Destination barbecue in New York? Yep. Meat worth a windy ferry ride from Manhattan? (Or a slightly confusing Uber ride from Williamsburg?) Yes. A meal at Hometown Barbecue in Red Hook, Brooklyn is the definition of a destination dining experience: It takes a while to get there. It’s in a place that you probably would never otherwise think to visit. Its surroundings offer something new, adding to the overall experience. It’s in an abandoned warehouse type structure in a neighbourhood surrounded by old sailor bars and underground art galleries. Blessed with such a unique and remote region, the guys at Hometown seems to have the freedom to do pretty much whatever the hell they want to do, however they want to do it.
I still remember the moment I opened the thick wooden door of Hometown, my hands shaking with hunger and anticipation. The smell hits you instantly. That sweet, salty, smoky smell of marinated, pit-smoked, grilled meats. The surprisingly spacious interior is lined with refurbished wood. The sun shines through large industrial style windows in sharp angles, illuminating the rustic wooden tables, the glittering beer glasses of the bar and the fibers of meat on every table. A big bad American flag is proudly displayed next to the menu, just like it would be down south. A large, cozy, no-fuss spot with large portions and fantastic price for quality.
It’s Central Texan Barbecue done right with a metallic and wooden jungle of tools to ensure proper smoking and sizzling. There are vats of brine and marinade back there – I’m sure – and carts with mammoth hunks of flesh and bone wheeled around from place to place. Hometown is laid-back in terms of service and atmosphere. You get your (craft) beer at the bar, wait in line at a counter, pick your table and dig in. But the food is positively high-strung and nerdy when it comes to detail. Each meat is cooked in a certain way, seasoned just right, sliced and served with care.
This is especially true for the brisket – the No. 1 must-order at Hometown. Counter guy carved us some slices, around a half-inch thick each. I’d happily blow up a photo of the cross-section, so perfect are the various layers of texture and flavor represented. On the bottom there are bright pink smoke rings. These are topped with layers of juicy, moist flesh, with fibers frilled this way and that, interlaced with a warm, melt-on-the-tongue fat. Next a buttery fat cap about a quarter-inch thick, hydrating the tender meat right below it. Covering the fat is the thin layer of blackened crust, a gorgeous contrast to the juicy red meat inside and not at all too burnt in flavor. Just enough. When it comes together… It’s steamy, soft beef bleeding out its salty, smoky essence – a char and sweet, jiggly fat to add moisture and make your eyes roll back in your skull.
Also very good was the pulled pork, braised until tender, then shredded and seasoned with Hometown’s mix of condiments and spices. The balance of sugar and vinegar were perfect and neither overpowered the natural porcine zest, which packed a powerful punch. I only wish I had hurried up a bit more with the photos because the pork is prone to get cold especially quickly, and then it kind of stiffens from the fat. Either way, a delicious dish. “American rillettes” as I explained to the beau.
The choice between Hometown’s monstrous beef ribs, spare ribs and Jamaican jerk baby back ribs is totally up to you. What’s for sure is that you have to try at least one of them. I asked counter guy for a recommendation and followed it. The short ribs were the perfect texture – not exactly falling off the bone, but tender enough to slip off after just one tug. The flavourful, herbacious crust scratched my tongue pleasantly and the toothsome, dense flesh bled out its juices after each bite.
Hometown’s menu combines Texan bbq classics with the international influences of the restaurant’s Brooklyn neighbors and the hip(ster) chef-y artisanry you expect from most newly opened New York eateries. So, things like “lamb belly bahn mi” with pickled daikon and carrots, pastrami bacon and turkey sandwich on “brioche toast,” meat tacos with handmade corn tortillas. And Vietnamese hot wings. These were a bit of an afterthought after so much red meat. Served whole, which was a bit of a surprise, and a bright red color from the glaze. Crunchy, a bit spicy and tangy. Vietnamese, I guess, because of the fresh cilantro and sesame seeds sprinkled over the top. But not particularly impressive compared to everything else.
And, of course, no bbq meal is complete without the sides, out of which the collard greens are an absolute must-order. The slick, moist leaves soak up the mix of onion, vinegar and tremendous smoky, salty flavors of the pork with which they are cooked. At the bottom of the cup is a puddle of rich “pot liquor” broth, the perfect last sip. I wish I had also ordered some of their house-baked corn bread with which to sop it all up. The coleslaw is also very good, crunchy shreds of red cabbage seasoned with plenty of celery salt and a tart, not too creamy vinaigrette. This side offered a much needed vegetal freshness to our meaty meal. My lunch companions thoroughly enjoyed the mac n cheese, tender curls of pasta drenched in a mess of jiggly, dense Tex-Mex style queso. It was, in fact, tremendously comforting, warm and unabashedly not figure-friendly. A gourmande’s worst nightmare, morning-after kind of dish.
My biggest regret about this meal? Not ordering the turkey, which I later found out was one of their most highly recommended specialties. Also, not ordering the cornbread. And the potato salad. And the lamb belly. If I lived anywhere near Brooklyn I’d be a regular guest. I’d hop on a ferry, try 3 or 4 dishes, pay and hit a Red Hook sailor bar until my return ferry arrives. And if you live anywhere near Brooklyn or are visiting anytime soon, so should you.