The kitchen’s saloon doors swing open and out walks the counterman, a steer skull looming overhead behind him on the wall. He’s holding a tray of intensely pink-edged “dinosaur” beef ribs, their meat clinging to colossal bones. It’s a scene you’d expect to see in Austin or Lubbock, or at any one of our city’s growing number of barbecue joints. But in Hasidic Crown Heights?
‘Round these parts, “low and slow” beef cookery typically means flanken or pot roast. Not so at Izzy’s Brooklyn Smokehouse, where enthusiast turned pro pit-master Sruli “Izzy” Eidelman smokes beef, lamb, and poultry over oak and cherry woods, often for the better part of a day. “That combination of hard and fruit woods makes for an amazing flavor,” the 28-year-old Eidelman relays to the Voice. He’s not joking, either. His ribs (both beef and lamb) are ideal; heavily padded with blackened salt and pepper “bark,” they drip with melted fat when pulled apart — the lamb especially. As Texas-style barbecue goes, it’s divine.
Like the majority of his customers at this cozy, year-old carnivore’s oasis, Eidelman observes the Jewish dietary discipline of kashrut. That means vegan mac ‘n’ cheese and dairy-free desserts (go with the peanut butter pie); closing for business on the Sabbath; and of course that pork, pulled or otherwise, is out of the question. It makes sense, then, that Eidelman would gravitate toward the barbecue stylings of the Lone Star State, which favors brisket in all its beefy glory. Eidelman’s is remarkable — and it’d better be, at $40 per pound. Enticingly tender, it’s coated in so much spice that it hardly needs the restaurant’s piquant tomato-based barbecue sauce. (Eating the fattiest cuts was almost as much of a religious experience as my bar mitzvah.) In March, Eidelman took second place at the third annual Brisket King of NYC competition. The man who bested him? His mentor, Texas-born Ari White of roving kosher barbecue outfit the Wandering Que.
Eidelman uses his smoker for just about everything, relying on a 24-hour crew to help tend the flames. Chickens come as sweetly glazed wings, or halved and saddled with pickles and slaw, though they’re better fried, stacked onto pretzel rolls, and slathered in creamy horseradish. The kitchen gets creative, piling sauced-up shreds of pulled beef into empanadas and tacos, while roasted sweet potatoes are served “candied” alongside sugary pecans. Arrive for dinner and you can approximate a full Texan Thanksgiving, supplementing your spuds with slices of smoked turkey.
As restaurant mascots go, the giant cannibal pig statue stationed atop Joeper’s Smokeshack in Marine Park is captivatingly wacky. It stands guard over the single-story building bare-bottomed and guffawing as it brandishes a rack of its brethren’s ribs. Inside the diminutive takeout joint, which only has space for three stools, owner Joe Pandolfo graciously wears pants, though the pig theme continues with illustrations and figurines that fill the room.
Take the not-so-subtle hint and order Memphis-style ribs smoked in Pandolfo’s custom-built pit for over four hours until their dry rub is almost blackened. The autodidact’s technique produces juicy, highly porky meat. And at $22 for a whole rack, they’re a serious bargain that, by themselves, warrant the trip to this corner of southern Flatbush Avenue. Spicy burnt ends, cut from the tip of the brisket, make nearly as memorable an impression. Both cuts need no help from a trio of barbecue sauces, inspired by the Carolinas and Texas — two of them pack chile and mustard heat, respectively, and a third is loaded with cumin. Save them instead for thin slices of Kansas City brisket or slightly timid pulled pork (or just order the latter in a sandwich, sauced and topped with coleslaw).
Sides are all over the map, both geographically and not. The bacon in a gooey mac ‘n’ cheese does nothing for the flimsy noodles, though chicken wings have an unmistakable (and appealing) smokiness. The small loaves of cornbread are pleasingly dense, while hushpuppies and catfish nuggets are fried to a satisfying, brown crisp.
Like Eidelman, the Brooklyn-born Pandolfo, a former boiler mechanic, turned his obsession into a career. Both men have striven to master their craft and share their passion with their communities. It’s a good thing they answered the call of the ‘cue.
Izzy’s Brooklyn Smokehouse
397 Troy Avenue, Brooklyn; 347-425-0524
2085 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-677-4225