Just over the railroad tracks from route 303 in Blauvelt lies the Blauvelt Smokehouse (formerly Bailey's Blauvelt Inn), an old-time speak-easy type of a joint with low ceilings and blonde wood paneling on every wall. The large 4-sided bar with six TVs circling it is the centerpiece of the room. Off to the side are a bunch of tables with red checkered tablecloths, with another seven or more TVs strategically placed around the outskirts of the room. This is an ideal place to watch sports. There are photos and memorabilia of the Yankees, Mets, Jets and Giants. Adding to the old-time feel are framed shirts of Goose Gossage, Keith Hernandez and Lawrence Taylor. On a Saturday afternoon visit, the bar was nearly full, with the regulars watching the Yankees pummeling the Red Sox on their way to a 5-game sweep.
I learned about Bailey's from a mouthwatering post on eGullet by Jason Perlow. As soon as I saw the photos, it wasn't a matter of whether I'd make my way out to Blauvelt, but how soon.
On my first visit, they were still calling themselves Bailey’s Inn. The BBQ menu was handwritten, as it was still a new addition to the already established Bailey's menu. I ordered the pulled pork sandwich plate and the half rack of spare ribs, even though I had no intention of finishing both. The ribs were crusty, tender and wetter than I remembered from the eGullet photos, but the sauce was decent and didn't hide the smoky, spicy flavors of the meat. The pulled pork, though a little unorthodox, was excellent. I was a little apprehensive at first because it was so dark, but the texture was very good, with the outsides very crisp and the insides very tender. The flavor was intense, with a lot of spice and an herbal kick I originally thought was rosemary.
Fries were thin and super crispy, possibly double-fried. Shells and cheese was a twist on the typical mac' and cheese (I'm not a mac' and cheese guy, so I can't comment, but it was pretty good). I can't really remember the slaw or the beans.
The new barbecue slant at Bailey's stems from the arrival of Dave "Fink" Finkelstein, famous for his previous joints Fink's Funky Chicken & Ribs and Stickey's over the border in New Jersey. I chatted with Fink after my meal, and got a glimpse of the smoker and a preview of the new dining area being constructed downstairs. Usually, it's the basement that's more edgy and the main floor that's more refined, but from what I saw, the Bailey's Smokehouse restaurant downstairs looked much more refined than the original sports bar. I learned that the pork was flavored with mustard seed and sage. Fink said that he's not trying to conform to any regional authenticity as far as the barbecue style goes. Rather, it's a fusion he calls "New Jersey Barbecue." But make no mistake about it, the barbecue is 100% authentic in terms of wood and smoke and time. And damn tasty.
My second visit was two months later on a Sunday afternoon, timed to coincide with the opening kickoff of a Jets game. The crowd, many decked out in player model jerseys, milled around near the TVs, holding drinks while staking out tables for future use. Beer was flowing into pitchers and the place was loud, even at 50% capacity. The downstairs section still wasn’t open yet, but a bar area was in mid-construction.
I grabbed a seat at one of the smaller tables and looked over the impressive Bailey’s Smokehouse menu, this time professionally printed. There were many more choices, with a vast array of appetizers, burgers, sandwiches (both barbecue and otherwise) and barbecue items. The main barbecue items are St Louis and babyback pork ribs, pulled pork, chicken and sliced brisket.
This time I started with the all-beef, no-bean chili, served in a ceramic bowl with cheese across the top, crystallized like a crème brulee. The meat was pretty good, but with only faint spice and flavor.
Then I moved onto a barbecue combo with ribs, pulled pork and brisket ($17.95), a pretty hefty platter that included three sides. The ribs were babybacks (for some reason I assumed they’d be St Louis) and there were six instead of the promised three. Flavor was good, with a slightly sweet, slightly spicy sauce, but the meatier St Louis ribs I had the last time were better. The brisket, sliced thinner than a Mitch Albom bestseller, was gently steeped in a light, just-sweet-enough sauce that didn’t overwhelm the meat. The slices were moist and tender, with a light char on the edges and a faint smoke ring. They tasted pretty good, different from any brisket I’ve ever had. My favorite meat was again the pulled pork, a large pile of pieces that, just like last time, had a slight crispness to the outside that gave way to tender meat beneath. The spiciness of the meat was balanced by the sweetness of the sauce. Normally, I think sweet sauces work better with ribs than pulled pork, but in this case, the meat and sauce worked in tandem to supply harmonious flavor in full force.
Sides were again pretty good. The seasoned fries looked like cheap frozen ones at first, but there was enough bam factor in the empty-the-spice-cabinet approach to make them addictively delicious. Baked beans were good, with little brisket nuggets, but nothing really special. Collard greens had plenty of zip from spices and vinegar.
Prior to Fink’s arrival, Bailey’s was famous for their wings, pizza and pitcher of beer deal, and that’s still in effect ($21.00). I saw some pizzas on nearby tables and they looked good.
From Fink's My Space page profile: "I am the head of a secret CIA unit sent underground to infiltrate a mind control drug into people's food. I call it Fink's Spice. It is addictive. You eat it, you want more, you need it, it calls to you..." Now that's my kind of chef.
The bottom line: This isn’t the most traditional barbecue, but the meats are wood smoked and very good if you’re in the mood for something a little different. When you want to settle down and enjoy barbecue, beer and bold-flavored pub snacks while watching the game, Bailey’s is the place.