Located not too far from some of New York City's most popular barbecue restaurants, lesser known Mason Jar suffers from a bit of an identity crisis: not looking like a barbecue joint is no crime, but this looks more like a generic Irish bar. The entrance is all bar seats to the right and a long bar to the left; tables and roomy booths are further back.
Upstairs there's a second level of seating, arranged on the perimeter and overlooking the main dining room, much like at Blue Smoke. "We use that for private functions," noted our server. Maybe that's a Manhattan idiom for "We use it as auxiliary seating when the place is packed, but we're not even close to packed."
I jokingly asked, "That's where Jeter sits, right?" But the Yankee captain could have all the privacy he wants sitting right in front of the main dining room. From 6:15 to 7:30 on a Sunday night visit they weren't even close to having another table of guests besides us in the dining room, never mind packed.
I had my doubts, but the "From the Smoker" section of the dinner menu should end all speculation as to whether the meats are smoked, and those meats are babyback ribs, pulled pork, brisket and turkey. The ribs are available as half or whole racks with one side ($17/$25), the rest are $16-$17 on individual platters with one side, or you can try the BBQ Sampler ($28) to get all four. Sandwiches include pulled pork, brisket, a shortrib grilled cheese and a few different burgers. Nighttime appetizers are limited to fried pickles, chicken tenders, deviled eggs, mac and cheese and chicken wings, but at lunch babybacks and fries are an app. Non-barbecue entrees feature fried chicken and a few seafood offerings. There are also four different salads and nightly dinner specials.
I hit Mason Jar for a Sunday dinner with young bride and mother-in-law, then returned solo for a weekday post-lunch snack to try the ribs that weren't available on the first visit.
The ribs are available as appetizer and entree. I tried the app, but will describe it in the next section to maintain chronological order.
Pulled pork sandwich: A rectangular plate brought the pulled pork sandwich ($12) along with a pickle and a large pile of seasoned fries. Before the plate hit the table, the gray monotone of the pork beamed out like a beacon, but the strands looked moist even aside from the sauce applied only on top. Portion seemed decent enough, so this had the makings of a successful sandwich even if not successful barbecue.
It turned out that the pork was drier than it looked (more noticeable in the cross section) but smokier than the gray hue would suggest. By smokier in this case, I mean greater than zero, and it was, at least according to my young bride, but I couldn't detect it. Beyond smoke, overall flavor all was very light, as was bark, so this sandwich needed some extra table sauce to combat more than just dryness.
When I picked up the pickle, I had to chuckle. It wasn't that sizeable to begin with, so cutting it and giving me only a two-thirds of a pickle, resting it on its flat cut side, was tantamount to giving me 1.5 pickle chips, which is tantamount to an insult.
Ribs: The second visit's generous half rack of babybacks ($13 lunch plate with
fries) included an extra bone or two along with a thicker-than-average
cut. These came generously sauced as well, though I wouldn't call it
oversaucing. Crustage was there too but softened over time and not
brought all the way back during the reheat. A quick steak knife cut
revealed some surprising pinkness on the cross sections, mostly around
the periphery; the inner meat was bright white.
Flavor? Very light smoke
poked through here and there, but this was more like chicken than pork,
and tasted as if the meat sat in a salty, chickeny broth. Texture wasn't soggy,
however, so that's a good thing. It had a pork choppy feel, because of
the noticeable grain, but its tenderness made it feel more like fish.
Moisture abounded, but more steamy than juicy. The sweetness of the
sauce was obvious but not overwhelming; it played second fiddle to the
aforementioned salty-chickeny vibe.
Overall, not exactly a candidate for
my ribs pantheon but not the disaster I expected. And not my cup of tea (more like instant chicken soup), but I think some people would like these, and the size and tenderness were plusses. To avoid any
confusion, though, let me make one thing very clear: I don't plan on
having them again.
A squeeze bottle on the table supplies a dark brown sauce similar to a store-bought sweet Kansas City style but a little thinner and much more studded with herbs and spices.
Fries: With sandwiches you get the option of salad or fries; I chose the latter more for curiosity and sharing than the more predictable clinging to the less healthy of two choices wherever possible. The highlight of the first visit by far, these were crispy and well seasoned not with salt but a mixture more like a barbecue rub.
Fish tacos: I sampled one taco—or should I say mini taco, as these were to tacos what sliders are to burgers, but you get five of them for $12—and generally liked the mix of crunch (a fried piece) and fillings closer to cole slaw than anything traditional.
This place has a weird vibe, as if someone or something sucked the life out of it.
On both visits I asked the server what kind of smoker they had, and I didn't get a clear cut answer either time. I'm guessing that if one is on site, it's not one of the usual suspects.
The Bottom Line
I regret not trying the brisket—that was my plan on the first visit via the combo platter, but that plan was foiled when both the ribs and brisket were unavailable. Having tried the ribs and pork, I see no reason to go back for the brisket. It probably isn't good enough to be good and probably not bad enough to have any entertainment value.
Mason Jar isn't going to make any top ten lists, but it's comfortable, at least before late night. Foodwise, I'd put it in that same echelon as Brother Jimmy's and Rodeo Bar: smoked food and fried bar snacks that hit the spot if you've never had better.
Yelp reviews of Mason Jar
Urbanspoon reviews of Mason Jar
||'Like' PigTrip BBQ Reviews on Facebook to keep up with all of the reviews and much more content not available on the site.