The nation’s infatuation with bacon gets stronger every year, but now it may have gone too far. We were members of the Bacon of the Month club from way back. We too fell in love with the bacon-flavored chocolate promoted at the Fancy Food Show recently. We even hosted occasional bacon tastings, and just for good measure included everyone’s favorite breakfast meat in our recent Grub Street grilling video. But to say “everything should taste like bacon,” like the zealous producers of Bacon Salt do, is perhaps taking the obsession too far.
Is the great Calvin Trillin rubbing his eyes in wonderment? Has New York become, after years of bitterness and complaint, a kind of glittering Kansas City by the sea? Or is New York actually a better barbecue town, these days, than K.C. or Memphis or any of the other fabled smoke pits around the country? With the success of Kansas City facsimiles like RUB, Danny Meyer’s annual BBQ festival, and the recent arrival of Hill Country, some respected barbecue hounds actually think so. And what does the Gobbler think? The Gobbler thinks barbecue is a lot better and more ubiquitous in the big city than it used to be. Here’s his guide to the new barbecue revolution.
We always suspected that the cult of Shiner Bock, a much-beloved Texas beer seldom seen up north, had more to do with scarcity than excellence. Now we’ll find out, because Andrew Fischel, the hyperkinetic owner of RUB, has found a way to somehow get the heretofore unavailable beer into the bar at his restaurant, where they will sell for $6 each. “We pulled a Smokey and the Bandit,” Fischel boasts. “Don’t ask me how we did it! I won’t say. But you can’t get it anywhere but here. And that’s it.” The dark, Czech-style beer is made at a single brewery in Shiner, Texas, with only 55 employees, but whether that translates into its really being better than, say, Rhinegold is another story.
The mind of Andrew Fischel, the brash young owner of RUB barbecue, never seems to rest. The last time we looked, he was opening up a giant spinoff in Vegas, and had retooled the New York branch with the loudest neon sign this side of Times Square. Now Fischel has engaged the guys at Orange County Chopper to create a customized “RUB Chopper” with a working smoker as its sidecar. “We’re creating the most kick-ass mobile barbecue vehicle ever made,” Fischel says. “It costs as much as a Bentley.”
The Danny Meyer broadcasting service just put out the word: The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party is on for this year. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Although the annual June bonanza is hugely popular, it’s also massively challenging. Past barbecuers have expressed much dismay that souvenirs and T-shirts yield very little profit (food profits go to the Madison Park Conservancy), and that the travel allowance doesn’t cover the cost of transporting heavy smoking equipment across hundreds of miles.
RUB, fresh off its coronation as the best place for barbecue, apparently cannot be confined by the bounds of our city. We hear from sources inside the restaurant that an immense 9,000-square-foot outpost is in the works at the Rio in Las Vegas, with a planned summer opening. It will look completely different from the cramped New York original, with an open floor plan, 250-plus seats, and three full-size show rotisseries capable of slow-cooking whole pigs over wood fires. And apparently, this is only the start of a RUB plan for global domination: The restaurant’s negotiating to drop outposts into Harrah’s casinos both inside and outside of these United States. James Bond better let out that tuxedo.
After serving as a barista at Cafe Gitane, Jonathan Meyer joined the opening team as a server at RUB, New York’s pick for Best Barbecue. “It was a huge change,” he tells us. “I didn’t know anything about smoking meats.” (Meyer’s primary love is the theater group he runs, PossEble.) Almost two years later, the Long Island native is informed enough to hold his own against southerners who he says “wear their barbecue knowledge on their sleeve.” We asked him to steer us through the very heated world of Righteous Urban Barbecue.
Bruni two-stars Sfoglia, the latest victory in a series for the Nantucket import, including nods from Adam Platt and Gael Greene in our Best of New York issue. The food is simple and rustic (frittatas, simple pastas), but it works for Bruni. Imagination can get you two stars, as the Ssäm Bar review showed last week, but so can execution, even if it isn’t very elaborate. [NYT]
Peter Meehan surveys nearly all the area’s BBQ restaurants, finding a lot to like: the pulled pork at Pies-N-Thighs and the burnt ends at RUB, to name two. Still, no revelations here. [NYT]
Sietsema hits up a Senegalese restaurant in Harlem: “Predictably, the dibi is awesome.” You said it, Bob! Has Sietsema ever met a foreign lamb dish he didn’t like? [VV]
Ash Wednesday, if you don’t know, marks the start of Lent, Christianity’s season of self-denial and austerity. Some mark Ash Wednesday Eve consuming loads of meat and drinking. Here’s our short list of places to celebrate Fat Tuesday.
Hill Country BBQ, we've learned from owner Mark Glosserman, has officially signed its lease and begun construction at 30 West 26th Street, just a few blocks from Blue Smoke and RUB . Isn’t it bad medicine to open so close to a pair of established, busy barbecues? Says Glosserman: “It's a great spot, and the price was right, and we're in a big office building, so there will be a lot of traffic even though it's a side street. We have a lot of faith in our product.” No doubt. But we actually like Hill Country's chances. New Yorkers have shown a willingness to go the extra mile to eat great barbecue: Daisy May's BBQ sat on a desolate stretch of Eleventh Avenue and didn't even have tables; RUB ran out of meat every night; Blue Smoke barely had any smoke flavor during its first year, as a result of chimney malfunction. Glosserman hired the best barbecue cooker in the city, Robert Richter. If Hill Country delivers the goods, New Yorkers will support it … right?
Has the cold weather got you nostalgic for barbecue? We've got good and bad news, plus fallout from an ugly incident upstate. First, the good: Pitmaster Scotty Smith is now serving two weekly specials at RUB. Mondays it's full-beef short rib; Tuesdays there's spicy Asian pork belly, marinated for a week in a brew of chiles, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, and the sweet soy sauce called kecap manis. then smoked for hours before being flash-finished in a hot oven.
Dear Grub Street,
I have some friends coming into town from Texas and want to recommend a great restaurant to them. I think they'd appreciate a Texas theme, but I'm not sure if Lonesome Dove is really the way to go, or if Blue Smoke or Dinosaur are better bets instead. Money doesn't seem to be much of an issue.
The best barbecue in New York is RUB. They have great burnt ends, a beef-brisket treat any meat-eating Texan can appreciate. But they're not going to get better Texas food here than at home. I would take them to Great N.Y. Noodletown for Chinese spareribs. Or, if money really isn't an issue, this may be your one chance for a meal at Masa!
Reading about the launch of Blue Smoke in Danny Meyer's new book Setting the Table, we had an epiphany. It's somehow happened that, in the midst of the greatest barbecue boom New York has ever seen, nearly all of the cuisine's major restaurants are either owned or operated by Jews. Given the wide berth our people have historically given pork, this seems worth commenting on. Meyers's launching of Blue Smoke was just the beginning. Josh Cohen has just reopened Biscuit in Park Slope; Adam Perry Lang has become a major star in competition BBQ, in addition to launching his Daisy May's empire; Andrew Fischel's RUB was anointed by Adam Platt as the city's best barbecue; and the field will only become further Semiticized this spring, when Mark Glosserman and Robert Richter launch Hill Country BBQ in the Flatiron district. Don't get us wrong. There are some very fine Gentile barbecuers in New York: John Wheeler at Rack & Soul and John Stage at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que are both expert practitioners. Still, we're surprised someone didn't coined the phrase sooner: Bar-B-Jew.
Paul Kirk, Kansas City's "Baron of Barbecue," gave New York RUB, the city's best BBQ joint. On Saturday, he'll lead a master class on his art at the Water Taxi Beach in Long Island City, covering the basics of cooking, fire management, sauce, rubs, spices, and even competition. The class is intended for professionals: The fee alone is 250 bucks, and that doesn't include all the supplies you'll need to bring, from cookers to fuel. (If you're just looking to learn the basics, you can probably get away with buying the Baron's book, available via his Website.)
Contact Matt Fisher or Robert Fernandez to enroll.
It's a challenge for the young designers and Silicon Alley gearheads who work their magic around here to find something beyond pizza or deli-food for lunch — particularly in the environs near the Fashion Institute of Technology and the flower district, practically a culinary wasteland. Still, in the micro-micro-neighborhood surrounding Seventh Avenue and 22nd Street, there's options running the gamut from Japanese and European street food to regional Italian and Persian fare.
Where would we be without trans fats? The joys of margarine and shortening know no end in New York. Few restaurants care to admit to using it. But going by our taste buds and instinct for human nature, we've got ten educated guesses at great local restaurants with foods containing the magical substance. None of these dishes would be the same with replacement fat: It would be better to stop serving them entirely. But a ban poses more risk to the business of some restaurants than others, of course. A RUB without the deep-fried Oreos would still be the city's best barbecue, but if the Arepa Lady had to spray Pam on her griddle, even her cult might disband.
There are some southern specialties all the world loves, as our guide to local gulf-shrimp dishes makes clear. But some of these regional foods rarely make it past the Mason-Dixon line. Tonight, New Yorkers get the chance to sample an obscure treat: pawpaw, a large, tasty fruit, used in a variety of dishes. Savoy is hosting the second annual Betsy Lydon Slow Food Ark USA Award dinner. (Appropriately enough, the name's a real mouthful.) Southern preparations like rabbit burgoo and Kentucky ham will complement pawpaw daiquiris and ice cream, as well as other recipes made with North America's native tropical fruits. (The dinner, which costs $150, including tax and tip, starts at 6:30 p.m.)
In honor of the pawpaw, here's our list of five of the most delicious southern foods you'll find in New York.