Ottawa Ribfest Day 4: Camp 31

Saturday was the second to last day of Ribfest, but would mark the last trek I’d make down to the festival. As much as I would have loved to have been able to give the proper respect to all 14 competitors and review each booth, I neither have the time, financial resources, or stomach to eat that much food.

A late evening trek into the Sparks street area made parking a bit of a challenge, but we were able to find a spot on Slater, leaving only a few blocks between us and the aromatic porktacular array of smoke-filled options.

IMG_3704Camp 31 is a popular spot, sitting right smack dab in the middle of the festivities. I had held off jumping in because I have eaten there in previous years, but on my last trip in, I needed something familiar. At Camp 31, it’s all about the sauce.

As we waded through the sea of humanity and took our place in line, my wife eagerly started darting her head looking for Tiny Tom’s Donuts, but they were way down between Kent and Lyon, breaking her heart. Our block had been gifted the Twisted
Tomato (fantastic dill ketchup!) and Mott’s Clamato (didn’t partake!) specialty booths.

IMG_3706Making it a perfect 4-for-4, I took the ribs and pulled pork, while my wife decided to break the monotony by grabbing a half chicken platter. I’m happy she did, as I was able to sample a few pieces. Off to the side, there was a sauce sampling booth, with Camp 31’s array of sauces. My wife loved the Alabama White Sauce, a mayonnaise based sauce that became popularized by Big Bob Gibson (the BBQer, not the St. Louis Cardinals legend) in the mid 1920’s. The idea of mayonnaise being anywhere near BBQ makes me want to be sick just thinking about it – but not all tastes were created equal, so if it’s your thing, good on ya.

I found their jerk chicken sauce to be incredible, a thick golden brown concoction, filled to the brim with strong spices that you’d associate with Jamaica; all-spice, cinnamon, habanero, lime … just awesome. I have a homebrewed jerk marinade that’s just begging to be used, and I can finish the chicken with a brushing of this stuff. Excellent craftsmanship.

IMG_3709Saturday night was our date night, so we drove up to Port-Elmsley to eat our BBQ and take in Finding Dory at the local Drive-In. I dove in immediately, and my rib fell apart in my hand. Whoops! After peeling off the huge sheet of membrane off the bottom (shame on you, Camp 31!), I tried it. While it was sliding off the bone, meaning it had been overcooked, it hadn’t dried over – meaning it was only a few degrees too high. It had held its moisture well, and the bark was caramelized nicely. The overall flavor of the rib was my IMG_3708favorite of the 4 places I tried, just barely edging out Bibb’s on Wednesday. And, as I’m preparing to post this piece, I have just found out that they were this year’s winner for Best Ribs. Good call, Ottawa.

Unfortunately, the pulled pork was disappointing. It too had been slightly overcooked, but the bigger sin is that it wasn’t properly seasoned, and I was left with a greasy, bland template that was just begging to soak in flavor. They’d gone really easy on the sauce, and the rub had not been applied liberally enough. Given their track record, I was downright shocked that they hadn’t managed to pull through.

IMG_3707Finally, I tried pieces of the chicken and the cornbread. Starting with the cornbread, these were baked individually in mini loaf pans. The idea was great, but they’d spent about 2-3 minutes in the oven too long and the bread wound up being even drier than you’d come to expect, and it fell apart easily. Still, it h
ad some good sweetness to it without being mistaken for a dessert, and was a good accompaniment to any BBQ feast.

The wing was cooked to perfection, grilled just to the point of getting a slight char, but without compromising the insides. I love wings, and if I was able to order these straight up, I’d be skipping the ribs all together. The breast meat had slightly dried up, but once wiped in their sauce, it was still good. The leg was on point, where I was able to take a full bite, 13511028_10154362651684445_3005994455538741968_nand go clean through the skin, without it sliding off the meat, or being an elastic obstruction. Word to the wise; always ask for the dark meat. A true pitmaster always does their best work with the leg and thigh.

BBQ and a drive-in movie; what a way to spend a beautiful summer’s evening. Even my Chick-Fil-A cow that travels on the dashboard couldn’t disagree. After all, we weren’t eating beef.

Address: Sparks street, between O’Connor and Bank (June 22-26)
Facebook: Camp31SouthernBBQ
Twitter: @camp31bbq

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