A Most Frustrating Brooklyn Barbecue: A Tale

The Command Center
The Command Center


It was time again for me to host the annual company barbecue. That meant 30 or more people coming over to the apartment in Brooklyn. That meant pounds and pound of meat. It meant bags and bags of charcoal. It meant hours and hours of work.

All of which is to say I was excited! And agitated. And nervous. A lot could go wrong, starting with the annual prediction of 60% chance of rain. I have a back yard just big enough for 30-some-odd people. I have an apartment that is smaller than the back yard. So, you do the math. But the chance of rain diminished throughout the week until the weather on the day of the actual event looked like it was supposed to be sunshine and lollipops. The day of cooking, on the other hand, looked to be a steady fall of rain.

Oh, yes. This is a two-day cooking affair. Three days if you include shopping. But it was all under control. I’ve done this before. Even if I haven’t mastered my brisket (shut up) just yet, I have the process down to a science.

Continue reading “A Most Frustrating Brooklyn Barbecue: A Tale”

Hometown Barbecue Is Good Eats, but …

Perhaps I’m getting old, lazy, spoiled or all three, but my first impression upon walking into Hometown Barbecue in Red Hook was, “Not this bullshit seating situation.”

I know some places in Texas do it. I know Mighty Quinn’s in Manhattan does it. That doesn’t make it okay. And what is it? First you stand in line for 30 minutes or so to get your meat — which I’m perfectly fine with — but then you face the possibility of standing there with a tray of meat hoping someone vacates a table. Not quite as bad as Mighty Quinn’s, but it immediately adds a level of stress to the experience. Or, as one of our party said, after watching people snake tables or sit there for entirely too long, “It makes me think people are dicks. I don’t want to go to a place that makes me think people are dicks.”

I was also a little stressed by the fact that a few people who know from food absolutely raved about this place. I was hoping they were right, that I wouldn’t have to completely re-engineer my opinion of their opinions. As it is, I’m never taking Pete Wells seriously on the subject of barbecue again after I finally ate at Fletchers, which was some of the worst barbecue I’ve had in the city.

Thankfully, my friends aren’t crazy people with deluded taste buds as the product at Hometown is solid. Well, the meat on MY plate was good. All four of us ordered brisket and it wasn’t exactly consistent — some of it moist and delicious, some of it dry and chalky. Brisket, of course, is tough to get right. The pulled pork was excellent. The pork belly was good. The spare ribs were … they were out of spare ribs. Which is fine. This happens at barbecue places. The jerk baby-back ribs, on the other hand, had a nice flavor but also seemed like they’d been drying out in an oven somewhere.

The sauces, which I don’t usually go for, were excellent.

There is no wait service in the traditional sense, but we were definitely taken care of while waiting in line, with a bartender taking drink orders and checking on us from time to time. Nice vibe in the backroom thanks to live country music.

I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot, especially if you happen to be in the neighborhood. It’s better than Dinosaur, Wildwood, Blue Smoke — and I’d probably rank it above Mighty Quinn’s. But if I’m being honest, with Morgan’s a couple blocks from my apartment and a Hill Country in downtown Brooklyn, I’m not sure I’d make a special trip out to Red Hook. Like those other two, it’s a great neighborhood barbecue place — but because of it’s location, it’s a pain in the ass to get to (which, I know, is one of Red Hook’s charms), and I am a lazy person who isn’t a fan of taking two slow buses to get to a place. Of course, you can take a car — it was $11 from Park Slope — which isn’t horrible and the ride was fairly quick.

Meat: Fair to excellent.
Service: Good.
Ambiance: Felt like a barbecue joint, but seating situation may stress you out.

That’s my two cents — and I’ll throw in a couple of smoky barbecue burps.


Saturday May 31: Robicelli vs. Wheaton in a Literary-Cupcake Smackdown!


Okay. That is not at all what is going on Saturday at the Bay Ridge branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. But it sounded like a good headline. (Also: Whatever it is, I’d lose.)

But Allison Robicelli, co-founder of Robicelli’s and co-author of Robicelli’s: A Love Story With Cupcakes, will be on a panel at the library on Saturday. And I will be on a panel as well. So please come out to Bay Ridge for the following event.

Saturday, May 31, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
7223 Ridge Blvd. at 73rd St.

Brooklyn, NY 11209

So come on out. There will be something for literary people, foodie people, history buffs, literary foodies who like history, Brooklyn people and fans of free air conditioning. A little more information.

Featuring ALLISON ROBICELLI of Robicelli’s, RAWIA BISHARA of Tanoreen Restaurant, ALLISON KAVE of Butter & Scotch, SARAH ZORN, author of Brooklyn Chef’s Table, Authors KEN WHEATON and CARA ALWILL, The L Magazine Culture Editor HENRY STEWART, and Harper-Collins Executive Editor KRISTEN PETTIT. Moderated by Folio Literary Management’s MELISSA SARVER WHITE.  With special guests Louis Coluccio Jr. from A.L.C. ITALIAN GROCERY, Katarzyna Ploszaj of Petit Oven and a surprise guest from Leske’s Bakery.

Find out more here

And afterwards, stick around and check out the neighborhood. Perhaps go to the Lockyard for some excellent hot dogs and great beer. Or get yourself some cupcakes. Or just go for a walk in one of Brooklyn’s best neighborhoods. (And if you’re a Bay Ridger reading this, leave suggestions in the comments!)


Now, am I from Bay Ridge? No. I’m from Louisiana. Do I live in Bay Ridge? Technically, no. But it has a Popeyes, Robicelli’s, a Century 21 not crawling with tourists, The Lockyard and all sorts of other things that make me wish I did. And I jog TO Bay Ridge from time to time. At any rate, hopefully no one will ask me any deeply rooted historical questions about the neighborhood.


The Great Brisket Experiment: 2013

If there’s one thing I like almost as much as stuffing my face full of smoked brisket, it’s barbecuing it myself.


Okay, that is a lie. Barbecuing brisket — and pork shoulder for that matter — is one of those things I really, really look forward to doing. And I maintain the kid-on-Christmas-morning glee until one of the following

  • The shopping trip turns into a shit-show of an obstacle course
  • The weather decides not to cooperate
  • Five hours into the proceeding and I’m just trying to stay awake
  • When the food is served and everybody’s all, “THIS IS AWESOME” and I’m thinking “This is shit. It’s crap. It doesn’t taste like Black’s or Franklin’s or Hill Country or Brisketlab. AND OH MY GOD, DID YOU JUST PUT SAUCE ON THAT?!?!”

But this last barbecue? It was going to be different. Because I’d learned something while in Texas with Nick on our Fabulous Brisket Tour. And it was game-changing.

Continue reading “The Great Brisket Experiment: 2013”

Brooklyn Half Marathon 2013: How It Went

Where's Ken? Do you see him yet?
Where’s Ken? Do you see him yet?

Brooklyn Half Marathon. Official Time: 1:49:43

After the race yesterday, a friend suggested a conspiracy theory that I’m inclined to believe: New York Road Runners subcontracted the Brooklyn Half to someone else.

Because just about everything about it was run smoothly. Huge expo/pre-party (with volunteers instructing Manhattanites how to get from the subway to the venue). Incredibly organized corrals (with port-a-johns inside the corral so no massive lines). Hell, I’d asked a question on the Facebook page and got a response within the hour. (Interestingly, Brooklyn Half had its own Facebook page.) Of course, some people will still complain. Hear a lot of people whining that there were not enough mylar blankets. I was also disappointed to see Red Delicious as the apple being handed out after the race. Red Delicious? Really?! (I’m kidding.) Oh, and there weren’t as many people cheering this year. Probably because everyone was IN the damn race.

The most striking difference between this year and last year was the wave start. I wasn’t convinced it was going to help things–especially after registration was reopened and I’d hear numbers as high as 30,000. But night and day compared to last year. I never felt crowded, not even at that miserable cattle chute at Grand Army Plaza. The Scotland 10K a few weekends ago was much harder to negotiate.

The run itself? No complaints. I would have liked to PR for this one, but didn’t. I didn’t train quite as hard as I did last year. I’m also carrying about 10 pounds more than I did last year, which makes a pretty big difference. I probably could have toughed it out — weather was cool, no sun beating down — but I couldn’t get out of my own head. Or, more accurately, I couldn’t be bothered to find the extra gear. I haven’t run with music in over a year and yesterday was the first time where I actually missed it. (And, no, nice hippie chicks playing an acoustic set outside the park, Hotel California is not suitable music to get runners amped up!)

At any rate, it was a good race. First mile was slowest, last mile was fastest and I always like that. (But it was far from a negative split.)

I’ll set my sights on getting a PR at Hamptons this year.

Post-Sandy Commuting: I Ran to Work This Morning

This morning’s commute? A 6.25 mile run from Park Slope to our office on Third Ave. between 44th and 45th. Took me exactly one hour. (Tips for runners below.)

Subway wasn’t an option unless I wanted to just ride back and forth within Brooklyn. Or I could have caught a ride in one of those car things. Judging from what I could see — and what I’ve found out from coworkers since arriving in the office — traffic this morning wasn’t quite as bad as yesterday. Apparently the city is being really serious about the three-person to a car rule. Don’t have at least three people in your car? You’re not getting anywhere near a bridge.

But why sit in a car when I have a pair of working legs AND the Vanderbilt YMCA was open so I had a place to shower? So I ran. The only drawback was that my little backpack wasn’t waterproof so my dry clothes got a little sweat on them — the clean underwear took the biggest hit, so yeah, totally going commando at the moment.

One of the coolest things was, after getting off the Brooklyn Bridge, having Lafayette Avenue all to myself. This is what it looked like.

Lafayette Ave. Manhattan. 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012

There were shuttle buses from Brooklyn to Manhattan. But you tell me which looks better, that wide open expanse of Lafayette or this.

If anyone does want to run, note that I have a pretty easy route: Bergen to Boerum, over the Bridge, up Lafayette to Astor, over to Third and up to 44th. I didn’t have to cross any Avenues downtown. There are more police down there than there were yesterday, but probably is still dicey trying to Frogger your way across Avenues with no working lights. If you’re heading to a west side location in Midtown or aboe, best bet would be to follow my route until you get above 40th street and into the land of working traffic lights before heading west. If a lower Manhattan location, might be best to get as far west as possible before getting to Canal street.

Also, do NOT wear headphones. What are you, stoopid or something? With not traffic lights, you need all your senses. Pay attention. Be patient. It’s not a race, just a cool way to get to work.

A Great Brooklyn Mystery Solved

So I was halfway through my plate of Bucatini all’Amatriciana at Scottadito* in Park Slope when Cara, glancing out the window at the folks coming and going from the Park Slope Food Co-op next door, said something that reordered my world.

“That’s kind of a lame job,” she said, “walking people to their houses just so you can bring the shopping cart back to the store.”

I placed my fork on the table and tried not to choke. On my own laughter. At myself.

I’m sure my face turned red. Cara said, “What?”

I needed a moment.

“What?” she asked again.

“Woooooooooo, I’m a dumb-ass,” I said.


So I explained. I’ve been living in Brooklyn for the better part of 12 years now and spent quite a bit of time in Park Slope. For the past year and a half, we’ve lived just a few blocks from the Park Slope Food Co-op and I’ve walked and run past the following scene: granola-yuppie-organo-hipster walking home with a shopping cart full of flax seed and hormone-free cabbages accompanied by an orange-vested co-op employee or volunteer or member or whatever the hell they are.

And until last Friday night, I could never figure out what the hell the employee was doing! True story.

I’d call it a blonde moment, but it would be an insult to blondes.

It bugged the shit out of me every single time. Why? Why two people? What was that volunteer doing? What did I think exactly was going on?

Numerous things.

At first, I thought it was a service for older folks. But then I noticed the employee rarely if ever was pushing the full cart of groceries. Old lady had to push it herself. I thought it was one of the weird, ridiculous rules they had: NO ONE SHALL WALK ALONE. I thought maybe they sent an employee to accompany you all the way home to make sure that you weren’t scalping free-range kale on the street or re-selling your quinoa to a guy who used to work for the Mossad.

I have a fertile imagination, I guess. Especially when it’s coupled with a big ripe target that I like to mock.

I’ve got a great joke for you: “Hey, how many Park Slope Food Co-op members does it take to push a shopping cart down the street?”

Two! Because Ken’s a dumbass. How else is that cart going to get back to the store?

*P.S. Go eat at Scottadito. That place is great.

They’re All Going to Laugh at You

It’s happened to all of us. You’re out and about, minding your own business and you see or hear someone laughing. For a split second, you think, “That person is laughing at me.” Your mind whisks you back to high school, to a time when you were awkward and in need of validation and so overcome by insecurities that the only thing you were secure in was the knowledge that someone, somewhere was talking about you.

And then your adult self points out the foolishness of such thinking. And the ego. It would take a teenager –or a narcissist–to actually believe that someone was always talking about him, wouldn’t it?

But yesterday, I swear the woman on the bike, wearing sunglasses and standing on the corner of Union and Seventh Ave in Park Slope. I would have bet my life on it. I looked briefly. Then turned away. Then turned back. And yes, she was still laughing. In my general direction. From all the way across the street. “What the hell,” I thought. “She can’t actually be laughing at me.”

Then she said, “Oh my God. Look at Ken.”

Well, then.

Turns out it was my friend Maryann, who I hadn’t seen since last year. She WAS laughing. And pointing. And taking photos. This is what she was laughing at.
Continue reading “They’re All Going to Laugh at You”

Barbecue in Park Slope: Fort Reno

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.