The Beijinger magazine held its reader restaurants awards on Monday at the Hilton: barbecue joint Home Plate and duck restaurant Da Dong respectively smoked and roasted the competition, Hatsune saw its long streak continue in the best Japanese food category, The Tree saw its long streak end – to Kro’s Nest – for best pizza, Blue Frog won for best burger, Moment Cafe didn’t win but should have for best sandwich, and so on and so on. The event oddly started at 11 AM, which meant plenty of people were plastered by 1 PM due to the free flow of wine from CWS, cocktails from Grand Marnier and beer, including draft Chimay Red, from Vandergeeten. Hey Beijinger, why not start at 7 AM next year so we can get in a full day of work while wasted?
The big story: Home Plate won as restaurant of the year (non-Chinese), with Maison Boulud and Temple as runners-up. I heard several people express disdain that a small barbecue joint that specializes in smoked meat, is run by relative newcomers to the industry and has seen plenty of drama (most notably several closures) won top honors over a number of well-financed and high-end restaurants run by seasoned veterans. That maybe when it comes to smoking, the voters are into something other than meat. So, here are ten reasons why Home Plate is a worthy winner:
The food is good. The brisket, pulled pork, burgers, beans — good solid food at fair prices. Yes, I have heard some claim it isn’t authentic while others claim it is. I haven’t tried the “real deal” in the southern U.S. but I like the food and so, apparently, do many others.
- The place has a one-two punch in affable New Yorker Seth Grossman up front and focused Texan Adam Murray in the kitchen, plus a fairly efficient staff.
- It oozes authenticity, from the handmade smoker to the stacked apple wood to the simple one-page menu. (Although that broken toilet door is a bit too real: maybe these guys can use some of the prize money to fix it.)
- It doesn’t ooze pretension. The instructions for Home Plate are easy-to-use: Grab a table, order some grub, pig out, fight off a food coma.
- It draws a diverse crowd. I’ve met journalists, lawyers, teachers, executives, students, five-star hotel employees, embassy staff and many others there. It seems a wide range of people like Home Plate.
- It stocks cool products. Home Plate was the first, or among the first, to stock items new to Beijing, such as Templeton Rye, Kentucky Bourbon Ale and Slow Boat beer. It seems distributors like it, too.
- It passes the take-a-taxi principle. Am I occasionally willing, on a whim, to jump into a taxi and go for a drink or a meal at Home Plate. Yes. It’s up there with places such as Saveurs de Coree in that regard.
- It passes the don’t-be-a-jackass rule: You can run a restaurant or bar and, when dealing with customers, be (a) an egotistical jackass or (b) a friendly guy. When I walk into Home Plate, I see Grossman and it is pretty clear he went for option (b).
- The promotion started early. Grossman approached me in 1F to introduce himself and his plans months before Home Plate opened. No doubt he did the same with many other people. Thus, many of us were anticipating the opening of this place.
- The partners are funny. Call it an intangible. For examples, see Home Plate vs Hipsters: Adam Murray and His Smoker are Bad-ass and He’s a ‘Seth Machine’: A heads up from Grossman of Home Plate.
Beyond that, Home Plate has a certain spirit. The team worked long and hard to open, faced several closures and learned a good deal on the fly about finding distributors, hiring staff, handling media, and so on, while persevering and delivering a good product. I think many voters — remember, these are readers rather than the editors, who will make their own picks — relate to such “against the odds” stories of entrepreneurship.
Restaurant of the Year is a tough category for voters given that it includes such a wide range of establishments, including perennial high-end candidates such as Maison Boulud and Capital M, breathtaking newcomer Temple, creative force Migas, and siblings Mosto and Modo, which might well have crossed out the votes of each other, among others. It is like picking “movie of the year” and having to consider everything from action blockbusters to epic dramas to documentaries to low-budget independents, and seeing how more than one would be deserving. This year, those who vote in The Beijinger awards chose the restaurant equivalent of the low-budget independent and it is a worthy choice.