There’s a cornucopia of culinary bargains to be found in the Valley, and we’re here to help you track them down
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Big W’s slow chicken feast
1475 Rte. 22, Wingdale
The deal: Slow Chicken
Slow chicken is not a reflection on the mental capacity of the chickens themselves,” says Big W (aka Warren Norstein), in a variation on his joke that the slow ones are easier to catch. Get him started, and he’ll launch into a brief dissertation on what happens to the protein, albumin, fat, and collagen in meat when it’s heated, and how you wind up with “wonderful liquids” if you cook in water, and “wonderful things still in the meat” with the slow-smoke method he uses.
Norstein, who cooked for 16 years in posh restaurants like Bouley and Chanterelle, became a barbecue wizard in 2003, after he and his brother fabricated a smoker out of a steel drum. “I’d never even eaten barbecue, except ribs that had been thrown on the grill,” he says. “We made two smokers and it worked. I said, ‘Let’s try and sell this stuff!’ I found a guy in Georgia who built me a mobile smoker.”
Each afternoon, Norstein parked the smoker on Route 22 in Pawling, not far from his house. “I’d sell out every day,” he says. “Sometimes in just 45 minutes. The crowds would line up at four o’clock, and if I was a minute late my cell phone would start buzzing. It was fun, and disarming — there’s no correct etiquette when you go to the lawn of a collision shop to buy dinner, so people were much freer. They’d tell me about their lives. It was a perk I never anticipated.”
Warren (Big W) Norstein (right), chef and owner of Big W’s Roadside Bar-B-Q, shows off his beef brisket sandwich and sides ($8.50)
Three years ago, the affable Norstein set up in a former deli in Wingdale, where customers can eat in. “It’s not fancy — I think Zagat rates it a 7,” he admits, laughing at the low score for looks. But his food rates a 26, up in the stratosphere with the illustrious restaurants where he once cooked.
Burning shag hickory, stone cherry, and oak in two-ton smokers, Norstein turns out a range of slow-smoked meats, sold in three portion sizes: “roadside,” “sensible,” and “truly sensible.” Those in the mood for what one reviewer called “some serious gluttony” can load the table with the $65 sampler — a rack of ribs, a chicken, a pound each of pulled pork and brisket, and four sides, which include smokey beans, jasmine Thai dirty rice, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese.
That delectable slow chicken is $14 for a whole one with a side; $8 for a half. “It’s a large bird smoked for five-and-a-half to six hours in a savory rub, so the texture is closer to a soft terrine,” Norstein explains. “You’ll never see a stringy bird.”
» Next stop: Fred’s Place, Lake Katrine