Sparky's Texas BBQ almost looks like a prop, standing in a relatively vacant stretch of New Highway (parallel to and a block east of Route 110) in a largely industrial area. When you walk in the front door, you're greeted by a large display of wood, as is customary in many Manhattan barbecue joints. Two doors offer a choice of bar on the left, dining room on the right. The bar has a much more finished, lived-in look, with dim lighting, a long, well stocked bar, a few TV sets and an assortment of tables covered with red checkerboard tablecloths. The small dining room looks more like an unfinished project, with not many more tables than the bar and mostly barren walls. If you sit toward the back, you can see the J&R smoker through the kitchen doors.
Sparky's offers one kind of rib: babybacks. The menu is fairly compact, with a few prefabricated combos with choice of sides. This is the first barbecue joint I've ever seen where both collard greens and cole slaw are missing from the menu.
A friend and I hit Sparky's Texas BBQ on a busy Saturday night as the final leg of a Long Island BBQ crawl. We split a half rack of ribs and a barbecue sampler that had pulled pork, brisket, chicken, cornbread and two sides.
We passed on the appetizers. Wings arriving at a neighboring table looked pretty ho-hum.
As ordinary as those wings looked, the ribs we saw arriving to other diners looked very promising. What our half rack lacked in length of rib was easily offset by its girth, with the meat reaching a full three inches in height at its thickest point. The exterior had a shiny red glaze, similar to a Chinese or deli rib, and little to no rub. The smoke ring inside hinted more smoky flavor than was actually delivered, and the inner meat was fairly plain once you got past the sauce. Texture was harder to gauge: every bite was moist and came off cleanly, as in a perfect competition rib, though some areas were firm and some areas were borderline mushy.
The sampler combo included one slice of brisket, whose crispy exterior and thin layer of fat didn't translate to moist meat. The dryness was compounded by lack of flavor.
Pulled pork carried a faint glaze on the outside but was otherwise served with no sauce at all. I liked that the pork was pulled in very large chunks and that the meat came from several areas of the shoulder, each with a different texture. I didn't like that the meat was't naturally moist. Like the ribs, the best part of the meat was the exterior; everything below that outer 1/4" lacked flavor.
Chicken, usually a bit player on any barbecue combo, was the unexpected scene stealer here. The crisp boneless thighs had more rub, more spice and more flavor than the other meats combined.
Serving mini rolls with the combo platter was a nice touch, adding an interactive dimension to the meal for fans of the barbecue sandwich.
Each table has a squeeze bottle of a Kansas City style barbecue sauce. The flavor was typical, but I liked that it's thinned down a bit.
Sides were a mixed bag. Mac and cheese took on the form of shells, which is a great vehicle for the cheese if you like that thick orange Velveeta style (I don't). Fairly average beans were a glorified version of what you'd find in a can. The cornbread was the highlight of the meal and one of the bright lights of the entire day's crawl. It was fresh, moist and crumbly, with plenty of give on the first bite. Just sweet enough and no more, it had a nice kick from jalapeño that didn't try to overdo it. Whether you like your cornbread sweet or savory, you'll probably like this. I loved it.
The bottom line: There were more lowlights than highlights on this visit, though I saw a few signs that suggest it could be the other way around someday. For now, I'd rank Sparky's somewhere in the middle of the pack for Long Island BBQ joints.
Commentary from the BBQ Brethren on Sparky's Texas BBQ