Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Water Taxi Beach and Smokey's - Two Unmemorable Memorial Day Experiences

Memorial Day Weekend is one of those great three day eating events when, if done right, you should be able to indulge in three straight days of beer, barbeque and beach. Long considered the first official weekend of Summer, there is no better time to leave work at home, call up your friends and welcome in three glorious months of fun. So when The Cuz told me about a fake beach in Long Island City I was intrigued, and when we set plans to go there on Memorial Day I was thrilled! Located about forty minutes from Williamsburg, via the G train, or a quick ride across the East River, the Water Taxi Beach has become a quick seaside fix for the urban crowd. I had heard about this place last season, but had never made it out, so I was looking forward to a long day of sand, suds, and sauerkraut laden smoked meats.

The Cuz recommended an early arrival time due the Beach’s popularity and a small amount of tables. We arrived early afternoon, grabbed a table and set in to enjoy what we thought was already shaping up to be the perfect day. To start things off, I ordered a frozen margarita ($7.50) and a bottle of water ($1) to mellow the heat from the already roasting sun. Unfortunately the margarita I received would be the first of many disappointments of what was to be the worst Memorial Day culinary experience I have ever had. The margarita, which was heavy on the mix and had the consistency of slosh, was over priced and under garnished with a lack of fruit wedge and salted rim. When I inquired about the no frills, I was simply told by my waiter “We are unprepared for today.” Now while I salute my waiter’s honesty, it’s not like Memorial Day can sneak up anyone, let alone a beach themed restaurant. Their unpreparedness didn’t stop there. With the exception of their hotdogs (which were bland and flavorless), their menu was non-existent. In fact the food situation was so dire, that by three, they had run out of sauerkraut and the wait for a hotdog was reaching upwards of twenty minutes.

Despite their gastronomic shortcomings, we enjoyed the perfect weather until the late afternoon, then packed up beach blanket and headed to Smokey’s 11101, an obscure BBQ joint we had noticed on our walk over. Since it was a holiday, they were just opening as we walked in and the place was almost empty. What should have tipped us off to the mediocre meal we were about to endure was the completely frazzled wait staff, who changed our seating twice due to “insufficient help”. We started off with a few rounds of complimentary salsa, served with tri-color tortilla chips. The salsa was sweet and spicy, with the perfect blend of tomatoes and vinegar. Up next was a double order of spinach and artichoke dip, which was more cheese than anything else. Despite its lack of green, the creamy, soft dip paired well with the salty, crisp chips, for what would turn out to be one of the best dishes of the meal.

Since I had yet to quell my carnivorous cravings, I ordered the combo platter ($18.99) which included the choice of two meats and two sides. I quickly decided on the brisket, half rack of short ribs, French fries and mac’n’cheese (my culinary control for all side dishes). Famished and dehydrated from the lack of food all day, we killed off any remaining, chip, dip and sip of beverage we had in front of us, as we eyed every dish that came out of the kitchen. Finally, our plates were up and we were served the biggest and blandest plates of barbeque I care to remember. When it comes to serving up massive amounts of meat, presentation is very important. Either you have a delicately stacked swell of beautiful bovine, or you have a graceless molded mound of morbid meat. Unfortunately for us, we received the latter. My brisket was a salted lump of gristle-ridden meat, and the ribs (which were touted as “cooked for four hours until falling off the bone) were nothing more than your standard “Chili’s” fare. The fries were crispy and the coleslaw crisp and cold, but nothing out of the ordinary. The only standout dish was the mac’n’cheese, which was perfectly baked, and some of the best I ever had.

All in all I was absolutely disgusted with the terrible food I had. It’s disappointing to eat poorly, especially when it costs a lot and when it’s on a day that’s all about eating. I plan on going back to the Water Taxi Beach (I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt), but I can’t see myself back at Smokey’s anytime soon. Give all the excuses you want, but Memorial Day is the starting pistol for the Summer Culinary season, and based on this past weekend, my gustatory race is off to a lackluster start.

Water Taxi Beach is located at Hunters Point in Long Island City, NY.
Smokey's 11101 is located at 5-16 51st Ave in Long Island City, NY.

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