(08/14/11) (02/19/12) (03/29/13)
Mable's Smokehouse (yes, that's how they spell it) is wide open and laid back, with communal tables, mismatched chairs, wood everywhere, a small not-trying-to-prove-anything bar and a long cafeteria-style counter. Unlike at a cafeteria and unlike at the city's other famous over-the-counter barbecue operations, you order at the counter but receive table service when your food is ready. Although Mable's looks like a joint you might see in the South, there's no attempt to Disnefy the place or insult your intelligence with trite theme décor.
Behind the counter is an open prep area, through which you can see the Southern Pride smoker in a separate kitchen.
Mable's Smokehouse is located on the north side of Williamsburg, just a stone's throw from Brooklyn Brewery, which offers tours as well as fresh beer for purchase.
This is one compact menu with a no-nonsense approach: just four meats (St Louis pork ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, hot links) and eight sides.
The thing I love about it is the flexibility to get whatever combo you want via combos and add-ons. Ribs can be had as a half or full rack a la carte, as a half rack with two sides, or on the DeLuxe Platter (three meats, three sides). Pulled pork and brisket are available as half pound platters with two sides, on the DeLuxe Platter, on sandwiches with one side and by the pound. Hot links are offered a la carte and two to a platter with two sides. Beyond the expected pork and brisket, sandwiches include the unexpected Vegetarian Sloppy Joe.
A snack menu offers some diversity with Velveeta & Ro-Tel queso dip and "State Fair" Frito pie. Starting in Spring 2013, Mable's introduced lunch and brunch service, with new items such as sweet potato pancakes, green chile fritattas and crawfish etoufee.
My young bride and I visited Mable's for Sunday dinners in 2011 and 2012, once joined by a New Yorker. I revisited with a friend for a weekday lunch in 2013.
In some reviews I mention that I bypassed appetizers to allow deeper coverage of the main meats, but there are no appetizers here. I suppose you could call the first 3-meat platter an appetizer and the second 2-meat platter the entree, with a follow up visit to nearby Fette Sau the dessert, but we'll just head straight to the meats section.
Pork ribs: The first visit's first DeLuxe Platter ($27.95 for three meats, three sides plus cole slaw, jalapenos, sliced onion and white bread) had four bones, coated in a brick red barbecue sauce. Ribs are the only item Mable's sauces as standard procedure; we ordered the first batch as is and the second batch unsauced.
The pork ribs were thin of cut but thick of rub, which stood out visually and in flavor even under the sauce. With such a well crusted rib, a frequent weakness is a mushy/ashy finish, but these were pleasantly crisp, contrasting perfectly with the sauce. The inner meat was pink, tender, juicy and very fresh tasting. Smokiness was more than noticeable and overall flavor was deliciously porky. These ribs felt and tasted like a marriage between the two different pork rib styles at Daisy May's, arguably executed even better due to their superior freshness. There was no question that they'd be on the plate in round 2.
The unsauced ribs in the next round were even juicier. Oddly, the rub on the equally crunchy crust didn't seem to have as much oomph as on the first batch, but they were still impressive.
Ribs on the second visit didn't have the same crispness and just-outta-the-smoker feel as the first, but the combination of tenderness, juiciness, light smoke and heavy (and I mean heavy) rub made them a huge hit anyway. They still remind me of Daisy May's ribs—or at least how they used to taste and feel back when Daisy May's was still good.
The third visit's ribs yielded an pleasantly surprising six bones one the 3-meat combo, and all of them were very meaty and fully crusted. A bit of a dropoff in the rub department, but still well above average for rub density. These were almost certainly a reheat—I watched them hit the grill—but felt and tasted very fresh anyway, with juices flowing freely with every bite.
Mable's ribs might just be the most underrated in all of New York City. I rate and rank them fairly high.
Pulled pork: The pork was a little sticky but not sauced per se. The meat was pinkish brown, studded with bark and mostly tender without being overcooked, but not as boldly fresh tasting as the other meats. Smoke and overall flavor were both lighter than the ribs and brisket. Probably the weakest of the three meats, this pork was still above average.
The second visit's pork sample improved on the first. Although nearly monotone brown in color and slightly limp, it has a fresher mouthfeel and flavor than the initial impression suggested. The meat was bouncy and perfumed with smokiness and a conservative saucing that kept it slightly moist and no more. The third visit continued the progression, delivering good crispness and tenderness in the same bite, along with just the right amount of smoke. Not ready for the pantheon, as their ribs and brisket might be, but solid.
Brisket: The clear-cut star of the first plate, the brisket brought strong smoke, great rub presence, a sturdy crust and perfectly tender, extremely juicy inner meat without that mushy, fatty, gelatin-like consistency you often get at another joint across the river most famous for its brisket. Though fat was there, it was more of a support player, providing moistness without detracting and without even needing to be trimmed away. I also liked the slurpiness that the meat had without falling apart, the saltiness that sang loudest among the many spices and the flavor that reached to the innermost part of the slice. Needless to say, the brisket was also included in round 2, and it was again a big hit.
The second and third visits' brisket wasn't as melt-in-your-mouth as the first batch, but still exhibited good tenderness (able to dangle off both sides of an extended finger without breaking). For moisture, the second visit nailed it again; the third visit was borderline dry. Flavor was again more than solid both times.
Mable's brisket would probably make my top ten for the overall Northeast region. If they can duplicate the two different batches from the first visit, they'd be a lock.
Okie Round Steak Sandwich: On this no-longer-offered menu item, that's just another name for smoked bologna, cut into 1.5-inch cubes and tucked into a bun. There's something about stacked, thin-sliced bologna that takes away some of its heaviness and greasiness; unfortunately the smoked cubes were just that and without any flavor to justify it. Smoke was light but there, rub may or may not have been there, and crispy edges definitely weren't in there. I can see someone enjoying this with a pile of sweet onions and some sauce thrown on to cut through the fat, but that someone isn't me. Best tried and shared among a group, possibly as one of the meat options on a 3-meat combo, this item later got cut from the menu. No big loss, as the core trio of ribs, brisket and pork is really the way to go.
Sausage: A late arrival, the hot links finally made it to menu by the third visit. Ordered as an a la carte add-on ($5), a single link had a casing so red it looked like it was sauced, and so crackly it had begun to split open. Juices were more of a trickle than flow, but they were there. The flavor came across as a smokier, spicier rendition of a hotdog, with the same tenderness and more snap.
A single sauce is applied to the ribs (pork and brisket arrive unsauced) and supplied in a cup as additional dipping sauce. It's a perfect compromise between sweet, tangy and spicy, with bonus points for being served hot. It's a little more effective for adding moisture than flavor, but it worked for a single sauce solution and the meats didn't really need it.
Sides have been decent, though not as impressive as the meats. Potato salad had plenty of hardboiled eggs and more than plenty of mayo, though I suspect they used Miracle Whip (not that there's anything wrong with that). Cole slaw was also mayoey, but good, with crisp cabbage and fresh flavors. Beans were light, sweet and fresh, but ultimately not interesting. Borracho beans were interesting, kind of like Mexican rice and beans, minus the rice. Macaroni and cheese had perfectly cooked pasta, coated with but not drowning in a mild but adult-flavored cheese sauce. The complimentary white bread, small cole slaw and boat of jalapenos and onions served with every platter is a nice touch.
Maybe it's just luck or entropy, but on all three visits the atmosphere was very laid back, with much less of a hipster factor (not that it would affect my meal one way or the other) than other Williamsburg haunts.
Mable's has one of my favorite all-time bathroom setups. I'll leave it at that.
The Bottom Line
You don't hear the hype about Mable's Smokehouse that you do with some of the other barbecues around town, but they're more than worthy, excelling in a quiet and understated manner that suits me just fine. I always leave not only full, but filled with the impression that effort, value and hospitality all came through.
New York Times review of Mable's Smokehouse
Village Voice review of Mable's Smokehouse
Yelp reviews of Mable's Smokehouse
Urbanspoon reviews of Mable's Smokehouse