Barbecue Joints are the New Steakhouses

See that mural of three pigs spit-roasting a man over an open fire? It’s painted on the wall of the brand-new Brooklyn location of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, and it’s ostensibly a joke about how the tables might be turned some day, with our porcine overlords knocking back beers and feasting on our sweet, tender flesh instead of vice versa. Taken another way, however, it could speak to a trend that’s becoming ever more clear in New York: the rise of the barbecue joint and the decline of the steakhouse as the meat restaurant of choice. What was once a city of pricey steakhouses, from the ancient Peter Luger to the modern BLT Steak, is quickly becoming a serious capital of barbecue. Having recently dined and drank at the new Dinosaur, I couldn’t be happier about this turn of events. 

Brooklyn’s Dinosaur succeeds on so many levels. First of all, owing to the family-heavy nature of its Park Slope neighborhood, it’s kid-friendly, but in a way that keeps the peace with date-night couples and groups of meat-loving friends. It’s loud enough to drown out all but the shrillest shrieks, there’s plenty of fun stuff like the above mural and a massive, spinning bottle sculpture to keep the kids giggling at their surroundings, and it’s the kind of food kids love anyway, so they’ll be nice and quiet while they’re chowing down on their kids’ menu brisket sliders and mac ‘n’ cheese. 

Second, the food’s great. I’m not a barbecue expert, I’m a barbecue enthusiast, which means I don’t discriminate between Texas, North Carolina, or Kansas City ‘cue, I just want it to taste good. We had brisket, St. Louis ribs, and pulled pork, and it was, as our waiter assured us, "all legit." The sides were great too, particularly the BBQ beans with pork and the A.K. chili. 

But finally, it’s such a comfortable atmosphere, the kind of place I love to hang out. Sure, I know the building, just a stone’s throw from the Gowanus Canal, wasn’t originally a southern smokehouse, and that all the exposed wood and barbecue bric-a-brac was trucked in and bolted to the walls, but I don’t care. The decor doesn’t need to be authentic as long as the food is. And it’s fun all the same. We were there at noon on Sunday, and within 20 minutes every table around us was filled. Voices were raised, barbecue sauce was slathered, and pints of cold beer were clinked to toast the best new meat spot in the neighborhood.

Dinosaur joins a growing, and glowing, set of Brooklyn barbecue joints. Within a ten-minute walk, there’s Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue, with its massive, amazing barbecue pit imported from Texas. There’s Fort Reno Provisions, with its daily specials and country shack ambiance. And there’s Pork Slope from the Talde crew, which claims to be a bar first and barbecue joint second, but the food’s great all the same. I love every one of them for different reasons, and hope the neighbors will support them. 

I think they will, and not just in Park Slope, not just in Brooklyn (big ups to Fette Sau in the ‘burg), but in New York as a whole. Why? Because barbecue, in all its forms, falls squarely in the category of what you really want. It all but defines that category for me, and, having enjoyed many of New York’s new barbecue restaurants, my thinking has been altered. When I used to dream about where I really wanted to go out to eat–healthy food choices and trendy atmosphere be damned–I dreamed about going to a steakhouse. Now I dream about barbecue. 

I’m sure I’m not alone. Done right, everything about a barbecue meal is a direct hit to the pleasure centers. Delicious, abundant, mouthwatering food. Satisfying drinks (beer, whiskey, lemonade) to wash it down with. A casual atmosphere where you’d be strange not to eat with your fingers. And a downright reasonable check at the end of it all. New Yorkers might be snobby about some things, but they’ve come around to admitting that country folk sure do know how to eat well. 

As for steakhouses, I do still love them, but what I remember about Peter Luger is how the waiter drops the check on your table from a height of six inches, and you’re supposed to be honored that he served you at all. What I remember about Keens is that I can only afford to eat there once a year. What do I remember about Dinosaur? Everything. 

Don’t worry, steakhouses, we’re not breaking up. Certain times will call for a massive porterhouse or chateaubriand, and certain business dinners wouldn’t quite work in a honkeytonk atmosphere. But for now, it’s my goal to eat in every barbecue joint in the five boroughs, and I can’t wait to hit the next one. 

[Related: BlackBook Guide to NYC Barbecue Restaurants; Listings for Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue, Fort Reno ProvisionsPork Slope, Fette Sau; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Brooklyn is Not The New Kansas City: The Borough’s Own Barbeque

Dan, the bartender at Fort Reno in Park Slope, has a curled-up mustache and a knowledge of bourbon that sits somewhere between impressive and intimidating. “A guy came in here the other night and goes, ‘So you specialize in stuff no one’s ever heard of?’ and it’s like, pretty much, yeah,” he told me while dropping bitters onto a sugar cube. And this procurement of specialty flavors only starts at the bar (that patron wanted “something smoother,” and wound up with a glass of Berkshire Bourbon from Southwestern Massachusetts). As a BBQ venture, there’s no pretense about bringing Memphis or Kansas City to Kings County. When I asked about influence, the manager Akil shook his head. “This is Brooklyn barbeque.”

In some respects, what makes it Brooklyn barbeque is the same thing that gives any food that “Brooklyn” prefix—the cows and pigs are grass-fed, the meat’s organic (Fort Reno gets theirs from Pat LaFrieda in New Jersey, among others), and greens don’t grow out of the ground, they grow out of a rooftop. I had just missed Goat-tober, where males past their procreation dates go to local restaurants interested in the “subtle sweetness” of their meat. Fort Reno made stew out of it. They’ve also gained notoriety for their seven dollar “Hot Mess,” sort of a KFC bowl for Vassar grads with beans, mac, pork shoulder, cornbread, slaw, and hot pickles layered in a—wait for it, Tyler Coates—mason jar. My bartender over at Halyards says it’s the neighborhood’s favorite drunk food, though it’s worth seeing with clear vision. In Park Slope, pretty don’t stop for drunk.

Down the street at Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue, things are slightly less eclectic (the bartender’s mustache doesn’t curl), but the sentiment’s still there. “We call it Brooklyn barbecue first and foremost because we’re in Brooklyn, and we’re not trying to replicate any of the amazing regional styles of barbecue that have come before us,” Bill Fletcher, the owner, told me. There are staples, no doubt—pork shoulder, brisket, St. Louis ribs. But the real gems here are the char siu pork (shoulder with a Cantonese marinade) and coriander-rubbed baby-backs with pineapple-lime chutney sauce. At a point where Brooklyn is also synonymous with fusion (“I think this juxtaposition is at the root of what it means to be making barbeque here,” says Bill), it’s high time for an incredibly old and distinctly American food to get an international kick. That said, I don’t know what other country would tolerate the chili-topped mac and cheese—radiatori noodles (so much better!) covered with melted white cheddar, brisket and BBQ sauce. Talk about drunk food.

And now over in Williamsburg, Dan Delaney of Brisketlab fame has opened his brick and mortar joint, Briskettown. The style doesn’t exactly jibe with the South Brooklyn spots—Delaney’s settled on perfecting Texas style barbeque (“there will be no innovation,” he contends). Though sans pineapple-lime braising, the meat doesn’t exactly lack for flavor, especially if you ask for a fatty cut. BBQ sauce isn’t part of the equation, so I guess if you get a lean piece that’s dry, take a sip of beer or something. But while the meat takes from Texas, the Brooklyn seeps in elsewhere. The place is something of a minimalist little hall with shoulder-to-shoulder seating. The two fellows next to me went a good fifteen minutes playing the “Have You Been To?” game, before one of them concluded that the food was tasty but the place was too crowded (“If they move these tables—see, these are the things I notice now that I’m in business school.”). They left. Two other guys sat down and started talking lying about blowjobs. Williamsburg is as Williamsburg does.

Brooklyn does not lay claim to any barbeque crown. I can attest, from watching copious amounts of Travel Channel specials as an adolescent, that folks in North Carolina and Texas take this stuff very seriously. I’ve made my pilgrimage to Arthur Bryant’s, and K.C. is indeed proud. But if there’s something this borough is consistently good at, it’s taking something wonderfully simple—a chocolate bar, a bowl of ramen—and getting just the right amount of precious with it. And so far as barbeque’s concerned, I’d say it’s working.

New Barbecue Restaurant Feeds Gowanus

Despite all the cancellations and pushed back opening dates, Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue had no problem during Hurricane Sandy and welcomed guests into their warm, hearty eatery or the first time last Friday.

"We were lucky,” said owner Bill Fletcher, aka BBQ Billy. “The restaurant didn’t flood, we didn’t lose power, and we were able to stay on track for a Friday opening."  

This means Gowanus now has what Fletcher describes as “a uniquely Brooklyn style of American pit barbecue” at their greasy, saucy fingertips. Though what Brooklyn-style barbecue is has yet to be fully determined, we eagerly await the verdict and the chance to try the goods, which get cooked over maple and oak wood in their 2,600-pound, cherry red pit. After all, Fletcher himself has a long history working the pit and has won many accolades on the northeast barbecue competition circuit. Another reason we have high hopes comes in the form of pit master Matt Fisher, formally of R.U.B., who will be manning the meat with BBQ Billy.

Together, they pile plates high with ribs, pork shoulder, brisket, and a rotating menu of market-driven options like Char Siu pork belly and maple smoked Red Wattle Pork Loin. All the meat is sustainably raised and they plan on keeping specials and side dishes seasonal. Aside from slabs of meat, you can also get mac and cheese, pit-smoked baked beans, a rotating list of sliders, and barbecue tacos. 

All of this can be found in their industrial-butcher-meets-rustic-eatery on Wednesday through Monday, starting at 5pm until they run out.

Joe Carroll Floods Williamsburg With Lake Trout

Restaurateur Joe Carroll has done it again with his latest eatery, Lake Trout, which opened this weekend. At least this time, he moved away from his holy trinity on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and instead, set up shop down the way at 160 Havemeyer St. Still, that’s damn close.

The first venue Carroll opened was beer lover paradise Spuyten Duyvil in 2005. It was popular, sure, but more for those in-the-know than the full notoriety it has today. That changed when two years later he set his hooks in the barbecue scene and created the well-liked Fette Sau across the street. I thought he had done enough culinary damage to the avenue with that, but then Carroll went ahead and re-opened St. Anselm last year, this time as a steakhouse (before it was a snack shop that quickly closed). When that opened I wondered, could this new restaurant be as successful as his other two? Yes, based on the rave reviews it garnered and the wait times that still run over an hour on any given night, Carroll’s achievement gleams.

At Lake Trout, Carroll sticks to the Americana cuisine theme found at his other establishments, but this time, it’s styled after a fish shack with Baltimore chic. Helming the menu is former Fette Sau executive chef Matt Lang, who had a hand in deciding the direction of the tiny, 16-seat restaurant. Like Carroll’s barbecue joint, they don’t have a large menu, and instead focus on simple dishes that they execute well; these include a pollock and cheese sandwich, jumbo lump crab cakes, salt-and-pepper shrimp, and the “lake trout,” which is actually whiting fillets with French fries and potato bread. With the sudden rise of the fish sandwich (regarding New York Magazine’s spread on the dish a couple weeks ago), I wouldn’t be surprised if Carroll has another winning eatery. He just seems to know the perfect timing to go fishing.