After a successful part time stint in Smorgasburg across the bridge in Williamsburg, pitmaster cum barbecue savant Hugh Mangum took his act to the big city in 2012. The space is a perfect blend of classic and modern, with nary a hint of piggery or Cowboys and Indians kitsch. Service is over the counter; seating consists of several scattered smaller tables, a couple of large communal table and a few stools by window counters.
The smoker, located just past the cutting area at the far left of the counter, is a bodacious J&R—the Cadillac of smokers and the smoker of choice at most of my favorite barbecue joints.
As with many New York City barbecue joints, Mighty Quinn's puts its wood on display. There's a stack opposite the cutting area on the way to the main level co-ed restroom and there's another rack downstairs on the way to the main restrooms.
All of the meats and sides are offered a la carte. The barbecue focused menu features pork ribs, beef ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, chickens, sausage and wings. Boneless items can be had on a plate or between bread. Beef ribs are sold as single bones ($23); pork ribs are sold as a "single serving" one-third rack ($8.50) or as a whole rack ($23). Chickens are half birds ($8.50).
A few sides round out the menu, but other than wings (not available yet), there's nothing that I would call an appetizer. Not that there's anything wrong with that—the narrower the menu, the greater the prowess, at least in theory.
I hit Might Quinn's for a Sunday afternoon lunch with my light eating young bride, a more able cousin and another barbecue crony. We had the numbers to try just about everything they had in one form or another. I returned with a smaller group two Saturdays later. Comments below are from the first visit only, but the second visit was very similar to the first.
Wings: Not yet available because the permits are still pending for the required equipment.
Brisket: Standing in line I could tell just by looking at the product coming out of the smoker that it was going to be good. No, make that at worst case good, with the potential to be great. The sturdy-barked hunk of beef jiggled and wobbled at the slightest provocation and leaked juices without being cut. The cleaver slid through with total ease, bursting forth more juices in a now-steady flow. A last minute pinch of coarse salt tossed over the beef was the final flourish. I was getting excited. We only ordered the "single serving" of it ($8.50) but vowed we'd be back for an encore performance later on in the meal.
At the table, each fully lubed slice brought some slightly crunchy bark, some pink and hardly any fat. Yes, let me say it again: hardly any fat. usually that's a death knell, but here it was a badge of honor. Unlike most brisket where the blubber needs to be trimmed or gets in the way, this one had the fat fully rendered during the smoking process. So while the fat was there, it had melted into and become one with the meat.
This brisket slid down ridiculously easily, practically melting in the mouth. It's a cliché, but so true in this case. The flavor? Beefy in the best possible way, not at all heavy, uplifted but not upstaged by the other elements. Smoke was moderate, not overpowering. Rub I'm not so sure about, because I'd need to factor out that last minute salting. I'll say light. The flavors you get are beef, gloriously melted fat, salt, smoke and whatever other rub is involved. It works—spectacularly.
Around the table, rankings and comparisons quickly ensued. Was it the best in the city? The best in the region? A hearty yes and yes all around, though none of us had yet been to BrisketTown in Brooklyn. Two of us had the same thought: it was as if Quinn's took the best qualities of the two different briskets at Hill Country and combined them into one that's the best of the three.
Sausage: Short, blunt links ($7 single serving, $12 per pound) emerged from the smoker for a quick scoring and slicing into half-inch chunks. These had a good snap, very good moistness (more than any sausage I've had that wasn't served whole) and a yielding texture that never flirted with mushy. Relentless flavor was similar to an Italian hot, only smoky.
Pulled pork sandwich: Served on a golden bun similar to challah, this sandwich ($7.25) got stuffed with pork that was pulled to order (not often do you see that), brushed with "Texalina" tomato-vinegar sauce and sprinkled with more of that coarse salt. Once past the cutting station, you're asked if you want it topped further with cole slaw, homemade pickles, pickled onions or red hot peppers. The meat is very pink, somewhat moist (a bit of a drop-off after the brisket) and very flavorful in a porky, slightly hammy way with enough smoke to let you know it's there but nothing too assertive.
Pork ribs: Interesting that these are available as 4 bones for $8 or a full rack for $23. You only save $1 for the full rack commitment, but that's because the one-third rack is a steal at $2 per bone. At the least likely New Yorker's urging, we opted for the full rack and never regretted it, even though the humongousness of each bone made the smaller portion even more of a bargain and a wiser move for those not looking to fill up.
These were full size spares, fresh from the smoker even on a Sunday lunch, cut into gigantic individual bones. They got a by-now familiar dusting with the salt before being packed into a cardboard boat sitting on a paper-lined tray. These had a crust that mostly came naturally during the smoking process, with a possuble basting down tthe stretch.
The pink cross sections had an obvious moisture that throttled into full juice explosion. The word "torrent" immediately came to mind. It's a favorite of resident meat savant Nick Solares, who it turned out was also in the room during the same meal. Smoke and rub were again at mere moderate levels, but that's okay—these ribs were all about the perfect doneness, the crisp crust, the succulent meat beneath, the natural pork flavor (yes, pork can have flavor) and the fat that just like the brisket was fully melted into the slurpy meat. One of my well-tabled tablemates had them at #1 for the city; I don't know if I'd go that far just yet but it's a distinct possibility. I'd certainly put them right up there with my top few.
Beef ribs: A jumbo shortrib ($23) best suited to sharing brought all of the wonderful qualities of the brisket, trading away just a bit of the moistness (still plenty moist) and tenderness (likewise) for a crispier crust. This got a light brushing (literally with a paint brush) of the Texalina sauce and another salt toss. With these minor tweaks it was less about standing out and more about simply advancing the cause, and this beef rib was cause for celebration. Lots of beefy flavor, the right doneness and a tenderness that didn't need to resort to stewing, braising or reheating with sauce. It was difficult to cut clean slices off the bone without it falling apart, but that's a good thing, speaking to the tenderness of the meat.
Chicken: Though by no means a failure, the half chicken ($8.50) was the only meat that failed to impress. It did have its moments though. This chicken was certainly moist but uneven, bordering on juicy in some spots and bordering on dry in others. The skin probably had the most concentrated rub presence of any of the meats, but it was a little rubbery. Smoke was probably the lightest of any of the meats, resulting in more of an oven roasted feel than a smoked chicken feel, but flavor was pleasant throughout.
There's one sauce on the table, stored in what looks like an antique pharmacy bottle, with turn of the (20th) century typography. The sauce within is an all-purpose compromise between sweet, tangy and spicy. I found it sweeter than what was applied at the cutting station, but I used so little of it since none of the meats needed any extra sauce.
Baked beans: Billed as burnt ends baked beans, these literally had more meat than beans, with even more meat in disguise within the thick sauce. Flavor was refreshingly more savory than sweet.
Edamame and sweet pea salad: When was the last time you had edamame at a barbecue restaurant? For me, it was at Ember Room, but for you it'll likely be here. The very "green" flavor made for a nice respite from the meats, if you need such a thing. The condiment was reminiscent of a creamy Italian dressing.
Cole slaw: Vinegar- and mayo-based versions are both available here. The former is close to a crisp, savory sauerkraut, with more flavor than condiment. The latter is equally crisp and creamier, with more condiment than flavor.
Mighty Quinn's combination of variety, portion flexibility, pricing and value are unmatched for New York City barbecue.
I came in expecting solid barbecue but willing to make some allowances for the Sunday lunch timing. No allowances necessary: Mighty Quinn's Barbeque nailed it. Flavor, texture, moisture, freshness, service, line speed and value were all top notch.
The Bottom Line
There's no question that Mighty Quinn's Barbeque has quickly established itself as one of the best barbecue (okay, barbeque) joints in New York City. Mighty Quinn's Barbeque is already one of my favorite destinations for barbecue and I can't wait to go back again. It's reason to be excited about barbecue again.
Serious Eats review of Mighty Quinn's Barbeque
Yelp reviews of Mighty Quinn's Barbeque
Urbanspoon reviews of Mighty Quinn's Barbeque
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