Morgans Barbecue celebrated its grand opening this past weekend with the arrival of its liquor license, rounding out what has become an impressive and somewhat surprising collection of barbecue joints in the Park Slope/Gowanus area. Our little section of Brooklyn is becoming a bonafide destination for people passionate about smoked meats, and we’ve got some expert pitmasters delivering their very best.
From Matt Fisher’s Kansas City-style grub at Fletcher’s Barbecue, to the slow-smoked meats at Morgans by Austin, TX-trained John Avila, to the barbecue-turned-bar-food menu by Dale Talde at Pork Slope, we’ve got more barbecue than we know what to do with. So what did we do with it? Try it all!
Taking a sampling of brisket, pulled pork, cole slaw, cornbread, and mac and cheese (plus a few site-specific Wild Cards) from each location, we gathered up a group of tasters to see just how great our celebrates BBQ spots are. Here’s what we found.
(Shout out to Mission Dolores, for giving us the table space to hold the feast and the delicious beer to wash it down.)
604 Union Street, between 3rd & 4th Aves, 347-429-7030 (take-out or dine-in only)
Hours: Mon-Thu 11:30am-11pm; Fri-Sat 11am-12am; Sun 11:30am-10pm
Highlights: The cajun-spiced mac and cheese packs a nice punch, and our portion even had some rich chunks of cheese barely mixed in. Their cole slaw was a frontrunner for favorite, more classically styled than the others with its creamy base and a prominent taste of celery. As for the meat, the brisket was a clear winner– well-seasoned, just a bit juicy, with the nice addition of jalapeño on top. The pork was equally flavorful, though it was more shredded than pulled and the general consensus was that it would do better in a sandwich than by itself.
But… The group was turned off by the cornbread’s presentation– we like thick bricks of the stuff, as opposed to their mini-muffin style– and we weren’t won over by digging in. The texture was a bit too grainy, leading one taster to declare it “an athletic feat to get through.” Also, we were given mild sauces despite ordering spicy.
Wild Card: The Creole Spiced Deviled Eggs ($3.95/3, $6.95/6, $12.95/12) are not necessarily what your mind turns to when you think barbecue, but maybe it’s time to consider their inclusion. These guys are dreamy.
Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue
433 Third Avenue, between 7th & 8th Sts, 347-763-2680 (take-out or dine-in only)
Hours: Sun-Thurs 11:30am-10pm or until sold out; Fri-Sat 11:30am-11pm or until sold out
Highlights: Do you see the pink ring around that brisket? It is the sign of a properly and thoroughly smoked meat, as explained by our resident Texan BBQ expert, and it’s evident in taste, smell, and texture. The flavor is so strong in both the brisket and the pulled pork that all parties agreed they were happier eating them without sauces or garnish. And the texture! The crisped edges of the pulled pork counterbalanced the tenderness of the meat, making a whole package so dangerously delectable that one taster worried, mouth full, “It’s so good I feel like I might eat it too fast and just die.”
The mac and cheese was another favorite: super creamy, made with corkscrew pasta rather than elbow macaroni. And, continuing in a theme of decadence, the corn bread– the only one to feature actual bits of corn– was so dense it was almost cake-like.
But… The slaw wasn’t a hit, with more than one member not particularly psyched about the use of dill. And, though it wasn’t necessarily a turn-off for those eating, it’s worth noting that the brisket was much tougher than the others. Eat it with a hunk of fat and you’ll get all the juice you need. Also, be prepared to smell like a barbecue pit for a few hours after you leave the place.
Wild Card: You know those crisped edges we were gushing about? Get them directly with the Burnt Ends ($7/quarter pound), a Kansas City specialty made from the deckle of pastured beef with the house spice rub, and smoked for twenty-four hours.
Fort Reno BBQ
669 Union Street, between 4th & 5th Aves, 347-227-7777 (delivery available)
Hours: Mon-Fri 5pm-12am; Sat-Sun 12pm-12am
Highlights: The mac and cheese from Fort Reno is a treasure, specifically if you’re in the camp of people who just go crazy for bread crumbs on top. The brisket is smoky and flavorful, and when they say “fatty” they mean it. The cole slaw is of the lighter variety, more vinegar than mayo, and tangy with a hint of spice. The corn bread has a nice soft crumble, and is usually drizzled with honey (though this has been inconsistent).
But… No lunch hours during the week! Also, the pulled pork can be a bit dry and dependent upon their (many and delicious) sauces.
Wild Card: If we want to talk about guilty pleasures, it has to be the Hot Mess ($6/chicken, $7/pork, $8/brisket). Essentially a BBQ parfait, it’s a layered dish of baked beans, mac and cheese, corn bread, meat of your choice, slaw, and spicy pickles served in a mason jar, and it is only for the brave.
267 Flatbush Avenue at St. Marks Ave, 718-622-2224
Hours: Mon-Fri 5-10pm; Sat-Sun 2pm-10pm
Highlights: Morgans lives up to its hype. The brisket and pork are both flavorful; the pork almost silky smooth in texture, and the brisket not too tough. Neither were served with sauces, and we didn’t miss them– though the side of jalapeñ0, onions, and pickles was a nice touch. The mac and cheese was the best of the bunch, and for good reason. The restaurant gets the goods from Elbow Room, which has a sidewalk counter right next door, and though the menu features only their classic mac and cheese at the moment, they plan to cycle through some of the specialty dishes in the near future (think cheeseburger mac, poutine mac, mushroom mac, and more).
The cornbread is mixed with jalapeños and served with a jalapeño jelly on the side– an interesting and tasty alternative to the usual honey. The jelly is spicier than it is sweet, and we ended up experimenting with the spread on the meat as well. As for the cole slaw, it’s pitch-perfect: creamy sauce, fresh and crunchy cabbage and carrots, and just enough salt.
But… Again, no lunch hours during the week. Neither the pork nor the brisket reaches Fletcher’s level of smokiness– in fact, the place smells smokier than the meat tastes. Also, for the traditionalists in the bunch, the jalapeño cornbread is tasty for what it is, but falls short of satisfying that specific cornbread craving.
Wild Card: It seems sinful to relegate the beauty that is the Frito Pie to a subsection of this BBQ roundup, but here we are. This Texas specialty served in a cut-open Frito bag features the namesake corn chip, 4 ounces of chili, thick cheese crumbles, sour cream, and onions in a delicious heap. Said one taster, “I want to eat this at every ballpark, every barbecue. This is what I imagine Texas tastes like.” At the moment, it is only offered as a special.
247 5th Avenue, between President & Carroll Sts, 718-768-7675 (delivery available 5-11pm)
Hours: Mon-Thu 5pm-4am; Fri-Sun 12pm-4am
Highlights: The mac and cheese is baked and comes with a crunchy crust on top, which one taster said they’d order and eat as a big, cheesy chip. The tangy cole slaw was a favorite for some, and it stood out in its lack of any mayo, yogurt, or sour cream base– “not all globby,” according to one. The cornbread, a generous portion, was light and crumbly, and the first thing on the table to be finished.
But… Pork Slope was the only spot whose inclusion in the barbecue list was up for debate– sure they have the goods, but they’re working with a grill rather than a pit and the ambience is more roadhouse bar than restaurant. But how much does that matter if the food delivers? Also, the pulled pork (which we ordered as a sandwich) came doused in a sauce that was spicy enough to mask the flavor for some tasters. And, unfortunately, no brisket on the menu.
Wild Card: The Porky Melt ($6.50) made Time Out NY’s list of best dishes, and the title is well-deserved. The “gut-buster” sandwich, pictured above, features a homemade beef and pork bratwurst patty, grilled onions, yellow mustard, with a dusting of ginger and nutmeg and served on marble rye.