(09/25/13) (10/26/13) (11/24/13)
A former warehouse in Red Hook is the unlikely location of one of Brooklyn's largest barbecue restaurants and one of its most important openings in 2013. If not for the proximity to the Hudson River (practically a stone's throw) and damages by Hurricane Sandy, it would have been open a year earlier.
There's an offset smoker out front and a humongous Ole Hickory behind the counter, though much of the smoking is done offsite. It's cafeteria style service: you wait in line, order over the counter, receive and pay at the end of the counter, then haul your bounty to a table in the spacious dining room or the cozier annex used for musical entertainment. Both rooms have bars. The tables and chairs look like something out of a church social. The brick and aged wood throughout give Hometown a comfortable, lived in look.
After studying barbecue with some of the medium's brightest stars, owner/pitmaster Billy Durney has developed a multiregional and multicultural barbecue menu to appeal to varying tastes.
The straightforward menu offers meats mostly by the pound on evenings and mostly on sandwiches on weekend lunches. The lineup includes babyback ribs, beef shortribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken, sausage and lamb belly. Everything's carved to order and served on paper lined metal trays.
I visited Hometown for a weeknight dinner and Saturday lunch with friends, followed by a weekend dinner.
Wings: Hometown has dabbled in smoked wings, but they have not been available on any of my visits. I just learned that as of late December, they're available at both lunch and dinner.
Ribs: Babybacks are an odd choice. This is a serious barbecue joint, and
most serious barbecue joints do spare ribs or the shortened version of
them known as St Louis cut. But if you're going to do babybacks, might as
well do them in a big way, and here the ribs are certifiably big. They're cut
into individual bones and placed as such on the tray, showcasing the
pink cross-sections. The outer surfaces are studded
with a heavy rub and a semi-formidable crust.
The bite on two occasions
has been very clean.
Doneness is such that getting the meat off the bone is easy but not effortless; there's just enough resistance that some may call these babybacks underdone. For me, the doneness is near perfect, but mileage does vary. Moistness is less than perfect, though close enough. I'd call them moist for sure, with juiciness closer to trickling than flowing.
Flavor has varied the two times I had them. On the first night visit, the liberally sprinkled sweet/savory rub had pleasant but surprisingly conservative firepower from surface to bone. On the next night visit, rub flavor veered slightly away from sweet, while the previously ho-hum meat pumped up the porkiness to maximum intensity. Smoke has been just enough to let you know it's there, without trying to prove anything. Overall, I'd call them a good item among a roster of very good to great items, and there's nothing bad about good. They're certainly unique.
Brisket: Tried in sliced form on visit 1 (early dinner) and visit 3 (late dinner), the brisket delivered everything I look for in the hardest of barbecue meats to master. The first visit's thick outer shell still had all its crunch as well as a profusion of coarse grain black pepper that assaulted the taste buds without ever upstaging the beefiness. Beneath that explosive crunch, the near-wobbly meat got as tender as it gets while still retaining structure. Juicy too, with fat rendered into a free-running lubricant.
The third visit's brisket wasn't as in-your-face in the rub department, but that approach worked well too, with no loss of flavor. The sturdier but very flexible slices had plenty of moisture and strong beefiness buoyed by smoke that again never tried to hog center stage.
I'll need to try this brisket a few more times to be sure of its exact slotting, but Hometown's is one of the best renditions in the city, as well as the entire Northeast. I know this much: I'm going to order it every time.
Brisket Sandwich: At most barbecue joints, chopped brisket is of the steamy-saucy variety, designed primarily to move old product. Tried on a weekend lunch visit, Hometown's chopped brisket sandwich was an unexpected pleasure. The generous serving had minimal sauce, maximal bark, good contrast of crispy bits and extra tender ones, noticeable fatty flavor without noticeable fatty texture, a fresh feel and moisture that went beyond the saucing. Some raw onion and pickle add further contrast, but the #2 star to the brisket is the Caputo's hard onion roll with a soft interior. Everything seems well conceived (just the right ratios) and well executed. I want one right now.
Pulled Pork: Hometown's pulled pork has four components: shoulder, belly, rib meat and a fine dust of rinds on top. The meat is hoggy, in that you can taste a complex funkiness you don't get in shoulder alone, but it's a light hoggy. Bark is there too but less obvious than with the brisket and lamb. There's a floppiness to the meat in some sections and some slightly firmer pieces thrown in too. Moisture is generally good. I'd call it above average pork for sure, but despite all the fatty cuts, the flavor brought up the rear. This was the only item that needed sauce to perk it up.
Pulled Pork Sandwich: Served on a sesame seeded roll, the "Half Hog" sandwich pork adds cole slaw to the equation. Of the three sandwiches I tried, the pork was the least compelling of the meats with the least compelling bread.
Chicken: Most places that do jerk chicken do it as a second item. Here, it's the
only preparation for quarter and half chickens. I coveted this during my first visit but never got around to ordering it, because there was so much on the tray that a second round wasn't even necessary. But that chicken looked so good: plump, crispy, shiny and full of color and flavor for the eye if not the mouth. It's what I do: I look not only to my plate but to the plates on other tables, partly to make sure that the food I eat isn't an anomaly (whether from being recognized or the luck of the draw) and partly to do some scouting on items I haven't tried.
It wasn't until visit 3 that Hometown jerk chicken and I were formally introduced. The appearance held up from earlier sightings. Flavor was everything I hoped for: smoky, spicy (a jerk flavor accent that didn't overpower) and most of all chickeny. The weak link was texture. Although the skin was crisp and the interior juicy, this chicken might have benefited from a little more time in the smoker to make it more tender. Would I get it again? To be honest, I would—based on the overall excellence of the other meats. But to be honest, I probably would not get it that often—based on the overall excellence of the other meats.
Beef Short Rib: A mammoth slab of meat slides easily off the bone, revealing some unrendered fat near the bone but a flawless specimen of beef in the remainder. This is all about contrasting textures, with the crunchy exterior mimicking the brisket in bumpiness from more-than-liberal seasoning. Beneath that shield lies some of the most tender beef I have ever tasted. It literally melts on contact and has all of the flavor of the brisket with even more bark. Need I say more?
If yes, how about this: Hometown's brisket may be one of the best, but I can say after two tries that their beef short ribs are the very best New York City has to offer. Sure, it's a commitment that may not fit easily into your idea of an a la carte two meat combo, but sliced up and shared among a table, it's the perfect makeshift appetizer.
Pulled Lamb Belly: It's not often you see lamb on a barbecue menu, and when you do it's usually a special that you're lucky to stumble into rather than an item you can count on to be there when you arrive. At Hometown, it's there all the time. You'd think it would be grossly fat with blobs everywhere, but it's surprisingly well rendered with the fat still very tasteable in every well lubed bite. Just like the beef items, there's good contrast of textures, with crispy bits offering resistance and more tender parts dissolving before the second bite. Color is a glorious mix of deep pinks and browns. Smoke is stronger here than with the other meats, collaborating with the gaminess rather than trying to tame it. Fittingly, rub is at its lowest level here, since the smoke and lamb fat do a more than adequate job on their own. This was addictively tasty and beyond moist, with a lamby puddle at the bottom of the pile. For the record, I'm not a big lamb fan, but this is another item I'd get every time.
Pulled Lamb Banh Mi: My first of multiple tries of the lamb was in the now ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich. The accoutrements might not be 100% faithful to an authentician's blueprint, but the crispy vegetables and heavy cilantro are good enough to get the job done. The #1 star in a well-made banh mi is the fresh, light and crackly bread, and that's just what this was, even if the lamb deservedly grabbed topped billing.
Squeeze bottles are available at the end of the counter just past where you pick up and pay. Take 'em to the table as needed. The meats satifsfied on their own, not needing the sauces for flavor or moisture, but they're fun to sample.
Sticky: This sauce is a Kansas City style that's a cut above the typical thick, dark and sweet. There's an instantly noticeable complexity in there, along with some spiciness that sets it apart from even the other sauces of this style that add heat. Some similar ones around town would include John Brown Smokehouse and Fette Sau (on a good night), but Hometown's has the best balance.
Hog Sauce: Here we have your basic thin North Carolina vinegar sauce, with a little less pucker.
Hot: A mix of Sriracha into a sweeter base.
Baked beans: Big beans in a slightly sweet, mostly tomatoey condiment with a little tingle of heat.
Cole slaw: A homestyle preparation with a balanced condiment featuring creamy, savory and slightly sweet.
Potato salad: If you like a mayoey mix, this might not be for you. This is a potato salad that leans more on the potato than on the salad, and dry herbs more than wet condiment. Flavor is very pleasing.
Collard Greens: Big stems and leaves are wilted, moist, rich, green and piggy thanks to an addition of house cured bacon that still lets the vegetable sing lead.
Mac and cheese: A unique rendition brought creamy, near liquid cheese with an orange tint, a spicy kick and some light crunch in select bites from the addition of lime tortilla chips. A winner.
Cornbread: Pricey at $3 per piece, but well deserving of the label "cornbread crack." It's soft, moist, cakey, corny, very buttery and slightly sour in a good way. If the line is long, get more than you think you need, and thank me later.
The Bottom Line
Simply put, Hometown BBQ is one of the city's best. The sides, chicken and pork are decent to very good; the lamb and beef are stellar.
Yelp reviews of Hometown BBQ
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