BBQ Snob Takes Manhattan: Fatty ’Cue
The third installment from Daniel Vaughn, who visited Fatty 'Cue, the restaurant that serves up a style of barbecue unique to the Big Apple.
Memphis ribs, Carolina pulled pork, Texas brisket–all of these are common menu items all over New York City. Zak Pelaccio was looking to get rid of all those regional qualifiers when he opened Fatty Cue in Brooklyn 2010. His goal was a style of barbecue original to New York with the help of Asian spices and fermented fish. To his point, a few months ago he told the Washington Post‘s Jim Shahin, “Kreuz’s or Smitty’s or City Market, it’s incredible … you order all this stuff. There’s a monotony to it at some point. It’s delicious, but there’s no distinction between the meats. Wouldn’t it be exciting if it went off in this direction and that direction?”
I might argue that these Central Texas temples of smoked meat are anything but monotonous, but looking over the menu while I sat at the newer Manhattan Fatty ‘Cue’s bar there was certainly a heavy variation in the directions it took.
I assured the bartender that I’d be ordering plenty of food, but could they possibly make some of the larger dishes as half entrees? No? Okay.
Duck laab was up first. I don’t think there was anything smoked in the ingredients, but when the server’s description included “then they take the fatty duck and grind it with foie gras” there wasn’t much question where I’d be starting. The presentation was what you might expect of Pei Wei chicken and lettuce wraps. I had to take just one big scoop from the bowl of steamy duck and I knew I was a few steps beyond fast-casual. The juicy meat along with the sweet heat made it hard to put down, but I had more to order.
Next stop? Pork ribs. This signature dish as described on the menu was seasoned with fish sauce, palm sugar and Indonesian long pepper. Three thick spare ribs came on a plate with a pool of the thin sweet sauce. The heavy palm sugar syrup was in need of some heat to cut through it, but the meat had a decent bark and was the correct level of tenderness. That said, it was hard to get beyond the one-note sweetness.
At $26, I knew the brisket plate would be large. The bartender even warned me before placing the order, but I was determined. A mixed presentation of slices from both the lean and fatty ends of the brisket were stacked neatly between a morsel of cheese and some grilled onions and peppers. The lean brisket was taut without being tough and was plenty moist. The smoke was pleasant and the line of fat cap that remained on the slice was tender. Thicker fatty slices showed the patience of the kitchen staff. The fat was rendered nicely in the heavily marbled slices, and the smoky flavors were deep from the nice black crust. The purist in me had to try them on their own, but I soon opened a warm roll and piled it with meat, cheese and the veggies. A punch from the shiso (Japanese basil) mixed in with the veggies puzzled my senses for a bit, but the combination of flavors was beyond successful.
As my plate was cleared, with confidence I said “now, the half pound of deep fried bacon.” The bartender was done questioning me and just brought an order out. Thick slices of smoky pork belly were stacked neatly on a serving board with a side of salsa verde anchoring one end. The rub here was more subtle than the beef, but the elements of smoke, spice, salt and sweet all danced with those contrasting textures of crispy pork on the edges and soft, supple fat on the interior. A couple next to me ogled the plate and I quickly passed a few slices their way. After three previous entrees, I was in no need for the full half pound of pork and fat, but even at this point I could have eaten every last bite. In the city that never sleeps, I had no choice but to sleep well on this evening.