Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sun BBQ Fest 2012 at Mohegan Sun

One of the greatest perks of being a food blogger is being invited to special foodie events. There are lots of food and drink festivals in small towns and major cities around the world, ranging from food and wine festivals to more specific ones focusing on one type of food. Bacon, clam chowder, and BBQ are not uncommon especially considering the popularity of these items (at least to me!). I recently gave away three Weber grills in honor of the Sun BBQ Fest at Mohegan Sun this past weekend. I had the privilege of not only attending the event, but also being a guest at Mohegan Sun during the festivities.

This was my first visit to Mohegan Sun. I have been to Las Vegas on several occasions and can honestly say that my experience at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT easily lived up to ones I've had in Sin City. Let's start with the hotel features and amenities. With over 1,300 beautiful rooms and suites in its stunning 34-story building, there is plenty of room for visitors to enjoy the same luxurious comforts that I did. I especially loved the color scheme of my room (dark purple accents), the gorgeous tiles in the bathroom (which featured double doors), and the super comfortable bed.

I also really loved the pool which is large enough to swim laps and a consistent 3 1/2 feet deep throughout (perfect for us shorties), as well as the hot tub and the poolside bar. 

Photo courtesy of Mohegan Sun

The casino itself features beautiful reflections of Mohegan tribal stories and designs.

I loved the Chihuly glass sculpture and the nearby Taughannick Falls, an artificial 55-foot waterfall that acts as a backdrop for Todd English's Tuscany restaurant (with indoor and "outdoor" seating where we would enjoy a delicious breakfast the next morning) as well as a bar which definitely heats up after hours with great music and dancing. It was a serious hot spot Saturday night. We loved DJ Flip and thought his beats definitely helped make the night memorable.

Photo courtesy of Mohegan Sun

Photo courtesy of Mohegan Sun

Because of heavy morning rain, the start of Saturday's festivities was postponed until the afternoon. On the bright side, this gave us plenty of time to become acquainted with the hotel and casino, and even gamble a bit (I won $1.80! Such a high roller, lol) before heading to BBQ Heaven. Fortunately, the rain tapered off pretty quickly as we headed out to the festival, and the crowd started to grow, forming lines of hungry BBQ fans at each vendor.

The event lasted three days, and each daily admission included 8 meal tickets which could be used to acquire foods from various booths, which all featured pricing in terms of number of tickets (for example 3 tickets would get you a rib sampler whereas 6 or 7 would get you plates with multiple proteins and sides, depending on where you went). My friend and I pooled our tickets together and shared all of our food selections. This way we got the most bang for our buck (additional meal tickets were available for sale for anyone who wanted more food, but I feel that the 8 tickets were more than sufficient for an average to above-average stomach).

We first staked out Joey's Texas Thunder BBQ from Amarillo, Texas. We elected to try the Pan Handler which included ribs, pulled pork, brisket, beans, cole slaw, and Texas toast. Honestly, this was by far our favorite BBQ experience of the day. Each and every component on the plate (including the BBQ sauce selection) was executed perfectly and packed with tons of amazing flavor, juicy, and perfect. Even the beans were incredibly flavorful and studded with bits of pork. God bless the pig, in all of its juicy and meaty glory!

A selection from Texas Thunder BBQ: Pulled Pork, Ribs, Brisket, Cole Slaw, Beans, and Texas Toast

We obviously enjoyed this a lot :)

We also enjoyed some ribs from Big Boned BBQ in Chattanooga, TN. These ribs were nice and meaty, but lacked the fall-off-the-bone texture and incredible depth of flavor we got from the boys in Texas. Even though they weren't our favorite (at least based on the ribs), Big Boned ended up winning the audience favorite award! Congrats to them!

Ribs from Big Boned BBQ

We finished up our BBQ intake with a Texas Platter containing ribs, brisket, beans, potato salad, and corn muffin from Texas Pit BBQ in Ashtabula, Ohio. Their ribs were fantastic as well, but I wasn't too thrilled with the brisket which was almost shredded and wasn't too impressive. The beans were also mediocre, but the potato salad and corn muffin were a good finishing touch. In the end, none of the other BBQ we tried could compete with Texas Thunder BBQ. Honestly, if we had a do-over we would have kept going back there over and over again :) Also, the guy cooking their ribs was cute.

Selection from Texas Pit BBQ: Ribs, Brisket, Beans, Potato Salad, and Corn Muffin

I also had the pleasure of chatting with Ray Lampe of the All Star BBQ Showdown while he grilled off thin ribeye steaks for the VIP tent, as I watched a whole pig on a spit rotating round and round, its skin crisping up and looking ever so tasty. He directed my friend and me to the Beef Council booth where one of their chefs was demonstrating cooking with lean cuts of beef and offering samples of sesame-crusted strip steak. We also scored free samples of steak rub!

Ray Lampe from All Star BBQ Showdown and one of the Mohegan Sun cooks

Mmmmmm, pork :)

With all of this delicious BBQ abound, we simply could not resist front and center views of the rib eating competition featuring the likes of World Champion Joey Chestnut as well as the amazingly petite Juliet Lee (only weighing 105 lbs and able to put away more food than the other grown men in the competition). Several CT locals also took part in the contest, which was emceed by the hilarious Dave Keating. 10 contestants met 350 pounds of ribs to see who would be victor of this championship. In a matter of 12 minutes, all but one of the competitors finished (1 unlucky fellow suffered a "reversal" which not only spewed across Keating's pant leg, but narrowly missed those of us standing in the front lines... eww).

Juliet Lee and Joey Chestnut

On the one hand, I was considerably grossed out by the experience, watching the way these folks were shoving so much food into their mouths. On the other, I was absolutely in awe by their skill level. I know I could never do what they do so well, professionally at least. Although I'm pretty good at eating at a normal pace :) $5000 in prize money was on the line, awarded to the top 4 finishers. In second place was the graceful Juliet Lee who earned $1000 for downing 4.56 pounds of rib meat. Grand champion (and not surprisingly) was Joey Chestnut, who won $2500 and ate 4.79 pounds of meat. In reaction to that number, Joey responded "that's it?" I take it he was sure he had eaten more! Either way, watching this competition was incredibly entertaining and even with the gross out factor I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

All in all, I have to say that my experience at Mohegan Sun and at the first annual Sun BBQ Fest was well worth a trip to Connecticut! Dining on delicious BBQ, witnessing the rib eating competition, chatting with vendors and bbq masters (featuring demos on everything from cooking steak to perfect ribs), watching the DJ Chef cook bread pudding while simultaneously deejaying, and finally a fireworks show to end the night (although sadly it started 10 minutes early and barely lasted about that long, which means that latecomers missed it entirely). All in all it was a busy BBQ filled day!

Me and Joey Chestnut, champion of the rib eating contest

To help digest all that food, we followed it up with a relaxing trip to the pool and hot tub, some espresso from Imus Ranch Coffee (to wake ourselves up), and then drinking and dancing at the Taughannick Falls Bar. Breakfast the next day at Todd English's Tuscany was not disappointing either (and reasonably priced) and a good sit down option for that time of day (most other sit down restaurants are not open until lunch). I'm already looking forward to my next trip to Mohegan Sun, whenever that may be. Thanks, Mohegan Sun, not only for your hospitality, but for all that awesome BBQ love!

Tuscan Benedict from Todd English's Tuscany: Poached Eggs on English Muffin with Lobster Hollandaise and Crispy Prosciutto, side of Home Fries


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