Friday, February 25, 2011

Food Fridays: Biggest BBQ Road Trip to Date

I am something of a BBQ aficionado.  Pork butt slow smoked over charcoal and cherry, served with a drizzle of vinegar, Ronnie's BBQ sauce and a side of 'slaw makes me weak in the knees.  Beef brisket, ribs, chicken ... doesn't really matter.  If I'm not cooking it myself, I'm searching for great restaurants that serve it.

So, when I was contacted last month by Brizo to come to New York City, my BBQ radar went crazy.  While it's true that New York City doesn't rank highly as a BBQ destination on a global scale, with a population four times that of Metro Vancouver the opportunity for great BBQ is that much better.  Besides, I already knew a number of great BBQ joints in New York ... Dinosaur, Daisy May's and Blue Smoke had all be suggested to me.  But it was RUB BBQ that made it onto my very busy NYC agenda.

There was really only one thing that made me choose RUB (Righteous Urban BBQ); his name is Paul Kirk.  In the BBQ world, Paul Kirk is a rock star.  He's won the World BBQ Championships 7 times, won the American Royal and over 475 other cooking awards. Paul Kirk and Andrew Fischel opened RUB in 2005 and, conveniently for me, it was only a 10 minute walk from the hotel.  I was joined on my BBQ quest by  JB from Baltimore and Nick from Auburn.  I figured having a Southerner along for the ride would give be another level of perspective.  JB was a relative BBQ newcomer and Nick & I were happy to educate.

I immediately noticed a couple things upon entering RUB: the smell of REAL smoke, and a big sign that said "Burn Ends R Sold Out".  Believe it or not, this indicates good BBQ ... a good pit NEVER makes more.  Considering real BBQ takes several hours to achieve, how could you?  I ordered a bourbon and coke, and set to reading the menu.

We ordered a couple 2 meat platters (pulled pork, brisket, pulled chicken and pastrami), 4 sides (collards, coleslaw, potato salad and baked beans).  We threw in an order of hush-puppies for good measure.  The pulled pork was exactly as it should be:  deeply smoky, tender and shredded, not the mushy or chopped meat some places try to pass off as "pulled".  The brisket and pastrami were also excellent, and for me were the smokiest meats of the four.  A small quibble I had was that the meat was machine, not hand sliced (and yes, it DOES make a difference).  Slicing a lot of meat by hand would be tough to in a busy restaurant, but I'm surprised Chef Kirk didn't insist on it.  Chicken is tough to do well, but this chicken was really good.  I really liked how they served it shredded.  You could also order it on the bone, but whenever I serve smoked chicken, this is how I do it; simpler to make into sandwiches.

The sides were not as unanimously successful as the meats.  Hush puppies were okay.  You got a lot of them for the price, but we left a number of them on the plate.  My Souther brother Nick backs me up on this.  The hush puppies were average.  The coleslaw (vinegar based, my fave!) and baked beans were top notch, however the collards and potato salad seemed to miss the point.  The potato salad wasn't bad, it was just really .... meh.  Even a bit of seasoning would have elevated it enough.  There was nothing that was going to save the collards.  Bland, mushy, and with very little noticeable bacon fat.  I'm backed up on this by Nick as well.  Now it could be we were there later in the evening, but if that was the case they could have put up a sign beside the "Burnt Ends" sign and just not sold them.

The room is smaller than I thought it would be, but I'm guessing restaurant space in Chelsea isn't cheap, and they would need a lot of big smokers in the kitchen.  Dimly lit, the wood-clad walls are covered in blues posters while the kitchen is surrounded in quilted stainless-steel.  Service was friendly and helpful ... it was our server that steered us towards the pulled chicken.  I know this is clich矇, but I was expecting rudeness, especially considering the draw Paul Kirk would have.  I'm glad to have been wrong.

Overall assessment? RUB was a worthwhile visit, but both my dining companions and I agree that if we were back in New York we'd give some of the other players a try.  I fear however that my findings in Vancouver, and now New York may hold true, that REAL BBQ is really difficult to achieve in a restaurant ... unless, as Nick pointed, one happens to be in the South.  Perhaps another road trip is in order ...

RUB BBQ New York City
208 West 23rd Street
New York, NY


Brenda Lynn said...

Arne, you really should take a trip to Alabama sometime. Between Nick and myself, I am sure that we know every BBQ place there is. From north Alabama to south Alabama, I am sure that between the 2 of us we have hit every BBQ joint worthy of the name.Come on down! I know what I am having for lunch now!

Brenda Lynn

Arne Salvesen said...

Brenda Lynn, that's what Nick kept telling me! I have a couple friends in Raleigh, NC as well who've extended the same invite. So essentially what I need to do is fast for 2-3 weeks and then come down for a Q-fest!

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