Can you get great BBQ in Brooklyn?
Yes, but you'd be forgiven for thinking "no." I thought the same, until I happened upon Hometown Barbecue by chance.
I was in Red Hook, killing time before a distillery tour, so figured the waterfront area would be where all the food places are hiding. Ikea? Check. Fairway Market, "Like No Other Market"? Check. But not much in the way of restaurants. There's Brooklyn Crab. As the name suggests, they are pretty focused on one thing.
Then I smell Hometown Barbecue before I realize it's there; announcing itself with the unmistakable scent of wood fire and meat smoking atop it. I'm inside immediately, where a line is already forming along the dining room wall. I quickly grab a bloody mary from the bar and claim my spot.
The bloody is very good, though not particularly hot. When I ask the bartender if he can make it extra spicy, he explains that the mix is pre-made, by way of apology. There's a great tang in there - more smoky than straightforward Worcester sauce. I ask him if they put their bbq sauce in the mix. Bingo. I'm starting to feel pretty good about this place.
The line moves fairly quickly. In fact, I haven't had much time to ponder the substantial menu plastered up on the wall before it's my turn to order. Owner and pitmaster Billy Durney says that one of the reasons his barbecue can be called distinctively "Brooklyn" is because of the diversity of cultures it represents. Korean, Mexican, Jamaican and Vietnamese are all represented here, at least by name.
Brisket is my baseline for judging barbecue, so I have to order some of that. I've never seen lamb belly on a barbecue menu, and I love all things lamb and belly. That's going on the tray. Lastly, I like Jamaican jerk when it's done properly. I take a chance on their "jerk" ribs.
The brisket is so tender and moist -and it gradually takes me through flavors of smoke and wood, without getting away from that beefy essence. It may be the best I've ever had. Sorry Franklin's. The lamb belly is also flavorful with wood and smoke, and the right kind of lambiness. My only criticism is that most of the portion is liquified fat. I'm not at such an advanced level of gluttony that I can shamelessly slurp my meat.
The ribs are flavorful, with a great fall-off-the-bone consistency. However, I think it's misleading to call them jerk or Jamaican. The jerk chicken I've had worthy of the name is usually a punch in the face of allspice and nutmeg, to say nothing of lip-searing heat. Hometown's rib version is of a more reserved whisper, on all fronts. It's still very enjoyable - if only I weren't now on the verge of a meat stupor.
I still have a tasting to get to. Time has slipped by as I'm engrossed in conversation with two women at the bar: one of those spirited "East Coast people just don't get West Coast people" topics. They live in Manhattan but are out in Brooklyn for the day on a Costco-and-Ikea mission. One of them is originally from Seattle and went to school in LA.
I repay them with two leftover wings, down the now-watery dregs of bloody mary and hit Red Hook. That meal will prove a sufficient base for the serious sampling I'm about to achieve.