Five star French cuisine? Delightful. Upscale sushi? I’m there. Rustic Italian? Love it. But if I’m going to tell you want I want, what I really really want, I’m going to tell you barbecue. Paired with beer. And maybe a whiskey for after. While part of me would like to come off as a sophisticated gourmand, well versed in haute cuisine and fine wine, the truth is that nine times out of ten, I’d trade that fancy white tablecloth restaurant for a beat-up wood table at a casual barbecue spot where I can eat with my hands, take big gulps of beer, laugh loudly, and enjoy the best side dish any restaurant can offer: true relaxation. And that’s why Pork Slope, a new roadhouse-style bar and restaurant on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is such a welcome addition to my neighborhood.
On Saturday evening, my wife and I showed up at Pork Slope and quickly snagged a table by the window. It was the first day – the first hour – that the place was open to the public, and the public was interested, to say the least. That comes as no suprise, as the three owners of Pork Slope, Dale Talde, David Massoni, and John Bush, also own the upscale Asian fusion restaurant Talde, while Massoni and Bush are the proprietors of Thistle Hill Tavern, both much-loved and wildly successful restaurants located on Seventh Avenue in the opposite corner of the neighborhood. While Talde tends upscale/trendy and Thistle can safely be called a dignified gastropub, the team has a gift of imparting an informal atmosphere that makes every visit delightfully stress free. With Pork Slope, though, they’re taking their no-drama dining ethos all the way to its logical conclusion, creating the kind of spot they themselves would like to hit after a day’s work.
If opening day is any indication, they’ve already succeeded. The place was mobbed with customers ordering beers from the more than two dozen draft lines and a crazy selection of cans and bottles, and drooling over a gorgeous backlit wall of whiskey. As for the food, they’re approaching it in what I think is a very smart way. Pork Slope has no waiters, only bartenders and food runners. Befitting its casual atmosphere, you just show up and grab a table and get your drinks from the bar. When it comes time to eat – and that time will come as soon as you smell the aromas from the kitchen – you walk up to the end of the bar and place your order.
Now, here’s the smart part: they don’t take any more orders than the kitchen can handle at one time. So while you might have to wait in line for a little while to put in your order – and waiting in line consists of standing by the bar, watching the game, and sipping your suds – once you do put it in, it’s really happening. The wheels are in motion, and your food is on the way. You see, there’s a limited amount of numbers on little stands that you bring to your table after you order, so the food runner knows where to go. If all the numbers are in use, they won’t take your order. Why stack up the tickets and put the kitchen in the weeds unneccesarily? But when it’s your time, and you order and pay all at once (cash only, cowboy, but there’s a 99-cent ATM by the pool table), you go sit down and get ready for the magic.
In our case, the magic came within 20 minutes of ordering in the form of a pulled pork sandwich, a brisket sandwich, a big pile of onion strings, and a healthy hunk of corn bread with sweet butter. (Total, including tax: $28.) I ordered a Radeberger Pilsner, a perfect beer for barbecue. Jenn had a Brooklyn Sorachi Ace. The food comes in wax paper-lined plastic baskets. And it is so good, so amazingly delicious, that it reminded us of the heavenly barbecue from Currituck BBQ Company in North Carolina that we experienced on our summer road trip. We chowed down breathlessly, then looked around the packed house. There were a few people complaining about the wait to order, as New Yorkers tend to do. Once the food arrived, though – racks of ribs, fried chicken, Chicago-style hot dogs – the whinging voices fell silent. You taste food like that, there’s no bad will left in your body.
John Bush, who’s in charge of the bar portions of the various restaurants, sat with us for a few minutes and surveyed the scene. He’d been working nonstop preparing for this opening, and was exhausted. "I need a Red Bull, mixed with a 5 Hour Energy, with a shot of espresso dropped in," he said. Still, he had the hint of a smile on his face, the satisfaction of knowing that he and his partners had succeeded in giving the people exactly what they want by doing nothing more than creating what they love as well.