As an itinerant Texan, I’ve often found myself in the position of pining for the amazing foodstuffs of my homeland. When you live in a destination city, this not only solidifies your status as “interesting yet obnoxious other”, it also makes those trips back home extra-fucking-awesome and amazing.
The list of things a Texan in New York City misses are numerous. NYC certainly has a ton of great food. You may have heard the place has been known to bake some pizza pies. I will say that Chicago definitely wins the hot dog contest: I’m not even sure why New York has a reputation as being a hot dog place. Every single dog I’ve seen has been a tiny vienna wiener floating in disgusting water., but I digress. The city also has great delicatessens, bakeries, Indian, Greek, bagels (though I’ve never gotten why everybody on the East Coast is so obsessed with bagels). Hell, you can get food from pretty much any country on earth if you know where to look. That said, here’s a short list of things I’m constantly craving:
1. Whataburger (the ability to have Spicy Ketchup shipped to me will soon mend this hurt a little)
2. Lonestar that doesn’t cost $4.00 per bottle
3. Breakfast Tacos
4. Tex Mex (there is good Mex Mex to be had)
Now that summer is closing in fast, however, there’s one fatwish, one desperate, slobbering pining that I find it increasingly harder to ignore: barbecue.
Unfortunately, many New Yorkers are under the impression that meat+bbq sauce=barbecue, which is as infuriating as it is adorable (if you want to watch heads explode, explain the notion of sauceless bbq to somebody from the city). Fortunately, there are a handful of places that allegedly “do the q” (I’m copyrighting that phrase) passably. I recently dined at not one, but two of these places, so loosen your belts, grab yourself a wax paper cup full of lukewarm Big Red, and get ready to chow down on some BBQ snob reviews!
#1 Hill Country Barbecue Market
I’ve been hearing about this place since I first decided to move to New York. It’s a lively spot for expats, a popular spot for watching UT games, and generally has an “Austin” vibe to everything. Apparently they have lots of live music here. Anyway, Lindsay was in town a few weeks ago, and as she has been struggling with her own longing for the foodstuffs of her adopted home, we decided to stop in, based on the educated guess that they would be serving Ruby Redbird on tap.
This turned out to be true: Hill Country is currently one of the only places in the city that operates Shiner taps: Bock, Black, Redbird, and Wild Hare were all available. The bar area at the front of the restaurant was great, with a very friendly and attentive bartender, a small seating area, and OK prices for beers (I want to say it was around 6 bucks per mason jar). The bartender also gave us a sample of a sausage slider platter he was getting people to taste, and it was awesome.
On to the BBQ itself. Bottom line: mixed bag. Granted, we only had the brisket and some sides. The mac ‘n’ cheese was good, and the brisket was pretty much spot-on: very tasty, with a nice pink ring and very tasty char. Good, moist, solid all around. The problem…this place is expensive. REALLY EXPENSIVE. I’m used to Manhattan in general being pricey, and I’m sure the costs of running an establishment like Hill Country adds up, but fatty brisket is a whopping $23.50 PER POUND. By contrast, Franklin BBQ in Austin, one of the trendier spots, runs $16.00 per pound. More established and old-school places like Cooper’s in Llano or Kreuz Market in Lockhart run around $12.00. As if this wasn’t bad enough, I suspect they underserved us. I didn’t have a scale handy, but we ordered a half pound to share, and got what looked like 1/4th of a pound, if we were being generous. Onions and pickles were also not free, which I expected, so I’ll let that slide. The sauce was good.
So, I’m torn. Big points for making a Longhorn feel at home, great service, and for having Redbird on tap. Big points for serving up some damn tasty meat, but $23.50 per pound is borderline criminal. I looked at some of the combo plates they offered, and realized that their “deals” for large parties charged over $100 what you could get at any real Hill Country place for around $30-40. I won’t say I’ll never go back, but I’m sure I’ll grumble about it. Also, I happened to be wearing a UT hoodie at the time, and I kept catching people sneaking glances at me. Felt like the Asian person at a Chinese place that all the white foodies are excited about because he proves the place is “authentic”. Anyhow.
This is a place in Williamsburg that I had a little bit of leftovers from when some friends of mine met me at a bar, toting a sack full of stuff they couldn’t finish from their meal. It was cold, but still tasty, so I wanted to make it back when I could. Eric and I made the short hike to Williamsburg to chow down on this barbecue of indeterminate origin.
Given the German name, I assumed that Fette Sau was run by some Central Texas expats, a suspicion furthered by the website’s gentle suggestion that visitors consume the meat without sauce. However, once I was inside, I noticed a dearth of Texas crap on the walls, as well as Texas beers (two big holes blown in that theory). Curiouser and curiouser.
Place certainly smelled awesome, and the guys behind the counter were friendly enough. I was slightly hungover and definitely ready to chow down, so I stocked up. I felt briefly ashamed when the cashier asked if I was eating for one or for two, but apparently they ask everybody that to determine how many rolls to give you (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). On to the meat: the brisket was the third hole blown in my Central TX theory. It was slightly dry, definitely needed the sauce that sat on the tables (very good sauces, I must say), and the char had a weird, dusty taste, almost as if it had been fired on a grill instead of appropriately slow ‘n’ lowed. It wasn’t BAD…but there was definitely something off about it. I didn’t want to eat it until I felt like vomiting, which is always troubling at a BBQ joint. The pork was much, much better (as is to be expected from a place named “Fat Pig”, I suppose): the pulled shoulder was extremely moist and flavorful, and the sausage was juicy. Paired with the darker of the two sauces, which had a bit of a spicy kick to it, it was like sweety, fatty mana from heaven.
So what did we learn today? Brooklyn isn’t always better, but it’s almost always cheaper. I guess everybody already knew that. All the meat from Fette Sau is also locally source and hormono free yadda yadda yadda nobody cares. So, bottom line: if you’re willing to pay top dollar for damn good brisket and you just have to get your hands on some Ruby Redbird or watch a UT game, Hill Country is the way to go. If you want a bit more of a bang for your buck and some damn good pork served to you by a dude with tons of tattoos and piercings, head on over to Fette Sau. Whatever you do, always keep in mind: there’s no substitute for the real thing (although I am looking forward to when that ex-Franklin worker opens his place near Barclays).