I met my brother-in-law in the city on a Sunday to sample the football ambience at the original Brother Jimmy’s on Second Avenue. On my way in, I noticed the sign above the faux-shack greenhouse that said Brother Jimmy’s, New York - Boston. I had been to the Boston location (technically Cambridge, just across the river from Boston) twice in the two years it was open, and didn’t care much for it. I wanted to try the original to see how it stacked up.
Brother Jimmy’s has been around since before the recent New York BBQ renaissance, and owes much its popularity to the sports bar atmosphere. There are pennants hanging from the ceiling and at least 10 televisions in the room, allowing you to watch four different NFL games simultaneously. If you bemoan the lack of audio at most sports bars, you’re in for a surprise here, as the volume for the most popular game (the Jets during my visit) is turned up to level 11 on a scale of ten. Brother Jimmy’s also has some other nice touches aside from the sports theme, including some cool beer signs from North Carolina, a neon pork sign and a skee ball game. If I didn’t know otherwise, I would not have guessed that I was in a chain (though not a national chain, Brother Jimmy’s has four locations in upper Manhattan).
As you might expect from a joint that’s primarily a bar, there are a number of finger food appetizers on the menu. There are the typical wings and nachos, plus Southern specialties like hush puppies, fried okra and fried green tomatoes. We split an order of the fried green tomatoes ($6.75), which were coated in a thick cornmeal crust and drizzled with a mildly spiced aioli. The tomatoes were sliced thickly enough to stand up to the crust, and were pleasantly tart.
We then moved on to the BBQ Sampler, which included a choice of 4 meats and one trimming ($21.95). Having already tried their pulled pork sandwich about a month earlier, I recommended the three different rib types as well as sliced brisket. The plate looked pretty impressive, with two of each rib type plus a half dozen slices of brisket. The Northern style ribs, advertised as “sweet and tender”, were just that. These were fairly close to what you’d get in a chain restaurant. The sauce was pleasant enough, but I thought the meat had the texture of a partially chewed steak. The dry rub ribs, which boasted 21 spices, looked more like what I think a good rib should look like and had the right texture, pulling off the bone with just the right chewiness. There was definitely some spice there, but it was predominantly black peppercorns; I was hoping for more chili pepper heat. The Southern rib had a similar look and mouthfeel to the dry rub rib, but with a light mustard glaze. Not bad, not great. Overall, I’d say the ribs were slightly below average compared to other New York ribs. The brisket had a decent flavor but was sliced very thin, trying unsuccessfully to conceal how dry and tough it was, but the sauces helped.
Brother Jimmy’s supplies four sauces squeeze bottles on the table: traditional BBQ sauce (close to store bought, but with a better consistency), chipotle (slightly chunky, sweet and tangy with a gentle heat), South Carolina style BBQ sauce (mustard and vinegar) and North Carolina vinegar (eastern NC style, without tomato). I liked the chipotle best, but they were all good.
Our sides (“trimmings”) were mixed. Mashed potatoes were smooth, unusually seasoned and had a thick cream gravy. Collards were cooked a little past wilting, but were large of leaf and had a nice little heat. The mini corn muffins were dry and stiff.
Service at the Second Avenue location was a major upgrade from what I suffered through at the now-defunct Cambridge MA location and at Brother Jimmy’s Express in Grand Central Station. The bartender did a nice job manning the busy bar, and the servers checked back frequently to follow up on orders and make sure our drinks never ran dry. The fact that that most of them wore skin tight shirts revealing their belly buttons didn’t hurt either.
Brother Jimmy’s has several special features. On Sundays, they offer all-you-can-eat ribs and all-you-can drink beer (2 hour maximum) for $22.95. On Mondays, it’s all-you-can-eat wings and rib tips and all-you-can drink beer for $14.95.
The bottom line: Though Brother Jimmy’s is far from the pinnacle of New York BBQ, it's not bad. You’ve got to give credit to the energy of the place and how well it’s run. If I simply feel like having barbecue, I’ll go somewhere else. But if I feel like going somewhere fun that happens to have barbecue, Brother Jimmy’s fits the bill nicely.