The delicatessen, with its everyman origins, rib-sticking fare, and divisible-by-eight portions, has always been a mainstay of a cheap eater’s diet—not cheap cheap, as anyone who’s ever picked up the tab at the Carnegie knows, but bang-for-your-buck-may-I-have-a-doggie-bag cheap. But the shuttering of 2nd Avenue Deli’s landmark location and the unstaunched rumors about Katz’s impending demise have given the corned-beef crowd some major heartburn, or at least a twinge of dyspepsia. If it’s true, as the deli doomsayers insist, that New York’s archetypical cuisine is on the wane, what will fill the high-fat, high-cholesterol void?
If you’ve been out to eat lately, the answer is obvious. New York is in the midst of an unprecedented and seemingly unstoppable barbecue boom, with three terrific new joints opening over the past year alone. And there are enough striking similarities between the two foodways for us to christen Barbecue the New Deli. Consider the brisket—just one of the many toothsome bridges between the two cuisines, and a food that evokes nostalgia in transplanted Texans and high-holiday Jews alike. Meat is so prominent in both traditions, in fact, that vegetable matter is at most an afterthought; the conventional wisdom is that the better the barbecue, the worse the sides. The greenest thing to be found in most traditional delis is the kosher pickle, an icon that has transcended culture and creed to appear at Williamsburg’s Fette Sau (“fat pig” in German), which proudly serves Guss’ half-sours, an essential garnish to its house-cured and pit-smoked pastrami. Other than a predilection for smoked things, be they salmon or spare ribs, what unifies the storied realms of cows’ tongues and pigs’ tails? Well, there’s the pattern of Central European emigration, which landed Germans, Czechs, and Poles in pockets of Texas and the Lower East Side, where they opened butcher shops and commenced grinding sausage posthaste. Those first Texan Germans might not have been predominantly Jewish, but plenty of New York’s newest barbecue entrepreneurs are—“Bar-B-Jews,” as our Grub Street colleague Josh Ozersky calls them. Their restaurants, and their gentile brethren’s, are compelling proof that the distance between Hebrew National and hot links isn’t all that great, and that New Yorkers are never more secular than at the dinner table.
354 Metropolitan Ave., nr. Havemeyer St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-963-3404
BBQ Style: None. Owner Joe Carroll uses his own proprietary dry rub and eschews regional categorizations.
Deli DNA: The sauerkraut and pickles come from Guss’; the pastrami is brined for three days and rubbed with coriander and peppercorn before it’s pit-smoked.
Best Dishes: Brisket, pastrami, burnt-end baked beans, and the MIA pulled leg of lamb, which we hope is only on summer hiatus, like 30 Rock.
’Cue Tips: Fette’s well-stocked bar pays tribute to small-production North American booze and local beers. Finicky connoisseurs have vilified the sauces, but we find the dark three-chile one delicious.
30 W. 26th St., nr. Broadway; 212-255-4544
BBQ Style: Central Texas Hill Country, as executed by Queens-bred pitmaster Robbie Richter.
Deli DNA: Burly countermen mark up your meal ticket and you settle your bill at the door, just like at Katz’s. And that stack of sliced bread that comes with your meat might remind you of all the extra rye delis throw in with your leftover sandwich.
Best Dishes: Brisket (“moist” or “lean,” but even the lean is plenty moist), beef shoulder, and jalapeño cheese hot links trucked up from Hill Country proto-butcher Kreuz Market. Of the many sides, the baked beans and the cucumber salad best complement the meat.
’Cue Tips: It’s loud and a bit themey, but no more so than Katz’s, which also sells T-shirts at the register. And this might be your only opportunity to try Texas wine and ice cream, for better or worse.
THE SMOKE JOINT
87 South Elliott Pl., nr. Lafayette Ave., Ft. Greene, Brooklyn; 718-797-1011
BBQ Style: “Brooklyn,” according to freewheeling owners Craig Samuel and Ben Grossman.
Deli DNA: There’s something subversive about washing down your saucy hacked-pork sandwich or a plate of spare ribs with a Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray.
Best Dishes: Plump and spicy Brooklyn wings, beef short ribs, and the Black Angus hot dog, which might be as good as Katz’s.
’Cue Tips: It’s a bit of a tight squeeze, but there’ll be overflow seating (and better air-conditioning) when Little Piggy (Market) opens next door.