225 Park Avenue South at 18th Street
New York, NY 10003
A recent trip to NYC for some business of BBQ required a lunch visit to Wildwood BBQ. Full disclosure: Wildwood’s pit master & partner Big Lou Elrose stopped in the Hut a couple of times over the summer & I consider him somewhat of a friend & definitely an inspiration. As the original pit master for Hill Country, Lou’s brisket is my benchmark for greatness. Part of the reason for the lunch trip was to repay the visits & discussions Lou & I had at the Hut over the summer.
That said – I approached this lunch with a bit of trepidation. Wildwood BBQ is a part of the BR Guest family of restaurants in NYC. I am not much of a fan of many of their spots & definitely not a fan of corporate Q. However – with Lou running the pits – I had hopes for this proving to be the exception to the rule.
Thankfully – my hopes turned out to be reality.
Hit WWBBQ at around 1PM after a quick stop for a snack & beer at Live Bait. Not sure I’m down with a revolving door as entrance to a Q joint, but this is NYC – land of a million building codes – so there is probably a good reason. Cherie & I – as is our usual practice – skipped the dining room & headed directly for the bar. Why? Basically – you get the chance to chat with the bartender while eating plus it puts you closer to the beer. First thing I noticed when walking in – the smell of smoke. ALWAYS a good sign – especially in NYC joints. Seriously – if you do not smell smoke in the dining room of a Q joint in NYC – I guarantee they are roasting that meat over gas or electric.
While we waited for Lou to arrive, we ordered up a couple of beers & perused the menu. I went with the Wildwood Organic Ale. Brewed by Peak Brewing in Maine – I am guessing it’s somewhere around the Peak Organic Nut Brown or Amber Ales. Ended up sticking with this throughout lunch as it worked perfectly with the spread we got. As we were looking for maximum sharing efficiency & menu coverage, I decided to go with The Three Pigs (pulled pork, grilled bacon & two spare ribs) while Cherie got 1/2 pound of brisket (moist of course) & a sausage link. For sides we went with Cheese Grits, Wildwood Baked Beans (with Burnt Ends & Bacon) & Sweet Potato Tots.
About the time we finished ordering, Big Lou arrived. A quick exchange of sauces followed – yeah we did that – & Lou asked whether we had gotten any starters. Honestly – we skipped them because we pretty much had a small ton of food coming. Ever the host – Lou popped into the kitchen & next thing we know we’ve got Spicy Shrimp “Diablo” (bacon & jalapeño wrapped shrimp) & Double Cut Bacon Trio (house cured bacon – fried & grilled – with Redeye & Voodoo sauces).
To say we had a bit of food would be an understatement.
Our small lunch shot with my cheap iPod Touch camera
Before dropping to a carnivore frenzy – we asked if we could get a tour of the kitchen. As someone running a pretty low budget joint, I found myself with a serious case of kitchen envy. Two beautiful Ole Hickory Pits cranking on full wood. Ribs & bacon in the one we peeked into – beautiful beautiful bacon. Sampled a bit of the Mac & Cheese and Chili. Gotta say – not bad but I do think we do both better at the Hut. Separate refrigerated room for prepping meat? Jealous! Two walk-ins? Green with envy! Prep areas for days? OK – I give up! Get me back out for the feast.
Seriously – my crap iPod camera does not do this justice
And feast we did.
I’ll start with the biggest surprise of the day: the sides kicked ass! Seriously – why do so many joints make such shitty sides? As someone with more than a few bowl of grits to his history – WWBBQ’s Cheese Grits are some of the best. That these have some how NOT been made to order amazes me. It takes a certain level of voodoo to be able to hold grits in a service line & not turn them into putty. Creamy cheesy decadent goodness – thank the grit gods Cherie is not a fan. ALL FOR ME, BABY!
The beans? Well – I still dig Cherie’s take at the Hut – three beans, peppers, onions, BBQ sauce, caramelized – but damn if the are not the 2nd best I’ve had. Thick rich sauce with amazing smokiness from the burnt ends & bacon (plus they get smoked as well). Let’s start the Lunch Bacon Tally here: 1.
Cherie is a notoriously anti-Tots person – so her choice of Sweet Potato Tots was – needless to say – confusing. Turned out to be quite brilliant. Perfect crispiness with a solid sweetness. The Mustard-Molasses Sauce was amazing & something I’ll be looking to rip off in the very near future. Knowing what I know about these – & frankly will not reveal here – makes them all that more amazing.
With sides out of the way – let’s get down to the meat of the issue – THE MEAT! Spread out before us we have multiple versions of pork, some shrimp & a bit of beef. Let’s break this down by meat category:
Shrimp: plain & simple – I RARELY order seafood unless sitting in a seaside seafood joint. The shrimp here was fine – as good as any appetizer shrimp – but overwhelmed by the treatment. The bacon & jalapeño were the stars here. Probably would have preferred a Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño & skipped the shrimp.
Bacon: By my count – there was five (YES FIVE) instances of bacon in this meal. Cherie claims there was possibly TOO much bacon in this meal – but acknowledges that is treason in the U.S. The Double Cut Bacon Trio & Three Pigs both featured the bacon winner of the meal: grilled bacon. Yeah – we’ve all FRIED our bacon – but dear god grill it & you’ll enter true bacon heaven. Leave it to Lou to do something like that in NYC. Loved the two sauces with bacon on the Trio as well. Never really thought about saucing bacon (or grilling it for that matter) but it REALLY does work.
Pork: While we’re in a swine state of mind – the pulled pork was – well – pulled pork. Really – I am not much of a fan of pulled pork, It’s pork – the other white meat – kinda dull – add a sauce or some dust & it’ll work but nothing I immediately go for. This was nice smoky & moist. Lou brought a bit of the house vinegar sauce (ask for it if you do not get it) & I added a bit of the shaker rub making this solid pork – seriously nothing special. (Yeah – I told him as much..) The ribs fared better. Moist with a moderate bark and a light smoke. Tender without being rib mush.
Sausage: this is house made & smoked sausage. A moist beef mix with a touch of heat & a wonderful crisp casing. The perfect bed lead in to…
Brisket: Yeah – this is what I came for. Lou is the man who rocked my brisket world – creating a moist brisket so amazing at Hill Country that I had to leave NYC lest my bank account would be drained. (OK – that’s an exaggeration – but his brisket does kick serious NYC ass.) We – of course – ordered moist. Lean brisket is for suckers. No disappointment here. As brilliant – if not better – than anything at Hill County. Juicy, smokey, barky perfection. It still continues to be my benchmark.
Oh yeah – there was also a great skillet of cornbread – though really who cares about bread in a Q joint. I did love the pieces of real corn in the bread & it was very moist & cakey. Even reheated well the next day.
We did a fair job at plowing through this feast. When all was said & done – a couple pieces of bacon, 1/4 sausage & a bit of corn bread was all we took with us. Ended up eating the bacon & sausage at Idle Hand later that night & having the corn bread next morning for breakfast.
Not much left…
The bottom line? I am quite impressed that BR Guest has given Big Lou free reign to do what he does best – make incredible Q. Great sides – mostly impressive meat – & still one of the best damn briskets in NY. I could have done with some music on the sound system instead of the baseball game – but really that’s just nitpicking. Glad to see Big Lou continuing to keep NYC Q on point. Planning a return visit as soon as possible.