After revisiting RUB last week, I’ve reconsidered my ranking of New York barbecue joints. A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Wildwood Barbecue, saying I’d place Wildwood in a three-way tie with Dinosaur and Blue Smoke, all three of them below RUB at No. 2 and Hill Country at a far superior No. 1. That’s going to have to change.
Thing is, it had been half past forever since my last trip to RUB and perhaps distance made the heart grow fonder. Last week’s trip found four of us finding the experience (meatwise) actually below that of Wildwood — and I was doubting my memories of Dinosaur and Blue Smoke. I do know that in terms of brisket and sausage, Wildwood surpassed RUB.
RUB’s brisket was on the dry side and lacking in salt — enough so that I found myself reaching for sauce. Anyone who knows me knows that I see sauce as a refuge of the scoundrel, the tawdry makeup that shoddy cue uses to cover its flaws. This is a personal preference, to be sure. Some folks see barbecue as little more than a canvas on which to put sauce. Some folks also ate paste as children, but who am I to judge?
And the sausage? I’ve seen shoe leather more moist than that.
In terms of meat, that’s the bad news. The St. Louis ribs and the Babyback ribs, I found to be pretty damn good. And the pastrami — yes, barbecued pastrami — I really enjoyed. (None of us bothered with pulled pork this time.)
RUBs sides are far superior to Wildwood’s. Indeed, their beans creep pretty damn close to Hill Country’s. But barbecue is about the meat, not about the sides.
On atmosphere, I’ll offer two things.
One: My friend Jason said repeatedly, “Man, it’s bright in here.” Jason is not an albino; it was too bright in there. The weird lighting wasn’t helped by the 62-inch flat screen that was experiencing color issues that left everyone on screen looking as if they’d gone blue-lipped and -limbed from extreme hypothermia.
Two: Listen, cue joints, do us a favor. You see four guys walking in, three of whom are sporting wedding rings, would it be too much to ask to give us the cute waitress? Throw us a freakin’ bone, here, could you? We don’t get out much anymore. And when we do, we’d like to pretend that cute, young women might, in the right lighting and with sufficient tip, pretend that we’re not sad, sad clowns. What we don’t need is TODD!, the graduate from Bennigan’s school of over-eager table waiting. You know the type. He claps his hands together and squeezes them tight as if he’s about to let loose in his pants or something. Then he says. “Hi! Guys! I’m! TODD! I’ll! Be! Your! Waiter! This! Evening!” (That he include Johnny Walker while struggling to remember the bourbon list is almost unforgivable.)
Don’t get me wrong. If you offered to take me to any of the barbecue joints on my previous list, I wouldn’t say no. New York Cue has made some serious strides. These aren’t the kinds of places they boil some ribs, paint them with sauce and call it cue. And the thing with doing real cue, using real smoke, is consistency can be a real pain in the ass (though there’s no excuse for dried-out sausage).
In fact, I’d be more than happy to go to any of those if I was in the neighborhood. And that might be a more honest way to approach this rather than resorting to a four-way tie. Hill Country will remain at the top (and the one I’ll cross town–and rivers–to get to). But all things being equal, if you were to offer to take me on a barbecue excursion to the restaurant of my choosing, my list would look like this.
1. Hill Country
3. Blue Smoke
I reserve the right to switch up 2, 3 and 4 until I make return trips to Blue Smoke and Dinosaur.