As many of you know, I love good barbeque, especially Texas barbeque, enough that several times I’ve even traveled down to Texas almost every year for at least one smoked meat bender. But living up here in New England, good BBQ joints are few and far between, and it takes more than a little bit of research to find the good places (another nod here to the excellent work of Gary over at PigTrip.net who does an excellent job picking the wheat from the plentiful chaff). But while a few of the places up here do some decent work, I’ve been really craving some seriously good Texas-style barbeque, so one weekend in late June, we got on the bus, and headed down to check out Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque in New York City.
Wait, what? Did I hear that right? New York City? (And, in a nod to 1980s TV commercials, I even heard someone utter “get a rope”). Yeah, I can already hear a bunch of you snickering. Indeed, several of my readers made potshots when I checked in there. But with the BBQ revolution that’s been kindled in recent years with a new focus on fundamentals (getting the meat exactly right with smoke, bark, and maintaining of interior moisture), the results haven’t been limited to Texas: authentic, good barbeque (better than the products Texans were snobby about a mere decade ago) is starting to show up in all sorts of unlikely places. And, snickering aside, one of these is Quinn’s, a relatively new BBQ joint in the East Village (as well as several other NY/NJ locations now).
Like the majority of Texas BBQ joints, Quinn’s is no table service joint. You queue up in line, order your meat (either by the “order” or by the pound), and then order up your sides and beers. Where it starts to stray from the Texas experience is the diversity… Like a lot of BBQ places outside of Texas, they try to play to a wide field of BBQ styles (in their own words “A merging of two great barbecue traditions: Texas and the Carolinas”), so in addition to what I call the “Texas Standards” (Brisket, Beef Rib, and Sausage), they also do chicken, pulled pork, and burnt ends. But we ended up staying true to my craving: we ordered up a pound of briskets, and two orders of meat to try out the rest of the menu (burnt ends and sausage).
Let’s start out with the centerpiece of the meal: the brisket. I usually find that outside of the general Texas area, brisket isn’t where barbeque shines. It’s really easy to screw up brisket, and end up with a dry, leathery piece of meat, especially if you got all in a hurry about it. But here’s where Mighty Quinn’s really shines. Unlike the vast majority of brisket in these parts, Quinn’s knows what they are doing. They start with a good whole brisket, put on a thick salt rub, and slow smoke it it to perfection. And I’m not kidding about perfection: this was a seriously good brisket: Working from the outside in, it has a robust bark with a solid smoke ring, a nice bold salt/spice rub, and rich smoke notes. Each piece of it is practically exploding with moist beef flavor, melting in your most in a little package of smokiness. This is exactly what brisket is supposed to be, and what so many other places fail to serve (including quite a few places I’ve been in Texas).
Looking at the rest of the meat menu, we didn’t try the chicken, but we did do the burnt ends. Served up St Louis style, the burnt ends themselves were quite good: little chunks of heavily smoked beef, heavily seasons, and cooked to the point of crispiness, these would have been excellent… until they buried them in a tangy, somewhat cloying sauce. I know that’s what a lot of people expect for “Barbeque”, but in this case, I think the sauce subtracted from what would have otherwise been a great item, and I’ll have to chalk this one up to “differing BBQ expectations”. So there are a few chinks in Mighty Quinn’s armor…
The sausage was good as well, with three of the aspects I look for from barbecued sausage: a firm snap to the casing, a coarse grind, and a rich spiced pork flavor that bursts out of the sausage with every snap of the casing. The minor issue here was just the seasoning: while a good Texas sausage (like Meyers) has a rich flavor that’s forward on pepper and pork, the flavoring here was fennel-ish, giving the sausage an Italian sausage flavor. Good, but not quite what I’m loving in a barbeque sausage.
Usually when the talk comes to “side dishes” in barbeque, the primary battle has always been lost, but much like the most excellent espresso barbeque sauce at Franklin, the sides at Quinn’s are actually top notch, adding to the experience instead of subtracting from it (“sides” can never turn poor barbeque into great barbeque, but I’ve had some dismal sides do the opposite), offering a pleasant accompaniment to the meat without overshadowing it. The same burnt ends that I thought were buried in sauce as an entree are a rather pleasant addition to their baked beans. The broccoli salad was a particularly pleasant palate-cleansing side for a hot summer day (which this way). And each meat entree came with a choice of pickles, and these weren’t your cucumber pickles out of a jar, but nicely cured vegetables like celery, hot peppers, and pickled onions.
But let’s back up a second, and remember the key thing: the brisket here is awesome and delicious, and is doing a lot to solve the “BBQ cognition” problem by which much of the North has grown to think of BBQ as “meat simmered in sauce” by doing an honest, and we need to educate people that delicious brisket that stands on its own without any sauce is what good barbeque really is. Part of the challenge we need to overcome here in the Northeast is getting people to learn what barbeque is, and can be, since too many people have closed minds about it. Texas is guilty of the closed mind problem as well, the classic example being Texas Monthly, who relabeled their list of “The 50 Best BBQ Joints in Texas” to “The 50 Best BBQ Joints… in the World!”. Hey, it’s a good list. I’ve eaten at, by my count, 22 of the places on it, and reviewed 7-8 of them here. And I’ll have to tell you, while the top dozen or so places on that list (and a few that have hit their greatness after that list was researched as well) are indeed truly world class with few peers, I can also say that the brisket I got at Mighty Quinn’s, while no replacement for Franklin or LA Barbecue (to name two), was certainly no slouch. Indeed, it was distinctly better than a handful of places I’ve been to on that very list (City Market? I’m pointing at you, you just aren’t bringing your A game anymore. And Two Bros? You were good, but Quinn’s does a better brisket). And Quinn’s is a damn sight better than a lot of places that used to be paragons of Texas BBQ, like the Salt Lick. Heck, after posting that list, even Daniel Vaughan himself (BBQ Editor for Texas Monthly) supposedly claimed that “But a couple of joints—namely Mighty Quinn’s and BrisketTown—could hold their own in Texas.”
So while Texas in the last 5 years, and Austin in particular, has done awesome, awesome things to elevate the state of BBQ: if you aren’t taking a look at some of the other places in the country? You are missing out on some great opportunities to have great barbeque. Not just “Good for someplace other than Texas”, but “Good by any metric.”
So yes, you stop snickering, because you can get barbeque in New York City, that’s not only “Good for New York City”, but good. Mighty Quinn’s isn’t alone in this respect either, Hill Country and Delaney BBQ (“BrisketTown”), just to name a few others. (And, to be fair, I’m certain you can find a lot of terrible, Dickey’s-class or lower, BBQ in the city as well). But their brisket is the real deal, and if you’ve never had world class brisket, Quinn’s kicks out a solid product. Go enjoy them. It’s about the meat. And Mighty Quinn’s delivers. Even by Texas standards.
So go get some good BBQ, wherever you can find it. And, for the record, Texas Monthly can, in my honest opinion, suck it.