Brother Jimmy’s BBQ’s pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw option, this one from the Union Square branch. Note the presence of the charred outer parts of the meat, sometimes known as “Mr. Brown.”
[In connection with a feature that will be appearing this Wednesday in the Village Voice, I’ve revisited half a dozen barbecues, old places I hadn’t been to in years, and new places I hadn’t had a chance to visit before. Here are some thumbnail sketches of my experiences.]
If you’re a fan of great barbecue, it’s easy to ignore Brother Jimmy’s. When I went 10 years ago, I found the ‘cue awful. But maybe I wasn’t focusing on the right things. Or maybe the place has simply gotten better, as the quality of New York barbecue has risen dramatically.
On an early weekend afternoon, just before the basketball-cheering hordes begin to arrive.
Brother Jimmy’s never claimed to be much, a down-and-dirty rib joint where the emphasis was more on booze and rollicking good times than on the food. But now the place loudly proclaims its Carolina affiliations, and caters to alumni of schools like Clemson, University of North Carolina, Wake Forest, and North Carolina State, and proudly shows their sports contests on multiple screens. Foamy pitchers of beer are seen on every table on weekend afternoons, and cheers periodically shake the rafters.
In this context, it may be difficult to pay attention to the barbecue, but i found the iconic pulled pork sandwich to verge on the very good. Keep in mind that Carolina pulled pork — originally, and sometimes still made from whole hogs — is often not all that smoky. It is, though, conventionally doused with white vinegar, and the version at Brother Jimmy’s was. Vinegar-based slaw is usually put right in the sandwich. At Brother Jimmy’s, the slaw is served on the side and it’s mayo-based. Put it on the sandwich anyway, with the accompanying dill pickle slices, and you’ve got a great sandwich. Certainly, the version of this classic at Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue is better, but then Jimmy’s has branches all over Manhattan, while Fletcher’s is practically in the Gowanus Canal. Besides, at Jimmy’s you get to eat the sandwich in the presence of Southerners, which is novel in NYC. Heck, you may be a Southerner yourself.
But the really glory of Jimmy’s is their Brunswick stew. This is a North Carolina and Georgia specialty that involves putting fragments of leftover barbecue in a tomato-based stew dotted with what is sometimes frozen mixed vegetables. The tomato base is sweet, and hey!, even if they’re frozen, vegetables are good for you. The leftovers impart a smoky flavor to the sauce that can’t be beat, and Brother Jimmy’s version is superb. Who’d have imagined?
Brother Jimmy’s Brunswick stew
Brother Jimmy’s BBQ
116 East 16th Street
Check out FiTR’s labyrinthine Barbecue Library of NY
Follow me on Twitter if you dare! — @robertsietsema