Alchemy’s rich and black-pepper-dotted prime rib
When New York barbecue legend Robert Pearson departed the final location of his Queens establishment, Pearson’s Texas BBQ, in 2005, he left it in the hands of his able pitmaster, Angel Domingues, and the new owner, Cenobio Canalizo, both natives of Puebla, Mexico. They changed the name to Ranger Texas Barbecue, and the place soldiered on for a few more years, turning out ‘cue that originally ranged from good to decent, but later was sometimes awful. Then a couple of months ago, due to a rumored death in the family, Ranger’s eight-person crew mysteriously departed to points unknown, leaving Jackson Heights bereft of barbecue. Some say the extended family that ran the place returned to Mexico.
Typical spread at Alchemy, Texas (from upper lefthand corner going clockwise): beef rib [update: @drbbq notes that this looks more like a pork rib, and I’d have to agree with him/her], brisket, white beans with BBQ meats, cole slaw, white bread, goat rib, prime rib.
Now, the joint has been taken over by Josh Bowen, proprietor of John Brown Smokehouse, who has renamed the place Alchemy, Texas. Why the name, I asked him on Tuesday evening–the first night the place was officially opened, after a soft opening period. “With that particular smoker back there,” he replied, “everything is going to end up tasting like Texas barbecue.” He also went on to say, “I think of this as a place for doing experiments,” gesturing at the chalkboard above the counter which listed goat ribs and prime rib, in addition to the expected brisket, pork ribs, beef ribs, and chicken. Later, the counter staff put up a hand-inked sign that also offered sausage and pork belly.
With a somewhat limited budget and a skeleton crew, I was able to taste a little over half of the current output, almost all of it damn good. The brisket was appropriately moist. I got two batches, of which the second was a little better than the first, in terms of crustiness and full beefy flavor. The prime rib–a very thick cut that gets barbecued on the outside, something like beef shoulder, but remains blood red rare in the middle–was nothing short of spectacular, straddling the giant gap between barbecue and steak. I loved the sausage, too, which Bowen said was a beef-pork combo made by a friend. In its inherent lack of seasoning, it took to the smoke like a pig to a mud puddle.
Apart from the new banner, the place looks pretty much the same as when it was Ranger Texas Barbecue.
Turn the page for more meat!
The second batch of brisket I got was perfect in every way.
The beef rib was good, too, though not quite the baseball bat I’d expected and more tender as a result [update: note caveat in the caption on previous , but the goat ribs turned out to be more exciting sounding than they actually were. “There’s not much meat on them,” Bowen noted. Having had wonderful barbecued cabrito in Mexican border towns that was tender as all get-out, I wondered why the goat ribs here were on the tough side, and I posed the question to blogger Joe DiStefano, who was chowing down at his own red-checked table on the other side of the room. “Maybe it needs a marinade,” he replied, looking up briefly before re-attacking his rib. My own suspicion was that the goats in Mexico used to make cabrito are even younger than the ones called baby goats here. The barbecuing process is simila, though the baby goats in places like Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros are done in open pits rather than enclosed ones.
What excites me most is that Alchemy, Texas is a great new addition to New York’s roster of exceptional barbecues. When barbecue experts like Daniel Vaughn come to the city this summer for the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, I’m going to be called upon to prove how good Gotham barbecue has become, and this will be an addition to the breakneck BBQ tour.
71-04 35th Avenue
Jackson Heights, Queens
Alchemy’s homemade beef-pork sausage
Follow me on Twitter if you dare! — @robertsietsema