Review Date: 02/07/18
(07/08/17) (07/15/17) (08/10/17) (10/21/17) (11/05/17) (12/21/17) (01/27/18)
Near the Hudson River a couple miles south of the Tappan Zee Bridge and a couple blocks from the Rip Van Winkle statue, Revenge BBQ is tucked into a row of boutique shops and eateries along Main Street. It’s a tiny space with over-the-counter ordering, a single communal table and additional seating at stools against the windows (and a few outdoor tables in warmer months). The smoker is an Ole Hickory, visible behind the counter. There’s no bar and no alcohol served.
Owner Jacob Styburski was a barbecue hobbyist who took things to the next level at Camp Brisket at Texas A&M University, where he advanced his skills under the tutelage of Russell Roegels, a restaurateur from Houston. Revenge’s pitmaster is Jack Licata, who doubles as meat carver while Styburski works the room.
Revenge BBQ’s Texas-influenced menu sticks to the barbecue basics with pork ribs, beef ribs (weekends only), beef brisket, boneless chicken thighs and sliced turkey, all sold by the pound. Triple Threat Pulled Pork, also sold by the pound, includes Kreuz Market sausage slices mixed in. Three kinds of sausages are available by the link. All boneless items are also offered as sandwiches on Martin’s potato rolls, with the pork including cheese and chips. The Lone Star Sampler is a 3-meat platter with one side and a custard corncake.
I made seven visits over seven months, and over the second half of 2017 Revenge was my most visited barbecue joint even though it's a 3+ hour ride. Joining me were a few local and distant barbecue buddies, Young Bride and a brother-in-law, with one visit solo. Two of the visits were on weekdays, five were on weekeds and all of them hit Revenge at opening to ensure minimal line time, available seating and the first crack at an uncut brisket.
There are no appetizers as such, but a makeshift option could be a single sausage link or multiple types for comparison. If your order is to go, there's an item in the refrigerator below the drinks that might hit the spot, especially for football viewing: brisket queso. It's almost exactly what you think it would be, blending chunks (much bigger than the expected shreds) of brisket in with the smooth cheese, ideal for crackers or tortilla chips. You will taste the smoke.
Pork Ribs: The ribs here ($22/lb) are mid-sized St Louis cut that are
generous on the height; sometimes the meat rises a good inch and a half
off the bone. That allows a good transition between the light crispness
of the rub-studded bark and the more tender meat within. The bite is
very clean, pulling off the bone with minimal effort but never falling
off on its own.
On the first two visits, the ribs were adequately moist and the overall effort was very good. On the five visits since, they’ve been fully juicy, with texture achieving perfection on at least three of them and near-perfection on the rest. Flavor, which is more subjective, holds up its end of the bargain as well, with strong, mostly peppery rub and deep porkiness. Smoke is toward the lighter end of the spectrum but always noticeable.
My ordering strategy on four of the last five visits has been to get one rib per person on the first round, and to reprise it on the last round. Over this 5-visit span, Revenge's ribs have been consistently excellent and among the best I've ever had.
Brisket: We've reached the age where tender brisket is no longer a complete surprise, but it's often achieved by making it steamy or mushy, like overcooked, over-held beef Jell-O. Not the case at Revenge BBQ, where the brisket ($26/lb) is fully tender, but still has structural integrity. It's the kind of brisket that you could take a slice of, drape it so it's balanced on one finger, and both sides will droop fully without falling apart. The bite has some crunch to the bark (from time in the smoker and the mini explosion of whole peppercorns), followed by plenty of moisture and real juiciness within. Flavor is a balanced mix of beef, smoke, salt and black pepper. It had me from my first try, though it’s improved since then. I've had it on every visit— usually twice— and it's varied only slightly from visit to visit.
Revenge's brisket has had a few different sourcings, but recently it's been from Double R Farms in the Pacific Northwest, wet-aged for 20 days. You can order as much of it or as little of it as you want, and from the area you want: the lean part, the fatty part, the ends. Occasionally they offer wagyu brisket; it was good the one time I had it, but less impressive than their standard brisket.
Pulled Pork: Here it's called "Triple Threat Pulled Pork" ($22/lb) because the pulled shoulder is joined by thin slices of two different kinds of Kreuz sausage, shipped up from Texas. It's a bit of a gimmick, but not a diversionary tactic; the execution on the pork shoulder is generally solid and occasionally excellent. The moisture level varies (from slightly moist to very juicy), but the naturally porky flavor, accented with smoke and spice penetration, is always strong and bright. It's served unsauced, with the option of having the counter staff add warm barbecue sauce.
Sausage: Much like chicken, sausage effectively rounds out most barbecue menus but isn't generally a destination item. Ignore that rule at Revenge BBQ; I've broken it on nearly every visit. There are three kinds to choose from: Kreuz Market sausage from Lockhart Texas, with and without cheese ($7.50 and $7 per link, respectively), and an original creation called the Hanzo ($7.50). Prepared in limited quantities by Campbell Meats of Dobbs Ferry, the Hanzo sausage is a blend of beef and pork, heightened by Serrano peppers and Gouda. Recipes are one thing, but where the rubber meats the road is in the execution: on all but one visit, the sausages at Revenge have flirted with perfection: the snap to the casing, the free-flowing juices, the crispness that yields to velvety inner meat, the melt of the cheese (in the Hanzo), the smoke and the liveliness of spices. They slice the sausage for you— artistically on the bias— rather than serving whole, but fear not: none of the juiciness is lost. Sausage is probably the strongest of all the meats here.
A couple of pointers:
1) Even though the "Triple Threat" pulled pork includes thin slices of sausage, don't think you've checked off the sausage category until you've ordered a whole link;
2) Even if you've tried the Kreuz sausage elsewhere in New York or New England, you need to try it here.
Beef Rib: These are gigantic shortribs ($28/lb) with a pound and a half (or more) of beef, cut to order from 3-bone racks. You get to choose the center rib (more tender) or the outer rib (more bark and rub). The meat is extremely tender and floppy, with most of the fat rendered and melted in. This is beef that's meant for slicing, not biting while still on the bone; the act of slicing releases more juices and demonstrates the tenderness of the meat. Much like the brisket, the beef ribs here let you experience the full texture spectrum: from juicy and wilting (without resorting to overcooking or steaming) on one end, to crunchy at the other end. The crackle of the peppercorns from the crust and the give of the inner meat in the same bite is a magical combination. Salt matches the pepper in lockstep to achieve balance.
Since Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn is the gold standard for this cut of beef rib in the Northeast, I'll offer a quick comparison: Hometown's are more jiggly, more smoky, slightly more juicy, slightly more peppery but less crunchy; Revenge's are more crackly and more salty.
Chicken: Rather than cooking and carving whole birds, Revenge goes with a boneless chicken thigh ($18/lb) that's flattened out a bit, making it easy to fit in a sandwich if that's your choice. I've always had it on the Lone Star platter (three meats, one side and a corn cake for $24.50). My earliest sample was decent— light smoke, tender texture, pleasant flavor from black pepper speckles— but it was closer to moist than juicy, and the exterior was a little light. The next few times ramped up the color, the smoke, the spiciness of the rub (pepper made some new friends), and the juiciness, all convincingly, making subsequent batches impressive. It dawned on me that this chicken is a little like a smashed style burger in that it gets a lot of surface area per volume, which brings more of that rub flavor and some welcome crust— and as of late, without sacrificing any inner moisture. While I'm not choosing chicken over ribs or brisket any time soon, I'd choose chicken on a 3-meat combo a lot more often here than I would at most other places.
Turkey: Smoked turkey breast ($22/lb) gets a salt-and-pepper treatment that leaves the perimeter speckled like the chicken, though the overall flavor is much milder than the chicken. Served in thick, wobbly slices and gently topped with rich turkey butter, the poultry is tender, juicy and downright luscious; it feels good in your mouth. Smoke is lighter here than on the other meats.
There's a single sauce here, available in a throwback glass bottle on the table. As I say about many other Texas style barbecue joint that execute well,
the sauce here is very good but almost entirely unnecessary. For those
more inclined to use it, it's reddish, ketchupy but looser and not
sweet, and bolstered with spices and hot sauce to give it a Tex-Mex
Baked Beans: As might be expected at a place with Texas influence, the baked beans are Tex-Mex influenced, with an all-savory approach instead of sweet. There's lots of black pepper and just enough heat to make you notice. You'll also notice brisket shrapnel in the mix.
Cole Slaw: Vinegar and crunch are the components of this side that make it highly recommended for counteracting the heaviness of the meats, but the hallmark— which some will love and others will hate— is the cascade of spices and seeds (black pepper, celery and some top-secret additions). There's still creaminess for those who like that, with a fairly thick but not-so-mayoey condiment.
Potato Salad: It's billed as smoked, but the smoke is less noticeable than the effects of smoke; the translation is a more baked-potatoey flavor than had the potatoes been baked. The predominant addition here is dill. The earliest servings were a little too heavy on the mayo, but that's under control now.
Mac and Cheese: Cavatappi (corkscrew-shaped) get a generous coating of warm cheese that's thick enough to cling but liquid enough to know its limit, allowing the al dente pasta to also shine. The feel is smooth and the sharpness is toward the high end of the spectrum.
Custard Corncake: This hybrid between side dish and dessert resembles pie in the cross-section, with moist cornbread comprising the lower tier and custard topping it off. It's always soft, but instead of the usual room temperature, on my most recent visit it was served warm.
After trying more than 40 meat servings over seven visits to Revenge BBQ, there's not one item that I believed was a reheat. I can't say that about any other barbecue joint in the Northeast.
Generally speaking, the smoke levels are midrange, possibly a tick or two below the middle. Rub levels are very high, especially the pepper and especially on the beef products.
Smoke rings aren't as prominent as at places of similar style and caliber.
If you're into sweet sauces, Revenge might not be your cup of tea. If you have a low threshold for black pepper, it might not be your cup of tea, but that pepper is well balanced with salt.
There's just one community table in the place, which can fit eight diners on a good day; the rest of the seating is on stools against narrow window counters. In the warmer months a few outdoor tables add to the capacity.
Even though the area can get busy with all its small shops, parking spots along Main Street can be snagged with relative ease. That's great for takeout, but because most of the closest spots are 1-hour only, the smart move for dining in to head further down the hill toward the river, where 6-hour spaces are available. There's also 6-hour parking on the side streets and behind the building.
The pricing isn't exactly bargain basement, but I wouldn't think of calling it expensive. And since the quality isn't exactly lacking, I have zero issue with any of it. I'd even pay twenty percent more if guaranteed that my next 70 visits will be as good as my first seven.
The Bottom Line
The meats have been fresh, the flavors have been strong, and the contrast between crisp exterior and juicy interior has been reliable and wow-inducing. The wows have been so frequent that it's rare not to have multiples on each visit. Add well executed sides and a welcoming atmosphere and you have the makings of a complete package (lack of entertainment and bar notwithstanding). Revenge BBQ has quickly become my favorite barbecue joint and the one I regard as the finest in the Northeast right now.
Yelp reviews of Revenge BBQ
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