Tuesday, 22 January 2013

New York Tales 2 - A bite of Billyburg - Dec 2012

Manhattan's officially over for me. A weekend in Williamsburg gave me chance to really explore another side of the city I love. I've crossed the East River to graze on a few occasions, most memorably for visits to Peter Luger, the steak lover's equivalent of a trip to the Vatican. This time however I was staying there. 

Slowly but surely, the hipsters have been forced out of the lower reaches of the borough and pushed up into Williamsburg and Greenpoint by the buggies and prices of outrageous gentrification and for the last few years the buzz outside the enclave has been growing about the strip dividing Brooklyn from Queens. With pop ups littering every unused shop front and bars in people's front rooms, It seemed like a good place to start. 

Metropolitan Avenue runs broadly above the L train, the true hipster express, and the line that takes you from Manhattan out to the sprawling Brooklyn suburbs. While it's only a handful of stops until you step out at Bedford or Grahame Ave, it's a world away in terms of style and surroundings. Low rise apartment buildings run all ways in strict grids, occasionally drunkenly bisected by thundering expressways. There's a clapperboard style used along the slight, narrow streets that covers those that don't expose their redbrick to the pale December sun. 

The photos on cult flat-sharing site Airbnb showed part of the story, shot from great angles, perfectly lit. Turning up and realising we were bunking down in the corner of a photographers studio explained why we'd see the best angles before we arrived. 

Still, we weren't here for the five star living arrangements, this is Brooklyn baby, and we were here for a slice of the atmosphere, a pint or two of Brooklyn Lager and most importantly to check out a tip off about the best BBQ in New York City. 

As I've said before, the joy of barhopping in strange cities is that you'll end up with recommendations that you won't find in any of the guide books. And more often than not, you'll be on track for a proper locals night out. Here amongst the hipsters, that means necking artisan craft brews in a speakeasy that resembles a Girl Guide hut before queueing outside (in December) for beef ribs, drinking whiskey out of jam jars like some sort of hillbilly. After that? Well it's got to be pickle backs in Mabels hasn't it? Pretentious, scenester-ish. Fantastic.

Thankfully the steam train of gentrification hasn't yet brought conformity (unless it's in the identikit denizens with their plaid shirts, rigger boots and artful woodsman beanie hats) and you'll struggle to find a Starbux, or a Maccy D's on these streets. Coffee came from San Fran export Bluebottle (also sold at Variety Coffee on Graham), beer was almost always Brooklyn or craft and post 'refreshment' tacos came from one of the multitude of street vans.

And the BBQ? Now that was something special...
Queuing down an anonymous chain link lined alley in December wouldn't usually be my thing, at all, but James the barman had been insistent. "Best. Damn. BBQ. In New York". Early doors on a Saturday, we waited over an hour, warmed by a retro hipster body warmer my travelling companion had half-inched from the rental flat, fortified by hard liquor served in jam jars. And it was worth it. 

A huge wall montage covered the cuts and joints of every animal (just for those who didn't know what they were getting into), a chalkboard next to the server gave you the lowdown on their goods, sold by weight. Creamy soft brisket crowded the metal serving tray, stacked next to charred beef ribs, blackened fat crackling under tooth, breaking like ice on a pond to reveal soft and toothsome deep red meat. The sweet and tender pork ribs, burnt end infused beans and soft white rolls to mop and sop were almost an afterthought, the broccoli (you can take my travelling companion out of California...) was a steamed irrelevance. A few more of those jam jars and we rolled, hiccuping gently, into the Brooklyn night. "Best. Damn. BBQ. In New York".

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  1. Am I missing something i.e. the name of the BBQ joint? I am a bit blind though to be honest.

    (My money is on Fette Sau, in any case.)

  2. @Lizzie - um, yes, it was... I'm obviously taking too much from the hipsters.. So cool I couldn't even mention the name. Unlabelled is so 2013!