Tag Archives: BBQ
Last Saturday we had the pleasure of heading out to Brooklyn for my friend Matt Gross‘s annual pig roast. As you might imagine, roasting a pig is no small endeavor. But if you have the right equipment, it can be done – and chances are you will have many friends willing to help you cook it and eat it. (more…)
What is it that makes a restaurant authentically southern? It could be obscure items like Cheerwine and Nu Grape sodas on the menu, a stuffed wild turkey bursting out of a corner in mid-flight, or the fact that a gentleman waiting in the unisex restroom line downstairs actually offered his place up to a lady. But ask a Southerner, and they will tell you that the Southern food experience is all about the sides.
At the Cardinal, a new Southern spot in the East Village, there are more sides than there are entrees, including baked beans, black eyed peas, yams, greens, mac and cheese, fried okra and corn pudding, just to name a few. Order as many as possible and you’ll feel like you’re at a big family barbecue.
New Yorkers were elated when Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich’s Italian food emporium Eataly opened last year. There was only one problem: Eataly didn’t seem to be intended for New Yorkers. A massive marketing and PR effort across the U.S. and in Europe meant that Eataly instantly filled up with tourists – even the ones who can get decent biscotti at home.
Fortunately, the Red Apple bus crowd does not seem to have discovered the new rooftop restaurant on top of Eataly yet. You’ll still be elbowed by the crowds on your way to the bar at Birreria, but at least none of those elbows will be loaded down with Century 21 bags. (more…)
As much as we complain about the heat, it’s so nice to be able to dine al fresco when summer finally comes to New York. But what we’re looking for isn’t any old table plunked on a sidewalk next to a major truck route, but a nice setting, fun scene and preferably some good food. Here is an opinionated guide to the best outdoor dining in town. (more…)
Fette Sau is a hard act to follow.
This became apparent as soon as we walked into Hill Country. Where was the smell of barbecue? In Williamsburg, the scent of roasting meat bewitches you a block away, here there was barely a whiff of it, even when the counter staff opened the cantilevered storage units that contain piles of brisket, beef ribs, and fatty pork.
Manhattan might mean “island of many hills,” but this ain’t the boonies anymore. If Texas-inspired Hill Country exuded that barbecue scent, the neighbors would be hoppin’ mad. (It’s tough not to lapse into Texas talk as soon as you get here, what with the honky tonk music on the stereo.) On the other hand, Hill Country is conveniently located just blocks away from several subway lines, and this, as my fellow diner the Cheese Guy pointed out, is its biggest advantage. The cavernous hall, lined on one side with piles of firewood, chock full of wooden tables, and punctuated by BBQ and beer stations, easily fills with Manhattan diners, many of them guys in ties. This doesn’t even include the equally cavernous downstairs space, which has several long tables for large parties and live music several nights a week. But dang if it ain’t hard to hear in Hill Country: the acoustics are terrible.
We queued up for ‘cue, which is sold by the pound. In a Katz’s-like system, you get a ticket at the outset and get your own food. This is true to Texas style, so if you prefer table service, chances are you’d be better off in a fancy-pants New York place.
The biggest difference between Hill Country and Fette Sau is the smoker, or lack of a huge, hardworking one like Fette Sau’s Southern Queen. Hill Country’s brisket is juicier than Fette Sau’s, probably because it’s been cooked for a shorter time. But as any barbecue aficionado can tell you, this means it loses something in the flavor department. The rub on the outside is good, but it doesn’t penetrate far into the beef. The same goes for nicely peppery rub on the pork ribs. And if you ever wonder whether the current Berkshire pork obsession is just spin, contrast and compare the two meats and you’ll taste the difference. Because of the shorter cooking time, Hill Country’s non-Berkshire pork ribs were still pink inside and chewy, not falling off the bone.
The beer can game hen proved to be a worthwhile experiment. Deep fried with an open beer can inside, it tasted nicely herbal and moist, with crispy skin. It had flavors I didn’t realize hen or canned beer could have. How they managed to wedge a whole can o’ beer in this lil’ critter I’ll never know.
Unlike Fette Sau, Hill Country is not hostile to vegetarians. There are a heap of sides, many of them meat free. Sharp, slightly oily Longhorn cheddar decked the pasta in the excellent mac-n-cheese, and the corn pudding is perfectly salty-sweet. Black eyed pea salad was ho-hum, and chipotle deviled eggs sounded much more exciting than they were, but they’re a nice apertif to the barbecue if you get hungry waiting in line.
Normally I wouldn’t review a place this early on, but I had an opportunity to go and a camera, so please consider this an early report. Over the course of the evening, however, it became apparent that a lot of thought has already gone into Hill Country. By “thought,” I mean “focus group input.” Like the latest designer fragrance, nothing in the formula offends, but nothing sticks out at you, either. The faux-fluorescent lighting and kitschy props nailed to the walls reminded me of TGI Fridays or Chili’s, though thankfully none of the servers are wearing “flare.” Hill Country has only been open for a matter of weeks, but their in-house barbecue sauce is already for sale at the gift counter by the door, though it’s a pretty average sauce. Setting up a gift counter before you have a devoted following seems like creating your own celebrity fan club before you’re even famous.
Nevertheless, since this is the kind of free-range place where no one kicks you out, we meandered downstairs to listen to live blues. The luckiest moment of the night came when one of the sous chefs literally tossed Chef Mary and me a bourbon pecan pie at the bar. It was hands down the most delicious pecan pie we’ve ever eaten (sorry, Mom), loaded with fresh nuts and laced with bourbon and molasses.
The bourbon pecan pie, the sugared bar nuts, the bands, the friendly counter staff, the space for huge parties, and the location are all good reasons to return to Hill Country – and the Kruez sausage is supposed to be a tasty Texas specialty as well, though we didn’t get a chance to try it. But if I have a hankering for pork ribs again, I’ll be danged if I’m not on the first train out to Williamsburg.
30 West 26th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
New York, New York
Perhaps no other advertising campaign has done a greater disservice to its product than “Pork: The Other White Meat.” Borne out of the fat-phobic late ’80s, the National Pork Board’s campaign reduced the entire animal to the pork chop. If the complex, meaty, by turns fatty and lean pig could talk, she would no doubt tell you: I am so not a chicken.
Twenty years later, our obsession with barbecue and pork’s ability to take on and emphasize spicy, smoky flavors may seem new, but it has long been part of the basic vocabulary in Chinese, Korean, Italian, German, and yes, Southern cuisine. Consider this: would David Chang of Momofuku be David Chang without his silent partner, the Berkshire pig?
It requires a certain mania for the fatty beast to see a barbecue joint in an auto body shop, bring in a crypt-sized Southern Queen smoker, make all the right connections with Berkshire pork suppliers, and open your doors for business. But that’s just what owners Kim and Joe Carroll of Fette Sau have done.
By now you probably know what’s on the menu: pork spareribs, pork sausages, pulled pork, plus some beef brisket to give that guy a nod too. But it’s the sau that impresses. Fatty, rich pork belly is like the foie gras of pork products. The ribs are charred on the outside, meaty and tender between the bones. There’s an espresso-and-brown-sugar rub on them, but as with the pulled pork, the true deliciousness comes from the unadulterated flavor of smoke. The Southern Queen smoker – and chef Matt Lang – sure can cook.
I’m no barbecue expert, since I come from Maryland, the no-man’s-land considered the South by Yankees but disdained by Carolinians and ignored by Texans. But barbecue experts have endorsed Fette Sau’s separation of meat from sauce, which you combine yourself at the table. The sweet sauce is the traditional mix of ketchup, vinegar, maybe a bit of Worchestershire sauce, and some other secret ingredients, but it was still my favorite because of my Southern-ish sweet tooth – same goes for the sweet white rolls. Fette Sau’s spicy sauce is a much more complex, mole-like mixture that tastes of coffee, dried chilies, molasses, and unsweetened chocolate. The two would taste great mixed together.
The non-meat sides received a drubbing in previous reviews of Fette Sau, so we skipped these – except for the excellent Gus’ half sour pickles – and headed straight for the baked beans. Embedded with hunks of brisket, they tasted like the ideal incarnation of Fette Sau’s mole-like spicy sauce.
Though the atmosphere is pretty much the polar opposite of Frederick’s Downtown, Fette Sau does have that see-and-be-seen scene, Williamsburg version, lots of outdoor seating at picnic tables, and few rules. (“No drinks outside after 11pm.”) Walking into the garage, I felt the same kind of relief a teenager experiences upon arriving at a keg party in somebody’s indestructible concrete basement. It’s the kind of place where you can let your hair down, don some Williamsburg style glasses in weird 80’s frames à la Michael Caine, and drink a gallon of beer – literally. A slew of microbrews is dispensed from pulls rigged with butchery tools into gallon-size glass jugs. If that doesn’t spell an afternoon of Brooklyn patio drinking, I don’t know what does. Just get there early because, like Pies ‘N’ Thighs, Fette Sau tends to run out of food, usually by 9:30pm on weekends.
The extensive list of bourbon, whiskey and rye is like the bonanza of breaking into the absentee parents’ liquor cabinet: Whiskey, all you want! We particularly liked the Tuthilltown rye and the Black Maple Hill bourbon. If you’re really daring, knowledgeable bartender Dave Herman will serve you a bit of corn mash liquor that tastes like moonshine: the ceramic jug says it all.
As with a keg party, days later, my clothes still smell like smoke, but this time it’s the alluring scent of barbecue. It even makes me hungry, which is no problem, because like addicted regulars at Fette Sau, I ordered more pulled pork at the end of the night – to go.
354 Metropolitan Avenue at Havemyer Street
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York
for directions go to hopstop.com