NOTE: This is an older review, kept on the site for historical purposes only. For my most recent review of Virgil's, click here.
Because it's in Times Square, and has been around since long before the recent New York City barbecue renaissance, you'd expect Virgil's to be a tourist trap. When I stayed at the Millennium Hotel right across the street a few years ago, that's what I thought, so I never bothered trying them out until now. The first floor is divided into a bar area (with 2 TVs) and a dining area, the rear of which has a partial view of the kitchen activity. There's another dinng room upstairs; all three areas were pretty full around 1:00 PM.
I liked the fact that the placemat featured a map of the southern USA, with several BBQ joints identified as being great for pork, beef or both. Similarly, there were framed menus of famous barbecue restaurants and posters of barbecue events. The menu looked more interesting than I expected, with trash ribs, trainwreck fries, chicken fried steak and catfish in addition to the usual items.
My silverware was wrapped in a thick towel, making me expect that the ribs I was about to eat would be drowning in sauce. I was pleasantly surprised to greet unsauced ribs that had a good amount of rub and bark. These were fairly juicy and nearly perfectly seasoned, possibly a tad too salty. And a tad rubbery too, but good ribs overall. Pulled pork was mashed as if attacked by a meat tenderizer after cooking. It was OK, but definitely over chopped and a little over flavored, as I tasted more seasoning than pork.
The table sauces (one mild, one hot) were decent.
The collard greens were perfectly cooked: nice dark leaves in big pieces, with pork and a good flavor. Cole slaw was excellent, sort of a more-home-made tasting version of KFC's, with more salt and vinegar. A mini cornbread muffin had chives.
Service was excellent; my server checked back a few times and also investigated the green ingredient in the cornbread for me. At the completion of the meal I got a hot towel, a nice touch.
Follow-up: I popped in for a pulled pork sandwich ($10.25) to go in early 2007, and found it much better than the pulled pork from my first visit. The sandwich was piled high with lightly sauced meat inside a very fresh, high quality sesame seed bun. The tangy mustard cole slaw inside the sandwich worked really well with the spicy meat. The pork was lightly sauced, fairly chunky this time, loaded with bark and had enough fat to keep the sandwich moist but not so much that it got in the way. I dipped a few of the larger chunks of meat into some of Virgil's spicy barbecue sauce, and it was very tasty. The excellent potato salad had skins on and plenty of seasoning; cole slaw was again reminiscent of the Colonel.
The bottom line: there were highlights and lowlights; overall, I had two good meals here. This isn't life altering barbecue by any means, but the pulled pork sandwich was excellent and the ribs were very good (with the potential for greatness at night). The sides, service and value both times were all very good to excellent. With a little time to invest, I'd walk a few blocks west or south for better barbecue, but the next time I'm at the Millennium, I know where I'm getting my midnight snack.