I just love these New York Times stories about the barbecue scene in Manhattan:
New York’s barbecue scene may be missing a lot of things — like dirt roads and screen doors and decades of deep-seated tradition — but love for barbecue in the city is strong. And in the past couple of years the product has caught up to the passion. Restaurants that hobbled out of the gate have hit their strides. The best pits in and around the city have gotten better.
Of course, places that have dirt roads and screen doors don’t have opera companies and easy access to Starbucks. So there’s that. One criticism, though, is completely right-on:
That doesn’t mean you can walk into any haunt with a neon pig outside and expect smoked bliss from every corner of the menu. An awful lot of stuff around town still has no right calling itself barbecue, though the ratio has improved considerably. Some places dabble in too many styles. Out there where barbecue comes from, that doesn’t happen: the top places in Texas don’t dress up their pork shoulder in Carolina drag, and no one in Memphis is trying to outgun Texans at their own game.
This is sort of a generic problem Up North; the places that do barbecue try to do Kansas City and Memphis and Austin and Georgia, all at the same time, and it can get a bit messy. It’s good, mind you — not as good as the real sabor autentico, but it ain’t bad.
Two main quarrels with the article. First, it highlights a place called R.U.B. in Chelsea which I haven’t gone to – they got into a copyright snit with our local place in Jersey, the “R.U.B. Hut”, which was forced to change its name to the “G.R.U.B. Hut.” Second — this is just unbelievable:
Over a dinner of three of those meaty whole racks of lamb (that four of us came within two ribs of finishing), a friend related a story of visiting Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Tex., one of the high holy shrines of Texas barbecue. He tried to describe the vibe in the room while he was eating: a low, throbbing, violent, ready-to-rumble hum that he felt and felt part of. (As he’s a long-haired Southern boy with a peacenik streak, he didn’t indulge it.)
I had never made that connection: when a barbecue place proclaims that its product is good enough to make you “slap yo’ pappy” or some other hokum, it’s alluding to a visceral reaction that only truly great barbecue can elicit. I have never had ruckus-worthy barbecue at any of the places that brandished that kind of sentiment.
After we’d finished the lamb, we headed back to my friend’s room at the Mercer hotel to digest in front of a Kenneth Anger DVD. Once we were in the elevator, he confessed that he had been struck by an urge to tackle someone, anyone, when we were walking through the lobby.
Sure, it could have just been the weekend crowd at the Mercer. But I knew better, because I felt the urge, too. It was the lamb, rubbed with a simple chili-inflected and mustard-based paste, cooked to a perfect tenderness, gently flavored with smoke.
What is up with this? You have got to be kidding me. I’ve eaten at Kreuz Market. I’ve never felt anything other than love — pure, sweet, smoky love for their barbecue. I’ve never felt an undercurrent of violence there or at any other Hill Country barbecue. The idea that barbecue leads to violence is nonsense of the worst order. If you eat a whole rack of lamb and then go out and tackle someone in a hotel lobby, you’d have to be an idiot to blame the lamb, and an even bigger idiot to blame the barbecue. (Anyone that doesn’t buy this notion should check out crime statistics for Lockhart and compare them to Jackson Heights.)
This is in every way inexplicable. Barbecue brings people together. It is something that everyone — even pointy-headed Yankee food reporters who watch esoteric short films — can enjoy and be inspired by. It is a unifying force. Blaming great barbecue for violent urges is wrong in every way, and the NYT would do well to apologize.