Virgil’s

152 W 44th St. New York, NY 10036 • (212) 921-9494virgilsbbq.com

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Located smack dab in the epicenter of touristy hell, there exists a beacon of authenticity. That beacon is Virgil’s, shining bright through the fog of over-stimulation (a.k.a. Times Square) with pleasers like their killer pulled pork sandwich (pictured) piled high with pig parts so moist and delicious they probably don’t even need to top it with their coleslaw, but they do anyways, and I’m okay with that. The crunch of the cabbage against the tenderness of the meat- the cool refreshing milkiness of the slaw against the warm, slightly spiced pork- I’m more than okay with it. I’m in love with it.

But as good as their pulled pork sandwich is, the true headliner is their mac and cheese. Best in the city. Wifey and I honestly dream about it. Sure, we should probably be dreaming about each other, but let’s leave that for couple’s therapy. It’s got a nice hit of pepperiness, a perfect blend of basic, none-too-fancy cheeses like cheddar and American I’m assuming. All topped with an evangelical halo of crunchy, ever-so-slightly burnt cheese. Trust me, you want this bad.

I also dig their jalapeño cornbread. It’s cheesy, a little sweet, and of course spicy. Which reminds me, they also have a healthy selection of hot sauces worth trying if their barbecue sauce isn’t doing enough for you.

As for the ribs, brisket, chicken, etc… There are better to be had in the city. Daisy May’s is my numero uno when it comes to ribs, Hill Country and Blue Smoke for brisket- jury is still out on BBQ chicken. But getting back to Virgil’s, it’s still damn good. Especially when you take into account it’s location.

4 teeth

Live Bait

14 E 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 353-2400livebaitnyc.com

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Dressed to look like something born on the bayou, Live Bait is actually the originator of the Flatiron’s recent love affair with Southern cooking, marked by followers such as Blue Smoke, Hill Country, Maysville and Bo’s, all just steps away in a variety of directions. And that’s not even counting the failed attempts such as Gravy (RIP) and J. Gumbo’s (RIP).

That said, while Live Bait most certainly earns the rightful claim to first dibs, I much prefer all four of the previously mentioned. All have better food and better decor. But to be fair, Live Bait is also a bit of a breed all its own, because Bo’s and Maysville are both much nicer. And Hill Country and and Blue Smoke are clearly barbecue. So in truth, Live Bait actually manages to fill a culinary void in the hood, which is down and dirty Cajun. Emphasis on the word “dirty” because that’s kind of the theme here, from the rice to the vibe.

Service is somewhat friendly with a hit of New York bite and the bar is well appointed for benders well into the wee hours. In terms of food, depending on what you order and how tired and/or drunk you are, it can hit the spot quite nicely with a bevy of pleasers (most of them fried) like hush puppies, fried pickles, shrimp and grits, collards and catfish. They also have blackened things and even a pulled pork sandwich, but if you’re going that way I’d strongly urge that you check out Blue Smoke or Hill Country instead.

And while Live Bait definitely has its place, depending on your food mood, budget, or blood-alcohol level, there’s also nothing great about it other than the fact that they are nothing like the other Southern options nearby, kind of in a bad way. But for southern bar food-meets-fish-joint fare, it checks the box. Albeit a very hyper-specific, inebriated box.

2 teeth

Blue Smoke

116 E 27th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 447-7733 • bluesmoke.com/blue
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Having grown up in the psuedo-South (Flordia), I know that BBQ is a subject not to be taken lightly. So, in all seriousness, while Blue Smoke is great at some things they are so-so at many others. Basically what you might expect from a St. Louis boy like Danny Meyer. who seems to have never spent more time training in Italy and France than he has below the Mason-Dixon Line.

To help you navigate though the hits and misses, here are my thoughts:

The shrimp po’ boy is a solid good. Has some really nice kick to it and actually manages to best the pulled pork shoulder, which should easily be tops, but tends to be on the arid side, begging for sauce, which is always a cop out in the land of BBQ. Sure, the sauce needs to be great, but it shouldn’t be a moisture crutch.

Back on the plus side, the brisket is pretty damn skippy. I know a lot of people swear by Hill Country, which is also very good, but if you ask for the more marbled meat, you’re in for a fatty face filthin’ feast.

Another HUGE hit, which they sadly removed form the menu, are the sweet potato fries. Served in gigantic wedges the size of canoes and drizzled with a creme fraiche/sour cream that’s worth barging into the kitchen and demanding they whip you up a batch.

And last but not least, some clarity on pricing. Don’t listen to the Yelping consensus who seem to complain an awful lot about how expensive it is, but then categorize it as only $$. Make up your mind. This is why I left Yelp. Too many people with opinions that don’t agree with mine 🙂 Anyways, it’s no more expensive than you’d expect in the Flatiron. So, if you’re craving BBQ and this is closer than Hill Country, I say game on.

3 teeth