BrisketTown is the brick-and-mortar landing place of BrisketLab, the roving laboratory (31 pop-up events in 60 days) of attempted brisket perfection by Daniel Delaney, and the first of multiple barbecue joints under the banner Delaney Barbecue. Aside from the techniques used in the off-site preparation and smoking process, one of the biggest keys to BrisketTown's success has been the narrowed serving time. Until recently dinner-only and even now not serving dinner until 6:30 PM, this funnels the customers in at the precise times the briskets are at their best, which is half the battle in barbecue.
The space has the friendly and familar look of a joint that's been around for ages, with an old piano, wooden cases of soda on worn shelves and a signature Delaney Barbecue sign that looks straight out of the 1950s. There's a beverage counter serving bottled soft drinks and free water; BYOB is a welcome option if you want beer with your 'cue. The line for the meat counter further funnels you between the bumpy brick wall and a wrap-around booth that'll provide visual clues for what lies ahead.
A limited amount of meat is available each night. When they run out, they run out.
The laser focused dinner menu features brisket, naturally, plus one or two other smoked meats and a couple of sides. That's it and that's fine by me, as long as execution is just as focused. During breakfast hours, tacos made with smoked meats are offered. Lunch is sandwiches and tacos (the same ones) only, making dinnertime the best time to time your visit.
This review encompasses three meals, and it's my first review ever that includes one breakfast (a Friday), one lunch (later that same Friday) and one dinner (Sunday). I'm going to start with dinner for both chronological reasons (that's what I tried first) and for reader interest (that's what they do best and what I'm deeming most important). On all three visits I had capable co-conspirators to allow the deepest possible sampling of the menu. That said, I have one regret: that I have not yet tried the pies.
There are no appetizers as such.
Brisket: There are dozens of joints with "Ribs" in their name, but a joint called BrisketTown is not only as rare as great brisket but sets the bar of expectation sky high that this will be one joint that'll serve it. The arguably sky-high $25 per pound keeps those expectations lofty, as does the anticipation that builds during the few minutes before 6:30 when that first juice bomb of a brisket is carved. About a dozen-deep into the line that moved fairly steadily (faster than Fette Sau, not as fast as Hill Country), I arrived at the counter when Daniel Delaney himself was doing the carving. Just 20 minutes into the dinner service, the cutting boards were already splattered with meat juices and tiny brisket bits that looked good enough to steal (fortunately, the knives looked good enough to be a deterrent). The briskets themselves looked impressive: dark but not blackened, well crusted, densely rubbed and oozing beef juice with every slice. Fatty brisket and lean brisket are both available, so I had to order both.
The much touted fatty brisket came in two long, wide, slices whose thickness (maybe a half inch) gave them some structure and gave them enough of a perimeter to keep a substantial rub component in the mix. The bite was as tender as it gets without getting into the mushiness that I feared and never once encountered. Melt-in-your-mouth? Absolutely, but without falling apart in your hand. Based on earlier online reviews I was expecting an unbearably smoky product, but this brisket was at midrange smokiness, with the predominant characteristic a sweet post oakiness similar to Hill Country. But that's not where the flavor ended. This had a jolt from the rub, even deep down into the slice, bringing the anticipated salt and pepper plus a few boisterous guests from the spice cabinet. The beef itself was still the star, but the smoke and especially that rub were downright exhilarating.
The lean brisket was more of the same story: plenty of rub, just enough smoke and beefiness that still shined through. The only real difference was the texture, with the lean supplying a little more bite while still very much past tender.
Is this the best brisket in New York City? There's no question it's in the top two or three, and for that matter, in my top three or four for the entire PigTrip directory. But until I make another night visit, I'd have place it behind Mighty Quinn's, whose brisket blew me away twice. I'd give Quinn's the slight edge in juiciness and succulence; BrisketTown gets the edge in flavor. Both are spectacular. BrisketTown, with its smaller space, narrower menu and narrower serving time, is positioned to be more reliably spectacular. Rely on more visits from me to test that theory.
Pork ribs: A more recent addition to the BrisketTown menu is the pork ribs ($18 per pound). Even though the joint's not named RibTown, the ribs on round 1 were just as stunning visually: bright pink smoke ring, trickling juices and solid crusts that bore every bit as much rub as the brisket. Since there's more rib surface area per rib volume than brisket surface per brisket volume, the rub packed a wallop of complex spice flavor into every still-porky, faintly-smoky bite. Now, about the bite: it doesn't take much of one to get the rib meat off the bone. Purists and sticklers may quibble about overdoneness, especially if they tried the near-mushy rendition on round 2, but I think most customers would appreciate the supreme tenderness. As somewhat of a purist myself, but an open-minded one, I appreciated the total package: gimme a rib with that much crust, that much rub, that much freshness, that much smokiness and its nice, balanced smoke, and I'll more than deal with it being a little past done.
Beef rib: A behemoth of a shortrib was a special item on my first visit and the third thing I tried. By this time I was expecting the familar rub dosage, thick crust, light but noticeable smoke and tenderness, which was back to ideal. If there was any flaw in this rib, it was some extra fattiness in spots, but the rich beef flavor along with just the right accents and good texture made up for that. I'd call this beef rib solid, though a step down from the brisket and pork ribs. I'd like to see beef back ribs make an appearance.
Bacon Taco: Without inspecting the fine print or this taco ($4), you'd expect a couple of bacon strips broken up and scattered among some scrambled eggs, but this isn't bacon in the strictest sense. Instead it's "baconified" pork shoulder, coming in more like pulled pork. My portion had tender meat with warmth, slight moisture, no steaminess and very little bark. One could argue that there's very little meat, but I'd estimate about three ounces, which for a taco format is about right. There's a cure involved, but it's a light one. The taco vessel is a single, not a double, keeping more focus on the fillings. The pork yields the stage to the surprisingly delicious and very gently scrambled eggs, but more surprisingly, it's the non-protein fillings, with their bright flavor and overall balance, that make this taco work.
Brisket Taco: A slightly different configuration of vegetables, herbs and sauces accompanied the brisket in this taco ($4). Here the brisket was more assertive than the pork, bringing a little more smoke and moistness that ramped to full juiciness with a slight squeeze of the shell. Repurposed? Sure, but a very satisfying breakfast snack that hardly felt like a compromise. I like the creative choice—while the nighttime brisket is as stark as it gets and brilliant in its majestic simplicity, much like an acapella singer, the next morning's tacos are a busier ensemble where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Unlike the dinner service, where you order and receive your meats on the spot right before paying, at lunchtime you order, pay and wait for your order to come up—so if you're on a lunch break and need to be back at work, you might want to gauge the wait time by noting the number of people sitting at tables without meals.
The Deckle: Not having had access to the menu, as lunch is an even more recent development than the breakfast tacos and not exactly promoted on the BrisketTown website, I had very little idea what to expect from this sandwich ($6). I'd seen some online photos, all with hot sauce and vegetation, but I figured that was how the customers dressed them. Then I received a friend's photo, shown here, with nothing but brisket deckle between the bread, per his request. There was quite a bit of chop but quite a bit of pink and bark, so it made me want to head down even more than I already did. His summary: "great flavor, touch dry, great sandwich for $6."
My Deckle sandwich had noticeably less meat and significantly less bark than the photo that expedited my visit, along with a steamy consistency. I'm going to chalk this up to the luck of the draw, since I also saw some sandwiches on other orders during that same visit that looked a little fuller and fresher. Flavor was perfectly fine, though it was understandably closer to the ensemble concept of the breakfast taco than the solo/virtuoso performance of the night brisket. The accompaniments—pickles, onions, chile sauce—added some brightness, bite and filler while still allowing the brisket to poke through. The real star of this ensemble was the vessel: a buttered and grilled soft-as-a-cloud Amy's challah roll. Light, flaky, fully pliable and supplying just enough flavor of its own, it's the perfect complement to beef. While the brisket in this sandwich might not have had the wow factor of the unadulterated night brisket, the overall creation was still impressive.
Think of it in the same way as a banh mi sandwich, with similar bread-to-meat-to-vegetable ratios, only better in all three phases of the game. For a $6 sandwich, it more than got the job done.
Ribwich: Billed as "pulled Berkshire pork ribs with tangy tomato sauce, pickles and slaw," this sandwich ($6) for me was an upgrade from The Deckle, but it may have been another example of the luck of the draw. Housed in the same buttered and grilled Amy's challah roll, the rib meat packed more bark and more meat volume—all of it lightly crunchy outside, tender and moist, bordering on juicy inside. The smoke here was more in the forefront, bringing the same fragrant, woody oakiness as the bone-in ribs. This sandwich succeeded as much from the meat as the totality of the experience. Again, not a super meaty experience, but meaty enough and superbly balanced. While I don't have a problem with the sandwiches as currently
constituted, I'd jump on a $9 version of the Deckle or Ribwich that had
50% more meat.
There's no barbecue sauce here. Not on the meat, not with the meat, not in bottles, not on the table, not at the condiment station. None. There are a few bottles of hot sauce, but Daniel Delaney wants you to taste the meat. The breakfast tacos and lunch tacos already come as complete creations already including hot sauce. None of the unadorned dinner meats I tried had any need for sauce—they already had enough moisture and flavor, so adding anything would be a subtraction.
Potato salad: A lightly dressed German style potato salad had big chunks and none of the sweetness you usually see, instead swinging the pendulum toward savory and then some with oniony flavor (almost like an onion dip) and unusual use of spices like coriander. Less of a cooling foil for the meats and more of a flavor bomb in its own right, this potato salad may be a little strong for some but just right by me.
Collard greens: An oniony gel fully coated and fully flavored the fully wet, more-than-fully cooked vegetable. Another side that was anything but a coolant.
Pickles, onions, bread: Burger nerds like myself appreciate the finer points of Martin's potato rolls, so I loved the inclusion of Martin's potato bread loaves at the condiment station. I'd love to tell you how the brisket tasted with some, but I was too busy just enjoying it with the fork to bother with the due dilligence of making a sandwich. I did try the pickles, which are homemade, crisp and much more savory than sweet.
Parking is surprisingly easy. Seating can be tough to find and tight when you do.
The Bottom Line
BrisketTown is one of the brightest lights in the ever expanding New York City barbecue galaxy. Confining that praise to just brisket or just Brooklyn would be a disservice to it and anyone interested in barbecue, but they do shine brightest at night.
Whether they shine brightest of all is still to be determined but still very much a possibility. I'm going to get serious and find out.
Yelp reviews of BrisketTown
Urbanspoon reviews of BrisketTown
Eater interview with BrisketLab's Daniel Delaney
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