From Central Texas brisket to Carolina ribs, this fast-paced Yankee city does slow-cooked Southern standards surprisingly well
Kentucky is known for fried chicken. Chicago does deep-dish pizza. New England makes clam chowder. And New York is famous for … barbecue? Well, maybe not famous – yet. But increasingly, all over town, places are smokin’, and serving up a succulent array of ribs meats, plus the proverbial sides and suitable libations to go with.
Here’s a sampler of seven of the best, offering a range of dining experiences and varieties of barbecue. A New York City style hasn’t exactly developed, unless you count the ways local eateries combine or juxtapose different regional specialties. Mostly, though, the town does with barbecue what it does with so many other things: Research the goods, choose the best and offer them up, seasoned with its unique urban flair.
Think of Blue Smoke as a real adult restaurant, one that just happens to specialize in barbecue. It’s the brainchild of local restaurateur Danny Meyer, the man who knocked the stuffiness out of fine dining with beloved New York institutions Gramercy Tavern and The Modern, and who elevated fast food to a fine art with the now-ubiquitous Shake Shack. That translates here into a kind of upscale-lowbrow experience. The décor is a cross between country and industrial – a converted rural factory whose exposed brick walls and workmanlike light fixtures have been trucked out with red-leather banquettes, distressed wood tables and big tin stars dangling from the walls. There’s a full bar (unusual for ’cue joints) serving traditional and contemporary cocktails and wine. And the menu is full of ingeniously elegant touches: cornbread madeleines, smoked chicken wings and, to accompany the meats, a slice of hot garlic bread, instead of the traditional white sandwich bread. Speaking of the meats (let’s not forget the main event, after all), they include the traditional baby backs, pulled pork and chicken, plus some ramp-it-up options like hickory-smoked prime rib and lamb belly. As we said: barbecue for grownups.
116 E 27th St., 212-447-7733
255 Vesey St., 212-889-2005
Daisy May’s BBQ
Daisy May’s has an unusual pedigree: It was founded in 2003 by a chef trained in Classic French cuisine and his attention to flavourful details and preparation caused the place to become one of New York’s most beloved rib joints. Not that there’s anything haute about the dining experience here. Food is ordered and collected cafeteria style, to be consumed at picnic-tables in a bare (rib)-bones back room – the urban version of a roadhouse, literally: The plain building is surrounded by car dealerships on its stretch of the far West Side. All the better to concentrate on the copious servings of classics from all over barbecue country. St. Louis sticky ribs. Memphis dry rub ribs. Huge beef ribs. There’s plenty of non-red meat on offer, too, including massive honey-glazed turkey legs, and beer-can half chicken. And, for once, the side dishes are not afterthoughts, but religious experiences in themselves, from the bourbon peaches to the sweet potatoes with bananas to the creamed spinach that Daisy May’s swears contains no dairy.
623 11th Ave. 212-977-1500
A Harlem fixture for more than a decade, Dinosaur sits on the edge of the Hudson River, a big, urban barn of a place with wood columns and beamed ceilings and vintage monster-movie posters on exposed brick walls. Though the distressed wood tables are well spaced, the place begins to roar as the seats fill and the soundtrack morphs from R&B and soul to Motown and hip-hop. St. Louis-style rib racks (smoked with a dry rub, then glazed with sauce) reign here, though combo plates with hot link sausages, brisket, pilled pork and chicken are plentiful too; these generously include cornbread and two sides. The menu also includes the usual Creole and Southern suspects and, interestingly, a few Asian inspirations in the shape of Korean-style barbecue beef ribs, chicken wings with hoisin sauce and a side of fried rice. This fare is not for the faint-hearted: It comes out spicy, and the three sauces on the table – the “garlic chipotle pepper,” the “Wango Tango habanero” and the “sensuous slathering bar-b-que” – aren’t geared to cool things down. For that, try one of the beer cocktails or the chocolate icebox pie for dessert.
700 W. 125th St., 212-694-1777
604 Union S., Brooklyn, 347-429-7030
Reggae and calypso fill your ears while a smoky-sweet aroma fills the air at this intimate East Villager, tucked into a side street (onto which it spills, doubling its capacity, when its glass front wall opens in summer). Its menu isn’t so much traditional barbecue as it is an homage to smoked foods from all lands, resulting in a sort of barbecue meets Caribbean meets the Deep South mélange. Served on wood planks, the small plates include charcuterie and smoked mussels, while the meant-for-sharing mains include smoked goat neck, fried duck, dry rub ribs (served rarer than the norm, resulting in incredibly juicy meat). If you happen in on a Tuesday, grab the melt-in-your-mouth brisket special; otherwise, make do with the brisket jerky appetizer, accompanied by funkily named libations of liquor or beer, concocted behind the white-tiled bar and served in Mason jars. Whenever you go, save room for the smoked chocolate pot de crème for dessert.
351 E 12th St., 212-432-3825
Virgil’s Real Barbecue
Established in 1994, Virgil’s was truly a pioneer bringing barbecue to the big city, and it remains a family-friendly rodeo today. Everything about it is huge, from the menu to the portions, from the roadhouse-cum-sports bar set to the crowds – which tends to happen when a place is smack dab in the middle of Times Square (seating tip: ask for the more intimate upstairs, its walls lined with menus from restaurants around the country). But while the memorabilia-bedecked digs suggest tourist trap, as do certain dishes (seriously, barbecue nachos?), the ’cue is solid, with respectable representations of sauce-slathered Memphis spare ribs, Carolina pulled pork and Texas brisket, along with some Southern classics like chicken-fried steak and catfish fillet. Beer pairings are suggested with most mains – though you can get anything you like from the bar, from daiquiris to lemonade – and, in one nice break with ’cue-joint tradition, sides and cornbread are included with entrees. Another pleasant touch: towels instead of napkins on the table, and a hot towel at the meal’s end. You’ll find it useful.
152 W. 44th St., 212-921-9494
Virgil’s Real Barbecue
Odds are you’ve not seen nothing like the Mighty Quinn’s: a fast-food joint dedicated to quality ’cue. Immediately upon entering, you order your ribs, pulled pork, brisket – one of the standouts – or even a crispy chicken sandwich from blackboards above the counter; the efficient servers push your tray on down the line, adding on at your request pickled vegetables or decadent sides like the dirty frites (French fries “smothered” with burnt ends), plus drinks (basically, a dozen beers on tap or in bottles, and soda pop). Then, loaded tray in hand, you seek out what seating you can in the big large room with a hipsters’ cafeteria vibe: whitewashed brick and reclaimed wood walls and tables, metal chairs, bare light bulbs. Style-wise, Quinn’s draws on a couple of regions – the emphasis on beef reflects Texas, while the vinegary tomato sauce bespeaks North Carolina. While the eats are worth savouring, while light pours in from the full-length windows, the scene isn’t conducive to lingering overall. But it does make the perfect pit stop for a quick lunch or dinner.
103 2nd Ave., 212-677-3733
(and several other locations)
Hill Country Barbecue Market
Howdy, pardner, and welcome to this l’il bit of the Lone Star State, deep in the heart of the Flatiron District. While other New York menus range over the regions, Hill Country sticks to Texas – more specifically, Central Texas-style barbecue. That means an emphasis on smoked beef, from shoulder to prime rib, and sausage, though there’s plenty of pork too, and daily specials chalked on a blackboard. While the digs are rustic saloon, the system is traditional meat-market style: You stand in line to order the mains by weight, and your hand-carved helpings – served on butcher paper, with slices of white bread – are punched on a ticket card you’ve been given at the door (don’t lose it; it’s your bill). Same approach at a different station for hot and cold sides, like green bean casserole, mac’n’cheese and “Texas caviar” (a black-eyed peas salad). From sausage to ice cream, many ingredients are imported from Texan purveyors. Back at the table, you can season the food with a choice of sauces, a denim-clad server brings drinks, either alcoholic or non- (we’re partial to the sweet tea), apps and desserts. If you’re still feeling lively afterwards, wander downstairs, while live bands are playing most nights.
30 W. 26th St., 212-255-4544
345 Adams St., Brooklyn, 718-885-4608