A Hero Aint Nuthin' But A Sandwich
Kansas City's Baron of Barbecue, Paul Kirk, has opened his first restaurant, and it is here in NYC. So far reviews have been mixed. Knowing that any restaurant (especially bbq joints, it seems) need a little time to work everything out (initial reviews of Blue Smoke were vicious, too), I decided to wait a while before checking in. My anticipation was great after his promising display at last year's Big Apple BBQ Block Party. Well, it's been a month, so let's see what the deal is.
The Baron and his kingdom
Above photo courtesy Frank "Pops" Shor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A View of the Kitchen and their J&R Cooker
Though I didn't try it, the pastrami has been one of the most talked about items and biggest draws to this place.
I have to admit that it didn't really call to me. I'll try it someday, I'm sure, but that smeared look just didn't whet my whistle. I decided to look at the other sandwiches for take out.
The place was pretty packed around 1 pm when I got there, and there were about 6 take out orders ahead of me. The staff was zipping around frenetically, but no one seemed to be enjoying themselves, or the customers. The bar is still un-stocked and incomplete, and as mentioned elsewhere, the interior of the place is still rough and unfinished.
Frenzy at the Take-out Counter
So, I decided on the brisket sandwich $9.75 and no sides. A bit hefty for a quick bite during the work week, but, hey once in a while it's nice to see how the other half lives.
Brisket Sandwich Comes on Whitebread or Roll
Well, maybe nothing could've lived up to my expectations, but this sandwich was a let down. My first reaction was that this is not nearly as big as the sandwiches at Arthur Bryant's. That may not be everyone's standard of comparison, but for me it is. The texture of Kansas City style brisket is different than the super-tender texas style that most people think of. The K.C. style seems to have a little elasticity, which may be your taste our not. The smoke flavor which was pleasant was almost non-existent, I really had to strain to pick it out. In terms of tenderness, I felt like from bite-to-bite I was eating a different sandwich-- one piece was most and flavorful, the next tough and bland. The meat was sliced by hand and some pieces were very thin, others were not. Taking a bite of the thicker cut pieces confirmed my suspiscion that the thin slices were intended to save the eater's jaw-- the meat was tough.
Close up of a Brisket Slice
There was almost no bark (crust) on the meat, and the rub was negligible. Also, the sandwich was not really hot when they handed it to me. I don't know if the meat was held too long, or undercooked, or what happened, but it was a let down-- compunded by having eaten his brisket at the block party. The sandwich was good, but needs some help. To be sure, my plate was empty when I was done.
Will I go back? For sure. Despite the slightly high prices, there's more to the menu that I want to try and the flavor profiles were just fine. The sauce was a bit too bold for the meat, but was a complex, tangy example of the K.C. style. I urge you, tentatively, to give them a shot-- if they live up to their potential, this could become a real place to watch.
R.U.B. Righteous Urban Barbecue
208 West 23rdStreet; (212)524-4300