Hill Country still sits safely atop the New York City ‘cue hill, but I’ve decided I wouldn’t be terribly embarrassed to be seen eating at Wildwood Barbecue. There’s a lot about Wildwood that cue snobs will want to hate immediately. Its location on Park Avenue. Its jack-of-all cue styles menu. The fact that its owners proudly use restaurant corporate speak on the website and elsewhere. And this tag line: An Urban Twist on Classic American BBQ.
Gag me with an undercooked rib!
But good news. The food is actually good.
Well, the meat is good. Surprisingly, the brisket was outstanding. Brisket ain’t easy to pull off. The ribs were right on, too. We had dry and sauced type. Sauce isn’t my thing, but it didn’t make me want to walk into the kitchen and choke anyone. And the sausage I actually liked better than the stuff Hill Country ships up from Kreutz Market in Lockhart, Texas (I just find the Kreutz stuff a little too greasy.) The pulled pork didn’t stand out, but I long ago quit caring about pulled pork.
I’d rank Wildwood’s meat above that of both Dinosaur and Blue Smoke. I’m pretty confident I’d rank it behind RUB, but it occurred to me I haven’t been to RUB in forever, so I’ll have to make a return trip. You know. Just to check. (And, again, no one compares to Hill Country).
Where Wildwood stumbled, though, was on the sides. The cornbread was a waste of both corn and bread. The beans, though coated in a pretty decent sauce, tasted like they’d come fresh from an old can. I won’t fault them for the creamed spinach as that particular dish is a crime against cream and spinach and in the best of cases provides you with the mouth feel of something that was grown in the toe end of a 17-year-old’s sweaty sneaker. The mac and cheese was above average and the collards were done right, with lots of bacon and hence flavor. (Listen up, other New Yorker restaurant owners, I don’t know who started the lie that you can have vegetarian collards, but you need to give up on that particular delusion. Love doesn’t put the soul in soul food. Bacon does. You can love your collards all day long, but if you don’t put bacon in them, they’re just going to taste like wet lawn clippings.)
So on sides, I’d rank Wildwood behind Hill Country, RUB, Blue Smoke and Dinosaur. (Note, I’m leaving The Smoke Joint out of this because I’ve only eaten there once. And because I try to stay out of Williamsburg as much as possible, I can’t tell you anything about hipster hangout Fete Sau.)
Fans of restaurant reviews always wants to know what a place looks like. Look, as long as there are no safety hazards and rats aren’t visibly running around, I don’t give a shit. And I also think some of the worst writing to be found in the English language is when restaurant reviewers try to describe the look and feel of a place with laughably flowery language. It’s almost as bad as wine-tasting language. Here’s what you need to know. It’s big. And it fills up. (For some reason, there were a lot of women.)
Wildwood would be a good pick for New Yorkers who want decent barbecue but who also want things Hill Country doesn’t offer: table service, a regular menu, barbecue sauce, sandwiches. It also struck us as cheaper than Hill Country. (Then again, we order meat by the pound at Hill Country and go a little nuts and always walk out with leftovers.) Good bourbon selection, too.
If I had to rank the Manhattan cue joints I frequent, it’s would be:
1. Hill Country
3. Three-way tie between Dinosaur, Blue Smoke and Wildwood.