There’s something special about that barbecue under the bridge. Under the Williamsburg Bridge, that is. The aroma of burning oak and slowly rendering fat hits you a block away as you turn onto South 6th St. and approach Fatty ‘Cue. Giant red stencils of animals spray-painted on an expanse of white wall all the way up a multi-story building mark the spot well before the gritty steel-cased windows of the small façade are within view — an indication of the delicacies to come.
The restaurant is diminutive in stature in contrast to the steel mass above. There’s a fairytale quality to the whole scene. Pit masters working furiously to produce perfectly smoked Heritage pork ribs, all natural, family-farmed beef brisket, pastured local lamb and goat, feeding the fire with local oak wood. Cooks picking through and washing produce grown as nearby as a Long Island City rooftop (by Ben Flanner of the Brooklyn Grange —somewhat of a fairytale character himself) and on the southern tip of the Isle of Manhattan. Pineapple syrup sits, steaming and smoky from hours in the Pit, cooling down next to the bartender as she squeezes fresh juice to the beat of the music. It’s all happening to the beat of the music, in the shadow of that imposing East River crossing.
The inside smells of smoke in the most pleasing way, a mild narcotic assuring me that this is where I need to be, now. And the front bar room is a difficult room to escape from. The low ceiling, warm, patinaed copper wall, the thick, solid wood bar and the easy nature of the crew impel me to have just one more Fatty Manhattan (Rye, smoked cherry coke syrup, bitters). It’s my moral duty. West village ‘Cue may be slick, but Brooklyn ‘Cue has the soul. When I don’t get my fix of both, balance is lost.
The atmosphere of this small yet labyrinthine, constantly churning magical engine (whose smoke curlicues into my dreams) stimulates the senses and somehow increases my already Rabelaisian capacity for consumption. Good thing because, on a base level, the barbecue ranks among the best in the city, and the unique flavors and enlightened combinations make it easily the most innovative in the country. Yesterday, I was sorting through the menu items and enjoying the contrasts between what we just began doing in Manhattan and the groundbreaking leap we took a while back on the South Side of Williamsburg. And, having recently spent an inordinate amount of time with the new baby, I find myself longing for deep, rich, soulful flavors that live under the bridge in Brooklyn.
For my enjoyment, and hopefully yours, I am going to take a moment to elaborate on some of the Brooklyn ‘Cue’s menu items:
- Bone Broth | smoked bone broth with galangal
The bones from all of our local meat are smoked and then used to make a rich, sexy, meaty broth. This is simply a cup finished with Chinese celery and fresh, grated galangal.
- Smoked Eggplant Nam Prik | shaved raw vegtables, chicharrones
Nam Prik is a Thai chili dip. This is a slightly less hot, somewhat more vegetal version made by smoking eggplant and mashing it in a mortar with garlic, chili, rau ram (Vietnamese mint), shallot, coriander and other spices. It’s served with shaved seasonal vegetables and house made chicharrones…an essential complement to the meal.
- Dragon Pullman Toast | side of master fat
I heard at least 10 people ask for this at the Manhattan ‘Cue within the first week of opening. A blend of fats from the smoker. Toast. Only in Brooklyn. Sorry.
- Lamb Ribs | cincalok and white wine brine, garlic-lemon emulsion
I’ve been cooking lamb breast (which is the rib and belly) since 2003. I had called a few of my farmer friends (the folks at Vermont Quality meats, Four Story Hill Farms and Jamison Farm) and asked if they could send me some. They had never heard of anyone in a restaurant using this cut. John Jamison told me he was bagging the breast and freezing it to use in lieu of expensive ice packs to ship the racks to Eric at Le Bernardin. Tom at VQM was selling the breasts to a dog food processing plant. Sylvia at Four story offered me the breast for under a buck a pound. Times have changed.
These ribs are marinated with fermented shrimp and wine and garlic, smoked until just tender and served with a mellow, slightly acidic emulsion that perfectly balances the fat of the cut.
- Heritage Pork Ribs | smoked fish-palm glaze, indonesian long pepper
My dear friend Patrick Martins started his business right around the time I opened Fatty Crab on Hudson street. Batali and I were his first cutomers. Mario would buy the hams and loins; I’d buy the shoulders and hams. Beautiful, certified humane pork…smoked and seasoned with a simple balance of sweet, salty and floral.
- ‘Cue Coriander Bacon | yellow curry custard, seasonal pickles, toast
Patrick’s bellies. We make a spice blend with spices we buy from La Boîte à Epice (the best source for spices in NY, perhaps the country) and cure the bellies for approximately 7 days. Then we smoke them. The custard is made from eggs and coconut milk and a savory turmeric-based curry paste we make in Brooklyn.
- Bowl of Noodles | meat juices, scallion, chili
Right before opening in Brooklyn, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, “I just want a simple bowl of noodles, glazed with a bit of meat juice…and, of course, some chilies.” So, we have just that. Fresh ramen noodles that are tossed with smoky meat juices and a bit of brown rice vinegar. Topped ginger and scallion and served with some of our special “hot lovin’” sambal.
- Corn on the Cob | aged butter, chili salt, lime
Aged butter – is there anything better?
- Nasi Ulam | rice salad, turmeric spice blend, ikan bilis, ginger, herbs
We dehydrate fresh turmeric, ginger, garlic and chilies to grind into the spice blend. We toss the rice with the spices, dried, fried tiny anchovies, chili and fresh herbs. The most savory and satisfying side dish I have encountered.
- Tom Tuah | thai-style pounded bean salad, market tomato, scallop floss
While beans are still in town! They came in late this season so they’re still happening. Raw pole beans with a dressing of palm sugar, garlic, chili, fish sauce and lime juice.
- Beer Battered Okra | fresh cheese, hot sauce
we make fresh cheese daily using local milk…okra will be with us for a couple more weeks.
- Ikan Bakar | whole mackerel, turmeric salt, smoked and seared in banana leaf, chili-garlic-lime sauce
Ikan Bakar is a Malaysian street staple. We cold smoke our mackerel, wrap it in a banana leaf and then cook it on the griddle. The banana leaf protects the flesh of the fish and also imparts a mild sweetness. The bright chili sauce with the hot, smoky fish is simply my favorite combination in the world. Period.
- Brandt Ranch Brisket | chili jam, aioli, bao, pickled red onion, bone broth
Nobody smokes brisket better than Brooklyn ‘Cue (we’re also smoking the brisket for Manhattan). We tried brisket from every farmer, rancher, vendor that we could find. Tweaking the combinations of time, seasoning and product cost me more in R&D than any other dish…perhaps. We serve it with little steamed buns…reminds me of serving braised pork in those buns with pickled lychee back in 2003 at the Chickenbone Café on South 4th Street, which is now the awesome Dram bar.
- Hand Pulled Lamb Shoulder | fresh cheese, salted chilies, house-made pita
Local lamb brined and then slowly smoked, we pull it apart by hand when it’s hot from the smoker and cool it. Then we pick it up in cast iron for a nice crisp and serve it with a chick pea flour pita (a variation of a recipe we got from Lior Sercarz). The goat yogurt comes from Peter Stephanopolous, who has a goat farm in Amenia, NY. He makes the best strained goat yogurt I’ve had outside of Greece and Turkey.
- Smoked Bobo Chicken (half/whole) | red onion, chili, peanut, palm sugar
A fresh, local, naturally raised chicken, lightly brined, smoky and simple. The highly seasoned condiment always goes to the dish pit empty when I’m eating.
- Manila Clams | coriander bacon, bone broth, curry leaf, chili
Our bacon, garlic, ginger shallot and pickled chili are cooked with a little smoky bone broth and aromatic fresh curry leaf and used to pop some clams. Eat with toast. Addictive.
- Pork Shoulder | horfun, smoky jus, sour cherry glaze
It’s smoked pork shoulder and rice noodles…it’s smoked pork shoulder and cherries…it’s smoked pork shoulder and smoked jus. It’s pork shoulder.
- Smoked Half Fazio Farm Duck | red curry, steamed rice, pickled daikon
John Fazio is raising the best-tasting ducks in the area and there’s no doubt they’re worth the price. We cure the ducks for a couple days with a dry red curry spice blend before delivering them into the belly of the smoky beast.
- Brandt Ranch Prime Rib | fingerling potatoes, aged butter, smoky jus
Ahhh! I can’t do this anymore. My hands are shaking, my head is dizzy. I need some ‘Cue! I would say I need a Fatty Manhattan as well, but it’s 9 a.m. and, well, I don’t want anyone to worry…
Read last week’s installment of The Alimentary Canal: A Brief History of Cookbooks