A Barbecue Run Through Three Boroughs With Texas Monthly's Daniel Vaughn
The beef rib at Mighty Quinn's is so big, it must be butchered with a plastic knife.
It's not uncommon in barbecue states to do an extreme barbecue run that includes three or four pits in an extended afternoon of gorging, driving, sightseeing, and breaks along the way for bursts of healthful exercise. Well, a group of barbecue enthusiasts, including myself and New York Times critic Pete Wells, set out on such a run in New York City yesterday, dubbed the Convince a Texan Tour, stopping at four barbecues over a period of seven hours and eating lots of pie and drinking the stray beer and cocktail along the way. The occasion was the release of Daniel Vaughn's new book, The Prophets of Smoked Meat, which details his own barbecue excursions from one end of Texas to the other. The book is the first in a series of food volumes being published by Anthony Bourdain.
Daniel Vaughn and Anthony Bourdain will be discussing Vaughn's new book tonight at Barnes & Noble Union Square, 33 East 17th Street, at 7 p.m.
Shown here in front of Mighty Quinn's, the crew included (left to right) Bourdain social-media producer Helen Cho, literary agent David Hale Smith, Daniel Vaughn, and Jennifer Vaughn.
There was another reason for the barbecue run, too. I've been doing a lot of boasting about New York barbecue, and Vaughn has been doing some good-natured sniping from his home in Dallas, and this was a chance for him to either deny or confirm some of my wilder assertions. Indeed, he was already familiar with many of the city's older places, such as Hill Country, Mable's Smokehouse, and Fette Sau, and this would be an opportunity for him to try some of the newer ones. We decided to do the entire pilgrimage by subway and on foot, and ended up with quite a different experience than, say, driving across North Carolina.
We started at Mighty Quinn's in the East Village, where we were seen waiting outside the door as the place opened at 11:30 a.m. There, the six of us wolfed down a pound of brisket, a giant beef rib which Vaughn particularly admired, pork ribs, and spicy Italian sausage, the latter which caused the author to launch into a discourse on barbecued sausage. He noted that the vaunted beef link of Kreuz Market (also served at our own Hill Country) is loose in the casing because it's improperly fabricated. He was to make several more interesting and unusual assertions in the course of the afternoon.
The Chinese-leaning barbecued chicken wings were a surprise hit.
Photographing everything became part of the ritual.
Briskets waiting for the smoker at Mighty Quinn's.
The barbecue spread at Fletcher's.
We hopped on the F train and headed for the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. After admiring the new Smith and 9th Street station as we slid through, our rollicking party detrained at the Fourth Avenue stop and hiked over to Fletcher's. There, the pitmaster recognized Vaughn, who is a regular at barbecue events around the country, and discussed the day's offerings. While the burnt ends of the brisket made from the fatty half were a little underdone, a special of lamb breast was totally on the money, and we ate our way through pork ribs, tri-tip tacos, Carolina-style chopped pork sandwich with slaw, chicken wings, and a mess of beans. Vaughn pondered why New York barbecues serve sweet pickles instead of dills. At this point Mark Ibold, bass player in Pavement and Lucky Peach contributor, came running in and sat down to eat some barbecue with us. He'd been riding by on his bike and saw us inside. Life is random.
At this juncture, around 1:30 p.m., we were already reeling from the amount of food the party had consumed, so we decided to go down the block and cleanse our palates with some pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds, where the chess pie was the biggest hit, washed down with fortifying mugs of coffee.
Placing our order at Fletcher's
Palate-cleansing pies at Four & Twenty Blackbirds
Picking the 'cue at John Brown Smokehouse
Next, we jumped on an R train and headed for Queens. At Queens Plaza, we hopped out in a wind-blown Long Island City neighborhood that seemed to be all gleaming high-rises and antediluvian rubber-stamp factories. Vaughn had wanted to check out Alchemy, Texas in Jackson Heights, but that place is closed on Mondays, so we picked its predecessor establishment, John Brown Smokehouse. Unfortunately, the 'cue offered there on a Monday seemed to be leftovers from the weekend, and the meat simply wasn't as good as it has been on some other occasions. Nevertheless, we appraised the pork belly BLT, pastrami, burnt ends of brisket, and a pepper-flecked lamb sausage that was quite good.
Later, on the G train back to Brooklyn, Vaughn - who was recently hired as Barbecue Editor at Texas Monthly magazine - made one of his stranger pronouncements: "When it comes to barbecue, brisket is not necessarily the most perfect meat. I'd have to say that distinction belongs to beef short ribs, especially if they're cut just the right way." Our jaws dropped of course.
Barbecue hoard at John Brown Smokehouse
Preparing to unleash the giant beef rib at BrisketTown
In Williamsburg, it was too early to eat at BrisketTown, so we headed over to Dram to get beers and cocktails, and to kick back for a little over an hour in the cedar-clad premises near the bike exit from the Williamsburg Bridge.
Slightly tipsy, we stormed BrisketTown. Vaughn was right up front at the counter of the dimly little space with the neon steer on the wall, supervising the slicing of the brisket and begging the carver to give us certain morsels, including the charred end edge of the non-fatty part of the cut. There were pork ribs, too, and another gargantuan beef rib, along with potato salad, raw onions, white bread, and sweet pickles. We finished up with pie and bread pudding, then went into the slightly chilly evening. Pete Wells and I headed for our homes; the rest of the party lingered in front of the barbecue, and contemplated what to do before their dinner reservation in a couple of hours.
Slicing the brisket at BrisketTown
A pile of 'cue at BrisketTown
And, in case you wondered: Sometimes recognized, sometimes not, we paid for everything we ate.
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