July 20, 2006

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Hitting the barbecue big time
Down N Dirty’s new owners have the (hickory-scented) smell of success
By Susan Reilly  news@hippopress.com

It gets so hot in the kitchen that they have to wash their faces and change their t-shirts three to five times a day.

The lush smell of hickory smoke has seeped into their pores, so much so that on a recent trip to the bank, while one of them was standing in line, a bank teller thought there must be a fire in a trash bin.

One night recently, after showers and a fresh change of clothes, they were chatting up a couple of ladies when one of them told them that they smelled like sausages and smoke, not in a good way.

Matt Crist and Craig Leduc are the new owners of Down n’ Dirty BBQ on Manchester’s West Side.

In business for more than a decade, Down n’ Dirty has been born again with these new owners.

While the menu is roughly the same — brisket, ribs, dirty rice and corn bread — they tweaked the recipes to enhance flavors.

Barbecue had never been part of the big picture for Crist and Leduc. Graduates of Atlantic Culinary Institute and classically trained chefs, both worked in five-star restaurants in Spain and Amsterdam before Leduc took a position at the Harvard Club in Boston and Crist at 43 Degrees North and the 100 Club in Portsmouth.

To keep their skills fresh, they cook a big meal on Mondays when the restaurant is closed.

“I had a better shot of being a horse jockey” than owning a barbecue joint, Crist said. “In fact, before this place, I rarely ate meat. Just fish.”

Now, customers — or rather, loyal fans — bring Crist and Leduc top cuts of beef as little presents when they come in for their brisket and pulled pork.

“We have a very loyal, eclectic crowd that comes in here. And we know them all by their first name and the barbecue sauce they like,” Crist said.

Crist, 24, and Leduc, 22, bought the restaurant in January and have been working 65 to 75 hours per week since then.

While they overhauled the interior, painting the smoke-stained walls a pumpkin orange and adding gourd-like light fixtures, the same wooden tables and casual attitude prevail.

Lynyrd Skynrd singing about the southland or some old blues is always playing and the smoker is often in full swing.

Their hard work has paid off. A recent nod by Yankee Magazine is putting them on the culinary map.

“When the old owner [Rick Brickman] heard about Yankee [magazine], all he said was ‘How you’d manage that,? You are just punk kids’,” said Leduc.

Punk kids or not, it looks like Crist and Leduc have the recipe for success. The menu is simple and very tasty. Plates come complete with side dishes and their signature corn bread. Or you can skip the sides and just order straight-up barbecue.

Pulled pork — cooked for 10 hours — is available as a plate ($11.95) or sandwich ($5.95).

There is a catfish plate ($11.50) complete with collard greens, cole slaw and choice of handcut fries or hush puppies (a fried bit of corn meal) and a Key West shrimp plate ($11.95).

Ribs, homemade smoked sausage, barbeque chicken and beef brisket are available in three sizes

At Down n’ Dirty, all meats, save the ribs, are served without barbecue sauce — you add one of the handful of different sauces yourself.

And for dessert, look for sweet potato or pecan pie.

Down n’ Dirty has a counter where you order and then seat yourself. On the counter is a tip jar, with which Crist and Leduc buy scratch tickets.

“You never know, someday we may hit the big one,” Leduc said.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com  


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Chocolate, Part II
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Go ahead — run silent, run deep
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Holiday Cookies - The Easy Way
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Small Plates Are The Next Big Thing
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The return of comfort food
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