the wedding, corporate event and upscale party scene, with Executive Chef Jeremy Kane at the helm. Chef Kane has a passion for barbecue - one he shares with a teenaged nephew who sells a tasty Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce at local farmer's markets - and owner Brian Palozzolo is smart to launch a casual and less expensive Big KaHoona Barbeque catering line which he will be offering both on-site and as a take-out option from his 2 Petra Lane production facility (it's off Central Avenue near Exit 2W of the Northway).
Presenting the Big KaHoona Boyz: that's our wonderful server, Sean, on the left, owner Brian P. in the center and the knowledgeable, gracious and quietly confident Chef Kane on the right.
Pierce Communications arranged for this blogger preview of the Big KaHoona Barbecue menu to get our feedback and we weren't shy. The taste testing panel consisted of me, Wendy of Wendalicious, Daniel of FUSSYlittleBLOG (plus his toddler daughter, the impossibly cute Little Miss Fussy) and Jess of 518bite&sights accompanied by her lovely mom.
Below is the Wendalicous One on the left and the ProFUSSor on the right. Wendy's blog is full of great information about Capital District events, dining, products and rants about the present ubiquity of the cupcake. Daniel's blog is on a mission to make the Albany food scene as diverse and wonderful as he had enjoyed back in his home town of San Francisco.
And here's the face behind 518bites&sights, Jess (on the left) and her delightful mom. Jess' blog has tons of timely information about what to eat and where to go in the Capital District region.
From our perceptions of the presentation, taste and quality of ingredients, we let Chef Kane know about our constructive comments, from a definite need for more napkins or wet naps (try writing notes, taking photos and not dribbling BBQ all over your bloggery self while perched up on a high stool), to our personal biases on the finer points of seared meats and side dishes. There was a lot of blogger love for the smoky Macaroni and Cheese, which Chef Kane noted was inspired by his grandmother's cooking. It had a dry mustard tang and included the CRISPY burnt ends of the meltingly-soft brined and barbecued brisket that was served later on. I'm already thinking of how to reconstruct this into a gluten-free, vegetarian version for Mr. Crispy. Liquid smoke? Frizzled onions?
First up on the tasting menu was some pulled pork served on a biscuit and accompanied by a vinegary but still creamy coleslaw. My Crispy Cook verdict: loved the slaw, loved the tender, spicy pork, but didn't like so much crumbly biscuit, which made eating an already messy item even more challenging. Plus it soaked up all the delicious pulled pork juices away from me.
Our second tasting plate arrived with the aforementioned wonderful slices of brisket and two falling-off-the-bone tender and tasty spareribs. This was my favorite meat selection by far; the meat was perfectly cooked, flavorful and had a mellow heat. Accompanied by some of Kane's chunky slices of ham hock-infused collards and that was all I needed to feel like I was at a down home South Carolina barbecue.
A third tasting of Jamaican Jerk Chicken proved to be a bit of a disappointment, as the chicken was not as CRISPY as I favor and the spice and heat was not assertive enough. The same goes for the baked beans that were served. They were good, but not exceptional, and were another drippy and hot item on the barbecue menu. It occurred to me later that a cold bean salad would be a better side dish to lend some variety in temperature and texture for this Big Kahoona spread.
Gluten Free is not a problem at Classe Catering and both owner Brian Palazzolo and Chef Kane were knowledgeable about gluten free concerns and will make a special phone call to Classe Catering customers or guests about any dietary concerns for any function that they are catering. Kane noted that all the rubs and sauces were gluten-free and that he routinely uses cornstarch rather than wheat flour as a thickener in his cooking. He also notes that they frequent Sherry Lynn's Cafe and Bakery in Latham when they need gluten-free items in quantity.
You can check out Classe Catering's new Big KaHoona Barbecue Menu yourself next week on Thursday, June 16th from 4 to 7 pm at the historic Pruyn House in Colonie. This charity event will benefit local food pantries and the Friends of Pruyn House and feature BBQ samples, live music and other entertainment (there are rumors of fire-breathing performers). Tickets are $5 a head and you know you can't make a decent barbecue in your own backyard any cheaper than that, so it sounds like a great event.
Despite the oppressive heat, when the ProFUSSor had some questions about smoking techniques, Chef Kane he let us all tromp from our air-chilled tasting room into the cavernous Luciferan heat chamber (aka kitchen) that he had slaved away in since 6 am. That impromptu tour speaks volumes to me. I already thought that Classe was an impressive catering and event planning business, but to be confident enough to let us all barge in unexpectedly into their (very tidy) kitchen, and then pepper the staff with questions and criticisms, is the sign of a very well-run operation.
Disclosure: I was invited to attend this free tasting event and received a plentiful sufficiency of top-grade barbecue, but I was not otherwise compensated for this opportunity and my comments are 100% my own.