Recently changed over from Savoy by the same ownership to create a different sibling of Back Forty, the new Back Forty West has the prototypical look of funky eateries south of Houston and north of the BQE, only with a bit more refinement and country charm. If the downstairs dining area surrounding a small bar looks cramped, head upstairs to a more serene room with wood panel floors, understated artwork and wooden chairs. Serenity doesn't quite hide the fact that the 2-tops are less than a foot from each other and most of the larger tables are communal, but it's a surprisingly welcoming environment. Unless you're my buddy Steve, who'd probably be put off by the seriousness of the place even though the menu is 80% comfort food and priced somewhat reasonably. Let's just say the environment (decor, menu, even the glass bottles the water and sauce are served in) is a bit more precious than the rough-and-tumble vibe he and many barbecue fans are used to. Still, when was the last time you saw a huge steer bone used as a table ornament?
Rather than appetizers, mains and sides, the Back Forty West menu breaks down into "Hands" (green chili pork face nuggets, slow smoked pork ribs, pulled pork sammy, grass fed burger, cornmeal crusted shrimp, rosemary fries), "Fork" (a few different salads, bubble & squeak, braised daikon, roasted apples and rutebaga), "Fork and Knife" (smoked chicken, fried chicken and waffles at lunch, smoked brisket at dinner, steak and seafood at dinner), "Spoon and Ladle" (soups and stews) and "Spoon" (cakes), plus breads and pastries. Pretentious? You be the judge.
There are influences from Asia, the American South and the Mediterranean, seemingly with great care placed into the selection and sourcing of the ingredients. According to a quote from the New York Times on the restaurant's website, chef/owner "Peter Hoffman's pioneering farm-to-table ethics made him 'a locavore before the word existed.' "
My young bride and I hit Back Forty West for a rare weekday lunch in New York City.
None of the dishes are listed as appetizers, but there are several that would make good ones.
Green chili pork face nuggets: I'd give this dish ($4) major props for naming alone, because
it literally takes the face off a pig, mixes in some spicy chiles, coats it with batter and deep
fries it. And ditto the execution: the cooking was perfect, leaving the exterior gently crisp and the inside as moist, tender and juicy as an ocean fresh scallop. There was some nice porkiness that would have carried the dish on its own, but the jalapeno spiked tomatillo jam beneath it dazzled with equal sized punches of heat and sweet. Pink pickled onions on top supplied nice tartness between pork bites. You only get three tater tot sized nuggets, so keep that in mind when sharing, but I thought the overall artistry more than justified the price.
Brussels sprouts: A recent fad that's popularized this vegetable is to
surround it with bacon, but Back Forty West takes a different route. Their version
($6) cooks the sprouts until there's just enough give, then serves
them well lubed and sprinkled with bits if shallots, apricots and pecans.
Everything adheres nicely and it's a meatless vegetable dish that
Pulled pork sandwich: The pulled pork sammy here ($12, and that's what it's called on the menu) came in a little higher than my previous expectations but a little lower than the raised ones after completing the excellent first course. The bun was impressive, looking like an artisan baked model, lightly toasted, very fresh and light. The pork itself had a generous coating of a tangy sweet barbecue sauce that didn't technically overpower the meat, but it was thicker and more heavily applied than needed. Maybe it was a way of ensuring that the meat was moist. Uncharacteristically, I reached for the small glass bottle of sauce (similar flavor but a thinner vinegar version with red peppers) and added more. Smoke was there but very light; texture was okay aside from the dousing and the hard-to-find bark. Flavor with or without extra sauce was satisfactory, but more in that non-barbecue kind of way. Or more in that Sloppy Joe kind of way. A nice little bonus on the plate was the mix of pickled vegetables, including onion and celery. In addition to being a refreshing counterpart to the pork, it made a useful add-on to the sandwich. For a barbecue joint, this would be an average pulled pork sandwich or slightly below, but it's a solid effort for a restaurant that doesn't have the word "barbecue" in its name or menu.
Ribs: As the plate hit the table, the ribs ($10 at lunch) impressed with their size and pink coloring. Three ribs had a very unusual cut, bearing the thickness and knuckles of spare ribs but the compactness and slight curvature of babybacks. Each one had a light coating of the thin Carolina vinegar and red pepper sauce. Crust was light and without much if any rub; smokiness was equally light. There was a distinct smell to these ribs that was a little gamey, while the flavor was a bit hammy. We both observed that the ribs really tasted like they came from an animal (one of us thought that was a good thing; one of us didn't). Another buddy of mine calls it "that piggy flavor." Not that there's anything wrong with any of this. What was wrong—beside the weak, rubless bark—was the deceptive non-meatiness (I took the two smaller bones and wound up with only a few bites total). Oh, and the underdoneness that left the meat so stiff that it could only be removed by gnawing. I'm not a proponent of fall-off-the-bone ribs, but these weren't even close. What almost redeemed this plate was the bed of vegetation that lay beneath. A cold Asian style slaw with peanuts and longbean had an addictive kick. If they sold jars of this stuff, I'd buy some in a heartbeat. But the ribs? No way.
The table sauce brought with in a small glass bottle with the meal is a thin Carolina vinegar sauce, darkened with a tomato element and studded with black pepper and red pepper flakes.
Most of the room gravitated toward the grass fed burger, which looked good on plates going by. Ditto the rosemary fries and the chicken and waffles, which I'd like to try next time. Yes, despite the lackluster ribs, there's so much to like at Back 40 West that I'll be back. There'll probably be a long delay before I do, but that has more to do with the less travelled location than the place itself.
The Bottom Line
Check your hard core barbecue expections at the door and you'll wind up with a meal that'll hit the spot with a break from the monotony and some unexpected dazzles from some unexpected contributors (vegetables, no less). Just don't order the ribs unless it's a communal add-on.
Serious Eats First Look at Back Forty West
Yelp reviews of Back Forty West
Urbanspoon reviews of Back Forty West
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