I’ve been driving myself crazy lately by ordering bits and pieces to modify my smoker while I wait for the weather to warm up. And also by going to barbecue websites to pick up tips and secrets for better barbecue, particularly brisket. Last year’s first attempts at brisket went better than expected, but I’m still not getting it to the point where it comes thisclose to falling apart. It seems my problem may have been not letting it rest. I’m also getting suspicious of the whole low-and-slow thing. Whereas most cue bibles will tell you to keep it under 275, seems the good folks down in Lockhart stay well above 300 and achieve superior flavor in a shorter amount of time. We shall find out.
But in the meantime, I’ve been wanting to eat barbecue. Plenty of options in Manhattan, with Hill Country leading the pack. Then last week, I learned (from TNT buddy Rachel) of Fort Reno here in Park Slope, a five-minute walk from my house.
I’ll admit that a number of things about Rachel’s review had me skeptical going in, namely her mention of hipsters, handle-bar mustaches and that photo of sauce-slathered ribs she posted. Anyone who knows me knows I’m anti-hipster and pretty damn anti-sauce.
But we would have to see for ourselves, so last night Cara and I went.
Fort Reno IS small. And if it were a waiter-service place I might have turned right around and walked out. Can’t stand tiny restaurants. But it’s a counter-service joint, which moves things along quickly (and possibly chases off some folks who aren’t accustomed to such a scene). The tables were full, so we grabbed a couple seats at the bar, which was being manned by, yes, a guy with a handle-bar mustache.
Drinks are ordered from the bar tender, food from a separate counter. We went with brisket, pulled pork, ribs and a handful of sides.
Fort Reno isn’t necessarily going to please hardcore barbecue enthusiasts. The restaurants website mentioned that the meat is “smoked and braised”–and that braising is definitely in evidence with the pulled pork and the brisket, the latter of which was so tender, it was verging on pot roast. That’s not to say they weren’t delicious. Both items were.
And I turned out liking the ribs the best. Yes, they’d been sauced, but it was just the right amount. (If anyone remembers Biscuit, formerly of Flatbush Ave. and then of the cursed spot on Fifth Ave., those guys drowned their ribs in sauce). The ribs at Fort Reno were also done the right way: They had just the right amount of pull. (Barbecue nerd note: According to Kansas City Barbecue Society standards, ribs are NOT supposed to fall off the bone.)
The thing was, the sauce was necessary as most of the meat came up short in the smoked department. Perhaps it’s the result of using electric smokers in such a small place and not wanting to choke everyone to death. Or perhaps the folks running the show know their audience and that audience might not like heavy smoke flavors.
Again, this is basically picking a nit. The meats were well seasoned and well cooked, as were the sides (mac n’ cheese, baked beans and cornbread). There certainly wasn’t much left after we were done with the plate.
Now about that handle-bar mustachioed gent behind the bar. His name was Dan and he was a hell of a nice guy. And I’m not just saying that because he got us pretty hammered on a fine collection of cocktails.
If you like a good cocktail, I can’t recommend this place enough. I’m no expert on mixed drinks, but I’d put Dan up against Clover Club and Prime Meats (which is high praise from me). I’m not going to write 500 words noting hints of that balanced against note of this because I don’t know what I’m talking about. I just know what I like, and all of the cocktails we tried at Fort Reno (and we went through half the menu I think), I liked.
Bonus points for the place having a neighborhood feel. At only three-months old, a number of regulars were stopping by for take-out orders or to chat with Dan–and with us. It’s a friendly place.
Will we be going back? Hell to the yes. This despite my own backyard smoker and the eventual opening of a Dinosaur Barbecue in Park Slope. The food was delicious, the cocktails excellent and the atmosphere welcoming.
Should you go? Most definitely.