Every year, thousands of New Yorkers and tourists turn out for the Big Apple BBQ Festival in Madison Square Park. The outdoor event is a lively scene with some great barbecue from around the country... but it also has the potential to be annoyingly crowded, incredibly overpriced (if you spring for more than one plate or the fast pass), and, depending on the weather, a sopping, uncomfortable mess.
But when that smell of BBQ sauce hits your nostrils, lets face it, you're going to be in the mood for some smoky slathered meat. Should you pay $125 for the "Fast Pass" and wonder how in the hell comfort food could be so expensive? Or wait in line for half an hour or more for a small $8 plate of food you'll have to consume while standing awkwardly against a building or sitting uncomfortably on a bale of hay? Luckily, there are some nearby alternatives to get your BBQ fix and fixin's...
1. R.U.B., Righteous Urban Barbeque (208 W. 23rd St.) is, in my opinion, the best deal and best barbecue in the Madison Square area. They slow smoke their meat for up to 17 hours, and boast that the restaurant doesn't own a microwave. The brisket is my personal favorite, and I recommend getting a meat platter, which comes with two sides (the cole slaw, onion strings, corn bread, and baked beans are standouts). Get the burnt ends, which always sell out fast. A one meat platter will run you $15.50, but you'll get more food, be in an air conditioned space free from the crowds, and have a view of several TVs to watch the ballgame.
2. Hill Country (30 W. 26th St.) is a Texas-style barbecue market with New York prices, but the lunch specials are under $12 and include a side. The "moist" brisket is a winner. Sunday night they offer a "feed yer family" special from 4PM-10PM that includes a 1/4lb lean brisket, one pork spare rib, one beef rib, a quarter chicken, two sides, plus dessert for $20.
3. Blue Smoke (116 E. 27th St.) is where the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party began, and you can find their crew dishing out Texas Salt & Pepper beef ribs at Madison Square Park. While my friends weren't too impressed, New York Magazine calls it "an ingenious Manhattan BBQ joint." Sandwiches start at $11.50, the rib sampler for two will set you back a hefty $19 dollars each. And that doesn't include sides.
4. Wildwood Barbeque (225 Park Ave South) is notorious for slow service, but the Stephen Hanson restaurant serves up great Texas-smoked brisket and a lot of whiskey options. Personally, my favorite item is the sweet pickles. The Pit Sampler--Kansas City Baby Backs, Spare Ribs, Sliced Brisket, Pulled Pork, Smoked Sausage, Smoked Chicken, Cornbread, Coleslaw and 2 sides will serve 4 for $20 a head.
5. Dinosaur BBQ (700 W. 125th St.) If you're up for a subway ride, NYC's best barbecue is only 25 minutes away from Madison Square Park. Walk five minutes to 23rd. St. and 7th Ave., and take the 1 all the way to 125th street. Splitting a Traditional Sampler (1/4 Chicken(leg + thigh), 1/4 Rack of ribs & sliced Texas Beef Brisket) will only run two people $9.25 each, or for 4 bucks more, you can up the sampler to a 1/2 chicken, 1/2 rack. There's also the sweetheart deal for two, $15 each, which will get you a full rack of ribs + 4 sides. Or you could get a small, flimsy paper plate of Dino at the Big Apple BBQ. Your choice.
6. Brother Jimmy's (181 Lexington Ave.) I didn't want to put this here, because Brother Jimmy's is really more of a frat house than a BBQ joint, but the food is good and well priced, and if you arrive at the right hour, you'll actually be able to eat your meal without someone yelling "NO WAY!! HE DID NOT! NO HE DIDN'T!!! WHO WANTS TO BUY ME A BREWSKIE?" None of the sandwiches will run you more than 11 dollars, including a side and pickles. And if you do want to get blitzed with Chi Alpha Beta Zeta, there's always Swamp Water, alcohol and juice in a 64 oz. fish bowl. Ask for extra straws.
Other Big Apple BBQ Alternatives:
7. Manzo/Eataly (200 5th Avenue) At the southwest corner of Madison Square Park, you'll find Eataly, chef Mario Batali's behemoth Italian food superstore. Inside, you'll find 12 different mini restaurants, including Manzo, a carnivore's dream. The menu's not cheap, it is a Batali restaurant after all, but isn't a slow roasted beef rib with tarragon and spin rosso polenta worth $21 bucks more?
8. No. 7 Sub (1188 Broadway) is not a barbecue joint, it's a sandwich shop... but its unique offerings can sometimes hew towards the smoky side of the palate. Sandwich offerings change throughout the year-- the roast beef and the Montreal-style "smoked meat" sandwich were my favorites. (last I checked, Meat options included Roast Pork with cheddar, Melon, Chinese Mustard, and Shishito Peppers; and braised short ribs with Daikon Salad, Coconut Mayo. They also offer homemade sodas.
10. Soul Fixin's (371 W. 28th St.) (Closed Sunday), is not a barbecue restaurant as much as its a Soul Food restaurant, but those two things often go hand in hand. The tiny hole-in-the-wall is easy to pass by, and there's only a few tables, but inside you can get some terrific meatloaf glazed with barbecue sauce, candied sweet potatoes, fried chicken and sweet tea.