The Waterfront Ale House on Manhattan's Second Avenue is a joint that looks like it's been around awhile. At first glance, it looks like your typical old time bar—which is what it is, with a small dining area in the back—but a closer look at the menu reveals that the food is at least a step or two up from the typical. Blackboard menu specials alone include included a buffalo burger with cumin coriander ketchup, duck foie gras sausage with mango pineapple relish, grilled lamb rack with tamarind glaze and grilled swordfish with leek and saffron stew.
It’s not a BBQ joint, but Waterfront Ale House does have its own BBQ team, Fuhgeddaboutit BBQ. And the menu does have spare ribs by the rack or half rack, a pulled pig sandwich and a “Texas Dip” sandwich—a BBQ/brisket riff on the French Dip sandwich they also serve. There’s a half pound burger, a portabello burger, a few different salads and soups, plenty of unusual appetizers and an interesting German wurst platter.
During a lunchtime visit, I tried the pulled pig sandwich (they earn extra bonus points for calling it pig rather than pork). It was surprisingly good, with a high quality bun, good contrast between the crisp, chewy bark and the more tender interior meat, a faint pink smoke ring and lightly applied sauce perfectly straddling the worlds of the sweet and the vinegary. It was served with a bowl of creamy mustard slaw, a delicious mix that was neither too creamy nor too mustardy. Caraway seeds gave it an extra kick. I’m a cole slaw guy, and I liked this one a lot.
There weren’t any barbecue sauces on the table, but the sandwich didn’t need it. I saw a nice array of hot sauces and mustards though, and Waterfront makes its own ketchup (more bonus points).
You can choose between two kinds of chili here: the Texas beef and pork or the venison and black bean. The bowl of the Texas version I ordered to go had just the right amount of spice and (here's that phrase again) good textural contrast between the silky pork and the chewy beef brisket.
My server was very friendly and informative. She offered a bowl of their freshly popped popcorn made with a Cajun spices (more bonus points).
Waterfront Ale House also has an outpost in Brooklyn. I was amazed at how easy it was to get a metered parking spot within a block of their Manhattan location.
The bottom line: I think of Waterfront Ale House as more of a bar than a barbecue joint, but they treat food seriously here and everything I tried was very good. Barbecue joint or not, these guys know how to put flavors together. I'm looking forward to trying their ribs, and I have a sneaking feeling the burger is very good too. Stay tuned.