Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Father’s Day is a pretty easy holiday for most sons, pick a place that is fatty, greasy, has a flat screen and you’re good to go. Unfortunately, some of us have an aversion to dining in restaurants where our shoes stick to the floor. Luckily this Father’s Day, I had a divine apparition and came up with the perfect place to keep both of us smiling. Blue Smoke is a self-proclaimed “urban barbecue.” It’s the kind of place that is sure to have visiting Texans scoffing at its highfalutin attitude – with hoity toity things like micro brewed beers, infused salts, and napkins – while the promise of authentic regional barbecue has New York crowds cringe at the thought of getting their fingers sticky.
While Blue Smoke has guests skeptical from every angle, this metrocue somehow manages to pull off a successful brand. I think the first reason why Blue Smoke works is a subtle distinction; it is trendy because it’s authentic. Too many New York restaurants end up feeling like an over-polished Disney caricature of a region or cuisine (think Havana Central or anything on Mulberry Street). Blue Smoke’s food is clean, simple and easy to understand – like any good brand.
After arriving early for our reservation, my parents and I were shocked to find that the restaurant was running a 45 minute wait at 6 p.m. on a Saturday. Luckily, they were able to squeeze us in and we sat right away. I kicked things off with an old fashion Old Fashioned (Maker’s Mark Bourbon, bitters, sugar, muddled cherry and orange), definitely a drink that’ll put hair on your chest – which I will later have waxed off. My dad opted for the aforementioned microbrew, Blue Smoke Original Ale, which was a really nice amber ale that could hold its own against the other beers on the menu.
A few minutes after our drinks arrived, we got a few starters (no chichi hors d'oeuvres here) that came highly recommended. Warm barbecued potato chips with blue cheese dip were surprisingly reminiscent of the Lays classic, but the high octane version. The chips were fresh, light and crispy. Alone they were pleasant, but the over-the-top blue cheese dip with chunks of bacon, made the dish really stand out. Our other app was the winner of the night for me. We had chipotle chicken wings with blue cheese dip. The wings were a tangy crossbreed of buffalo wings and barbecue wings. This blue cheese dipping sauce was different, considerably lighter and almost like a ranch dressing.
In preparation for our main course, I ordered another classic cocktail. The Sazerac (Old Overholt Rye, Pernod and Peychaud’s Bitters) was sweeter and considerably easier to sip. Then, in the name of research, the waiter looked at me and said something I never thought I’d hear a man say to me, “Sir, here is your rib sampler.” Two Memphis Baby Backs, two Kansas City Spareribs and one Texas Beef Rib slowly descended on to the table as I made a feeble attempt to save face and said, “Oh, there must have been some mistake. I ordered the salmon, but don’t bother taking them back now.” My dad’s Sliced Texas Beef Brisket came in the same generous portion, but without the side of guilt.
On the whole, my ribs were a bit of a disappointment. They came room temperature and could have used more sauce; however, the salt and pepper crusted beef rib itself was outstanding. It was rich and flavorful without being overpowered by its crust. In any subsequent stops to Blue Smoke, I’d simply get a half rack of these gigantic ribs and avoid the others. My dad’s brisket was simple and delicious. Both my mom’s order of ribs and my own came unaccompanied, so we also ordered a few sides for the table. The macaroni and cheese was decadent and a too heavy to finish and the cornbread was a bit dry and a bit bland.
Blue Smoke certainly had some misses, but the successes were so good, I’d go back as an “educated diner” and just order strategically. I give the restaurant credit for its unpretentious attitude and superior service. If you’re a fabulous fashionista that is a closet spit-roasted, flame-broiled, slow-smoked junkie then don your fake mustache and outrageous alias (Anastasia Beaverhausen?) and head into Blue Smoke.
116 East 27th Street
Between Park and Lex
(212) 576 – 2232