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Propelled in part by David Chang and the bo ssäm pork shoulder feasts he began serving last decade at Ssäm Bar, large-format dishes — the kind that feed multiple people and tend to incorporate extra sides and accoutrements — are everywhere these days. Their often high price tags aside, there’s undeniable camaraderie to be found in sharing these grand family-style presentations with a group of like-minded eaters, whether you’re watching prime rib being carved up at the new Grill in the former Four Seasons, plucking the brains out of Peasant’s suckling pigs’ heads, or drizzling turmeric tahini over whole heads of cauliflower at abcV. One such popular big-ticket item is the tomahawk chop, a showy rib steak that resembles a hatchet, with its severely elongated frenched bone. The city is chockablock with dining establishments willing to sell you one, none of which pamper and embellish the well-marbled, high-quality cut quite like Pig Bleecker.
That’s because the buzzy, busy Greenwich Village hangout is the semi-buttoned-up sibling of Gowanus’s outdoor barbecue haven Pig Beach. And the man behind the meat is Matt Abdoo, Pig Beach’s budding pitmaster and the former chef de cuisine of Mario Batali’s palatial Del Posto, who has embraced his fine-dining background at a time when most of his colleagues are doing the opposite. From a galley kitchen hidden behind whitewashed walls and a handsome marble-topped, wood-paneled bar framed by shelves of booze that nearly reach the ceiling, he peddles a ribeye that weighs in at a respectable forty-eight ounces and feeds up to four people. It’s dry-aged for nearly a month, long enough to imbue it with a noticeable undercurrent of barnyard funk, but despite the pedigree it’s the method that sets the thing apart. In addition to paprika-forward Montreal-style steak seasoning, the chop benefits from an initial lathering of a wet rub made from heavily reduced beef stock. Next up: a leisurely, hour-long spell in the smoker, which warms it through completely while keeping the interior rare as the exterior absorbs the cherry-wood fumes. Lastly, it’s pulled from the pit and tossed onto a scorching-hot grill for some final charring.
Most chefs would stop there, slice, serve, and call it a day. But Abdoo, who fell for smoked meats on a pilgrimage to Texas while he and former Del Posto executive chef Mark Ladner were researching how Southern barbecue “might relate to the Italian barbecue cultures of the Abruzzo region,” offers up a kind of edible anatomy lesson. Carved from and arranged next to the bone, the steak’s rosy slices are delivered on a massive olive-wood cheese board alongside several slabs of brisket, which comes from farther down the rib and gets smoked separately for five to six hours. Lemon wedges and a drizzle of olive oil speak to the chef’s Italian training and add a welcome lightness. In showcasing a range of textures and flavors, from juicy and extra-smoky forkfuls of brisket to the charcoal-kissed tenderness of both the eye and cap of the ribeye, there’s not a bad bite to be had.
Similar consideration goes into the platter’s accompaniments, as it damn well should at this price point ($150). In chophouse fashion, you can tackle your steer with a Peter Luger–style tomato-based steak sauce, in between snacking on boiled-then-fried smashed potatoes perfumed with rosemary. Next to these, a cast-iron pan brims with Utica greens, a nod to the Central New York region where Abdoo grew up. I hadn’t seen the decked-out dish since my time as an undergrad in nearby Syracuse, though I don’t ever remember the breadcrumb-topped whorl of garlicky escarole, chewy bacon, and hot cherry peppers achieving such exciting balance. If this all sounds a bit busy and excessive, I can assure you it is, in the best way, and ounce for ounce one of the best new shareable steaks in Manhattan. It’s also one of the purest examples of what Abdoo and his crew are trying to do here: explore the interplay between contemporary fine dining and more casual cooking traditions, barbecue included.
Elsewhere that might mean a hefty, satisfying vegetarian entrée of smoked spice-rubbed beets and sweet potatoes ($16), or a peppery pork chop ($26) glazed in heady peach-habanero jam. Abdoo’s knack for sauces shows up in riffs on regional standards and other Americana benchmarks, so that pigs in blankets ($9) arrive as hotdog-stuffed, deep-fried parker house rolls served with a dipping sauce as punchy and playful as the old-school hip-hop playing in the dining room. Just as impressive is the way horseradish cream perks up the lunchtime Baltimore pit beef sandwich ($15), and how Alabama white barbecue sauce so perfectly replaces blue cheese in a starter of lollipop-style smoked chicken wings ($12), which glisten under a coating of Buffaloed barbecue sauce. Here and there, the menu could benefit from the occasional edit: brisket ravioli, swimming in butter and painted with Barolo reduction, feels weighted down. So for pasta thrills, look to cacio e pepe with smoked black pepper ($16) and a phenomenal duck lasagna ($22). The latter features sixteen layers, peanuts compared to Del Posto’s famed hundred-layer behemoth, but its flavor — thanks to a ragù made with the same smoked duck confit that earned Abdoo and co-owner Rob Shawger first place in poultry at the famed Memphis in May barbecue competition — soars nearly as high.
Things end on the simplest of notes: Think brownie hot-fudge sundaes and zesty Key lime pie. Abdoo’s grandmother Val — whose tomato gravy anchors that lasagna, and whose meatballs, cloaked in smoked mozzarella, make for a hearty appetizer — serves as inspiration for a decadent milkshake. Based on the fudgy peanut butter and chocolate buckeye candies she used to make around Christmas, it’s the kind of rich, creamy throwback any soda jerk would be proud to sling. Not finishing it would make you a jerk. Not ordering it, however, would be the jerkiest move of all.