But after a day of exploring Queens and Brooklyn that included a lot of bar hopping we ended up trying some NYC que after all. And it ended up being good stuff.
We were having drinks with some old friends at a bar called Hot Bird on Clinton Hill in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights neighborhood when we noticed other patrons bringing in carry-out containers of barbecue. After asking around we found out there was a Carolina-style barbecue restaurant next door called Little Brothers BBQ.
When a friend went over to get some food for he and his girlfriend he returned with two impressive-looking sandwiches and a copy of the menu. The pulled pork looked good and once my wife noticed pulled pork-topped macaroni and cheese on the menu she sent me over to get an order for us.
The pulled pork I'd seen on the sandwiches had sported a noticeable pink smoke line that indicted the restaurant was using a real smoker. When I walked in the door I saw a pile of wood that gave me further assurance Little Brother was serving real barbecue, not a gas oven imitation. After placing my order I chatted with the young woman who took my order for a few minutes and she pointed out the large smoker in the kitchen behind her. This dedication to the craft of genuine smoked barbecue is commendable, especially when you consider how prohibitively expensive it must be to source quality hardwoods for cooking in Brooklyn.
A tub of macaroni and cheese topped with pulled pork is something I would generally avoid at home where wheat is one of the three junk ingredients, along with sugar and vegetable oils, that I try to severely limit in my diet to keep my nonstop consumption of barbecue and soul food healthy. But this was vacation and it made a great evening snack while we were having drinks on the Hot Bird's wonderful patio.
For any New Yorkers who are unfamiliar with Southern-style smoked pork, the pulled pork I had at Little Brother was a good guide to what you should be looking for. It had a nice bark, which is what we call the charred pieces from the outer surface of the meat. Beneath that bark there was a nice deep pink layer of meat that comes from good smoke penetration during the cooking process.
I didn't care for the sauce. It was spicy and had plenty of vinegar like a lot of the sauces I love but something about the flavor profile just seemed off to me. But the meat was good enough to stand on its own, which is the hallmark of good barbecue. While it wasn't as good as the best Memphis has to offer it was actually notably better than what you'll find in some of our Downtown tourist traps.
There have been some rather comically naive claims in some of the New York press that barbecue is on the decline in the South at the same time it has been spreading through the Northeast. All we in barbecue country can offer those writers is a traditional Southern eye-rolling "bless your heart." One of the biggest problems I have maintaining this blog is keeping up with the steady stream of great new restaurants. But I can see where the myth comes from. It seems like the Yankees jumping on the smoked meat bandwagon are genuinely interested in the craft and trying their best to copy traditional cooking methods. They are certainly bringing a respect to the art you won't see at any of the fast food joints rushing to add pulled pork to their menus. Meanwhile, locals in places like Memphis may shun the tourist traps in their hometowns, but by default they are the only places that many visitors experience.
The pulled pork meat at Little Brother was solidly good enough to qualify as "Memphis average" even if the sauce was a little lacking. That should make it a welcome addition to the already-incredible dinning scene for anyone grabbing a pint and a shot at a Brooklyn bar.