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]

Eating and Drinking by the Reopened Smith-Ninth Street Station

The Smith-Ninth Street subway station is the tallest in the world, which should be cause for some civic pride. Unfortunately, tumbledown infrastructure and ratty innards have long kept riders from luxuriating in the skyline views. Two years and a cool $32 million later, the F and G have at last returned to this stretch of Brooklyn. The station’s new façade is unexpectedly space-age, putting aside eighty years of industrial cred for a look that’s more Funkadelic than Wilco. Although the Gowanus may not quite be ready for destination dining status, both sides of the canal have some great places for getting your eat and drink on, accessible once again by the grace of the MTA.

Buttermilk Channel takes its name from a nearby stretch of Brooklyn waterfront, although buttermilk fried chicken with cheddar waffles is what put it on the map. If you’re looking for a killer brunch and don’t mind a wait, this is your place. Just up Court you’ll find Prime Meats, where the two Frankies take their eyes off the boot for a look back at Germany and old New York. The biggest raves are for the burgers: hefty half-pounders of Creekstone Black Angus, tender and packed with flavor.

A couple of doors up is the Falcinelli and Castronovo original, Frankies 457 Spuntino, where the pork braciola marinara and housemade pappardelle are sublime, and everything else is merely mind-blowing. Nearby La Slowteria is a neighborhood newcomer with a line in Mexican slow food. Duck comes pulled and stuffed in a crispy potato taco, slow cooked in posole stew, or paired with black mole. If it’s barbecue you’re craving, Fletcher’s has the hookup, with a maple- and oak-fueled barbecue pit imported from Texas. That should hold you until the new Dinosaur Bar-B-Que comes online. Another GoWo player is Bar Tano, which compensates for a trafficky corner with a chill Euro interior. The kitchen turns out better than solid bruschette, americo burgers, and lightly charred pizzas.

On the boozy end of things, Abilene and Lowlands peeps bookend the Gowanus with a pair of low-key neighborhood drinkeries. A little closer to Smith-9th is Draft Barn, where 250 brews have been culled from every corner of the earth for your sampling pleasure. On an even bigger scale is The Bell House, an instant G-Slope classic with stellar booking. Tonight the concert hall turns into Wasablanca—a mashup of Casablanca inspirations and Wasabassco burlesque. Wait until tomorrow and can catch epic dance party The Rub. Dance party Mister Sunday is back for at least one more summer at neraby Gowanus Grove. This year’s sessions start on May 12th, with Brooklyn brews, dancing under the poplar grove, and huaraches from the Country Boys. There are worse places to contemplate the Smith-Ninth viaduct, and wonder why they built it so damn high. (Okay, it’s for the tall ships that once plied the pristine waters of the canal.)

Photo by City of Strangers/Flickr.

[For more great places to wine and dine, visit the BlackBook New York Guide; To keep up on the latest openings and events, subscribe to BlackBook Happenings; More by Ethan Wolff; Buy Ethan’s book; Follow him on Twitter

Bronx Cheers: Bronx Brewery Releases Its Pale Ale in Tall-Boy Cans

I don’t spend enough time in the Bronx. A couple Yankee games a year, maybe a trip to the zoo or the Botanical Garden on a nice day, the odd visit to Fordham, but that’s pretty much it. The rest is all Manhattan and Brooklyn. But the Bronx is cool, and I’ll soon have another excellent reason to hop on the 6 and cruise up to Cypress Ave: The Bronx Brewery is building a new brewery at 856 E. 136th Street, and they’ll have a tasting room for visitors. I plan to be one of the first. They’re still working on it, but in the meantime, they just made it easier than ever to enjoy their flagship beer wherever you (I) happen to be, as Bronx Pale Ale is now available in 16-ounce cans, commonly known to beer enthusiasts as "tall boys." I recently got my hands on a four-pack and cracked one open last night. 

I didn’t have a proper ale glass in my freezer, so I decided to do the crazy thing and pour it into one of those new-fangled Spiegelau IPA glasses (get me to a psych ward). But the IPA glass is suitable for a regular pale ale of the non-India variety, because the bowl shape of the glass concentrates the aromas so you can get a good whiff of it before imbibing. And so I relaxed in my living room, lifted the glass, and brought it to my nose. The aromas are rather subtle, but it’s classic beer all the way, with caramel notes from the barley malt and floral notes from the hops.

But if all you want to do is sniff something that smells nice, get a bouquet of petunias. Beer is for drinking, and Bronx Pale Ale is satisfying in all the best ways. I hesitate to call it heavy, because it’s not like some porter or barleywine, but it’s the opposite of light beer. Whereas light beer is, well, lightly flavored and kind of watery, Bronx Pale Ale is deeply flavorful and complex. And while light beer tends to have a lower alcohol content, in the 4.2% – 4.5% ballpark, Bronx Pale Ale has a robust 6.3% ABV. (For comparison, Budweiser is 5.0%.) But as smart as it is, I enjoyed Bronx Pale Ale as a "regular" beer, tipping back the glass and savoring every sip without having to analyze the interplay between a zillion different flavors. 

I did tap out a few notes while I was drinking it, though: "Bold and flavorful, but still respectful of what beer should be. Big, beery, and satisfying. Well-balanced but not overly hoppy, which I like." And it somehow tasted like a draft beer, even though it was from a can. The draft version must be sublime. 

So it’s a brew that delivers the goods without getting too smart alecky. There’s plenty under the hood, though. I like the straightforward, non-B.S. description printed on the can: "This deep amber, American pale ale is brewed with five different barley malts, generous additions of Cascade and Centennial hops, and a unique strain of yeast. The British, German, and American malts used provide a complex blend of caramel, biscuit, and nutty malt flavors. The kettle and dry hops provide a gentle, pleasant bitterness with an intense floral and citrus aroma."

All of those descriptors are true, but the the real enjoyment of this beer is its true, authentic character. Sometimes, after a hell of a day at the end of a hell of a week, you just want a damn beer. This is the beer you want. 

The new brewery and tasting room is slated to open at the end of this year. In the meantime, you can buy cans of Bronx Pale Ale at stores like Whole Foods and Fairway, and get it on draft at spots like Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and the Ginger Man

[Photo: Doug Schneider Photography

[For more great spots to drink beer in New York, check out BlackBook’s New York Guide. Keep up with new openings by subscribing to the free BlackBook Happenings newsletters. More by Victor Ozols. Follow me on Twitter.]

Super Bowl Catering: Bringing New York’s Best Bites Home

The Super Bowl is an event not just because of the football, but because of the food. It’s an excuse to get plastered and snack on unfashionably delicious bar food on a Sunday afternoon, football fan or not. The wonderful thing about this is that restaurants often “go deep” and present their offerings in a catering-friendly form, so you can either (A) come to the party with the best snacks or (B) host one at your own digs, and not have to worry about preparing oven-baked sheet after sheet of Pizza Rolls and Bagel Bites, or even worse, trying to get someone to deliver during the game. Of course, there’s always pizza, which you can order a few hours before the day of, but why go for the normal grub when you can hit something slightly more exotic. In other words: which restaurants are helping New Yorkers get one through the uprights, and bringing forth good grub to the game?

Momofuku Ssam Bar All those who place their bets on David Chang to deliver the goods will be pleased to know that he’s again offering the Bo Ssam — a motherlode of whole slow-roasted pork shoulder, with all the fixings: napa kimchi, ginger scallion sauce, caramelized onion, horseradish crème fraiche, bibb lettuce — along with some awesome sides–smoked chicken wings, red onion cole slaw, yukon gold potato salad, baked adzuki beans with bacon–and one of the best desserts the MomoEmpire has to offer–a dozen compost cookies–for $325 this year. Better get on it, though: today (February 4th) is the last day they’re going to be taking orders. Not exactly a hail mary, though: Momofuku’s a pretty surefire bet, year-to-year, Super Bowl or not.

BLT Burger The haute Village burger stand (whose burger received notable approval from us last year) rolls out their own special for four, eight, or 15 people (priced respectively at $60, $120, $225). They’re packing in burgers, fried snacks (onion rings, skinny fries, sweet potato fries, waffle fries, fried dill pickles), along with chicken wings and waffle bites. Even better, orders can be places and picked up the day of the game, but call ’em in early, unless you feel like missing the halftime show.

Kefi Upper West Siders going slightly more highbrow than the average fried fatfest can hit up star chef Michael Psilakis’ casual Greek digs for something a little more exotic than the typical Super Bowl spread. 6-8 people can get Psilakis’ homemade pita “chips” with tzatziki dip, hummus, Greek salad and Kefi’s meatballs — which are, by far and away, the restaurant’s standout dish — along with spinach mac and cheese, some Spetsofai pasta (rigatoni, sausage and peppers), and your choice of Souvlaki or Roasted Chicken, which also comes with a side of lemon potatoes. You can call in an order to the restaurant for $49.95 day of, and get it delivered in the neighborhood at no extra charge. That said, someone’s working on the Super Bowl, delivering your food, while you’re partying. Tip well, lest you get sacked by bad karma.

MacBar One of those party dishes nobody’s ever gone wrong with, ever — Mac and Cheese — can be brought to the table in a style naturally befitting New Yorkers, which is to say, a variety of flavors including truffle oil, lobster, any number of cheeses, among others. MacBar’s got 12 different flavors, and they’re putting the entire menu up for catering 16 to 20 people, priced anywhere from $40 – $70. Orders need to be placed at least by Saturday, and when you pick ’em up, make sure you get a cabbie who can keep the meter running, lest you get stuck on a Nolita corner with a massive tureen of hot, gooey noodles without a ride to move ’em.

Acme Bar & Grill and Great Jones Cafe We couldn’t make a list without giving due diligence to New Orleans fans, who have some of the best native food in the country. Good Cajun food’s hard to find in the city, but Acme does delivery via Seamless Web, and they have an entire menu of PoBoys and a kitchen that could pull oof a party of ’em. It certainly isn’t the “fanciest” of the options here, but it’ll get the trick done. For superior Cajun grub, Great Jones (as the smaller restaurant) might merit a little more advance notice and a little more convincing, but will definitely bring tasty game to the table for New York’s dedicated, displaced WHO DAT nation who can’t (and shouldn’t) be bothered to cook that day.

Finally, Bar-B-Que‘s a sport in and of itself in New York, so it deserves a few options. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que doesn’t have a specific Super Bowl catering menu, per se, but they do have some of the best meat in town, and as they’re located all the way uptown, they’re not going to be as slammed as some of the other places you might end up at. South Brooklyn should head to the Smoke Joint, arguable the best in the borough, though North Brooklyn’s meat-on-meat destination Fette Sau in Williamsburg would beg to differ. Smoke Joint will come correct on the sides, while Fette Sau comes correct with all kinds of meat, though their side selection is limited. For Manhattanites, Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke is a wee bit pricy, but solid, and Indy fans will appreciate their care for the midwest’s BBQ stylings; Wildwood‘s located a few blocks south, is cheaper, and has a bigger menu for those who want to reach outside the realm of more typical offerings, but Hill Country has the best of all worlds: good meat, great sides, reasonable prices, and most importantly, will deliver Sweet Tea in a mason jar for you. If that’s not Southern Hospitality, what is? Well, Upper East Siders can find out: the Justin Timberlake-associated Southern Hospitality does take-out, too.