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Barbecue is the new deli, and . . .


Fat Guy
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Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld, writing in New York Magazine recently made the following, I think astute, observation:

If it’s true, as the deli doomsayers insist, that New York’s archetypical cuisine is on the wane, what will fill the high-fat, high-cholesterol void?

If you’ve been out to eat lately, the answer is obvious. New York is in the midst of an unprecedented and seemingly unstoppable barbecue boom, with three terrific new joints opening over the past year alone. And there are enough striking similarities between the two foodways for us to christen Barbecue the New Deli. Consider the brisket—just one of the many toothsome bridges between the two cuisines, and a food that evokes nostalgia in transplanted Texans and high-holiday Jews alike.

I read that piece just when I had been thinking about a similar evolution on the Asian cuisine front. It seems to me (maybe someone else figured this out already, but to me it was an original observation) that these mega-Asian places like Spice Market, Buddakan and Tao are the modern-day incarnations of the Polynesian-themed restaurants of old like Trader Vic's and Hawaii Kai.

A place like Buddakan is not, of course, anywhere near as kitschy as the Polynesian places were. Then again, in their heyday, I'm not sure the Polynesian places were considered kitschy by their contemporaries. It may very well be that their decor was the equivalent, of that day, of the giant Buddha statue at Buddakan. In any event, it seems to me that these latter-day restaurants, albeit different in many ways from their Polynesian predecessors, play much the same role in the city's restaurant scene. They're part restaurant, part nightclub, see-and-be-seen, high-energy, sprawling, high-concept, heavily produced, unabashedly fun places.

Specific cuisines go in and out of style, but perhaps there are archetypes that will always endure. For example, you don't see a lot of German restaurants in New York anymore. I wonder what has replaced them.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld, writing in New York Magazine recently made the following, I think astute, observation:
If it’s true, as the deli doomsayers insist, that New York’s archetypical cuisine is on the wane, what will fill the high-fat, high-cholesterol void?

If you’ve been out to eat lately, the answer is obvious. New York is in the midst of an unprecedented and seemingly unstoppable barbecue boom, with three terrific new joints opening over the past year alone. And there are enough striking similarities between the two foodways for us to christen Barbecue the New Deli. Consider the brisket—just one of the many toothsome bridges between the two cuisines, and a food that evokes nostalgia in transplanted Texans and high-holiday Jews alike.

Well, while it's true that there certainly has been a barbecue "boom" in NY recently, "unprecedented" and "unstoppable" seem mere hyperbole to me. Does anyone really think the "boom" in barbecue will ever even approach the heights that deli reached when it was at its peak? Take a look at what what really was a "boom!"

From Serious Eats and a panel discussion at the Museum of the City of New York entitled "Jewish Cuisine and the Evolution of the Jewish Deli."

In 1936, the WPA Survey estimated that there were 5,000 delis and 36 appetizing stores in New York City. Today, there are only a handful of each left. The audience at the discussion sighed collectively over the mentions of days-gone-by "Knish Alley" institutions like the Garden Cafeteria and Ratner’s, but the mood was lifted considerably when Lebewohl revealed that the 2nd Avenue Deli would reopen soon on 33rd Street between Lexington and Third avenues—and when Federman announced that Russ & Daughters would be providing refreshments after the discussion concluded.

5,000 delis...now that was a boom!!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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We'd have to pick apart that 5,000 number a bit in order to understand if it means very much. (I'd like to see the original, the methodology, the definitions.) For example, if you use an inclusive definition, there are surely still several thousand delis in New York. There are three within a block of my house. They're just not Jewish delis along the lines of Katz's -- all three near me are Korean-owned. But then, how many of those 5,000 delis of old were comparable to Katz's or even Jewish (did the WPA count German, Swiss, Italian)? How many made their own pastrami? How many had serious merit? In terms of barbecue places, when we talk about the major openings of interest to foodie types we're only talking about the apex of the pyramid. I can't imagine denying that there has been a boom in this regard -- a number of major openings a year, year after year, for the past five years, says something to me. There are also hundreds of places that serve something they call barbecue, not to mention hundreds more that have barbecue items on their menus. Today's restaurant economy is such that specialization isn't the right way to measure something. You can go to some small cities and they'll have three sushi places, but then you look at the Chinese restaurants, Southeast Asian restaurants and the supermarkets and all of a sudden you find ten times that many places where you can get sushi in that city. So you have to judge both barbecue and deli by how they're penetrating the non-specialty menus. And, I think if you count places like Zabar's and Fairway as appetizing shops there are still a whole mess of appetizing shops in NYC.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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We'd have to pick apart that 5,000 number a bit in order to understand if it means very much. (I'd like to see the original, the methodology, the definitions.) For example, if you use an inclusive definition, there are surely still several thousand delis in New York. There are three within a block of my house. They're just not Jewish delis along the lines of Katz's -- all three near me are Korean-owned. But then, how many of those 5,000 delis of old were comparable to Katz's or even Jewish (did the WPA count German, Swiss, Italian)? How many made their own pastrami? How many had serious merit? In terms of barbecue places, when we talk about the major openings of interest to foodie types we're only talking about the apex of the pyramid. I can't imagine denying that there has been a boom in this regard -- a number of major openings a year, year after year, for the past five years, says something to me. There are also hundreds of places that serve something they call barbecue, not to mention hundreds more that have barbecue items on their menus. Today's restaurant economy is such that specialization isn't the right way to measure something. You can go to some small cities and they'll have three sushi places, but then you look at the Chinese restaurants, Southeast Asian restaurants and the supermarkets and all of a sudden you find ten times that many places where you can get sushi in that city. So you have to judge both barbecue and deli by how they're penetrating the non-specialty menus. And, I think if you count places like Zabar's and Fairway as appetizing shops there are still a whole mess of appetizing shops in NYC.

Let's pick apart the number and let's say that 99% of that number is wrong. That leaves 50 "real" delis at the peak (for argument's sake, let's also say "real" means kosher places that cured their own meats) of "deli-dom." I think we'd be hard pressed to come up with even half that number of "real" barbecue (for argument's sake, places that use wood smokers, and only wood smokers, to cook their meats) places in NYC.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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In 2005 I tried to assemble a list of all the places in New York City that are relatively serious about barbecue. Not 100% of them use wood smokers. I'm not sure even in a place like Memphis that you'd be able to get agreement on exclusively-wood-smoke as a definition. Most places even in barbecue country are using a combination of gas and wood. When you add the places that have opened in the past couple of years to this list -- Rack & Soul, Fette Sau, Hill Country, Smoke Joint, etc. -- I think you might break 25. But I also think we're talking about a trend -- you can see from the way the list below is sorted that we're talking about a rising curve. My guess is that we'll see new openings for at least a few more years. Then again it's hard to know for sure.

New York City Barbecue, 1980s – Present

The following list was prepared by members of the not-for-profit eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters (eGullet.org). The list is a work in progress; please e-mail corrections and additions to nycbbq@eGullet.org. The latest version of the list can be found online at eGullet.org/nycbbq.

1980s

Tennessee Mountain

143 Spring St.

212.431.3993

www.tnmountain.com

Opened: 1982

Owner: Alan Fleischman

Specialty: Beef and pork ribs, five styles

Pearson's Texas BBQ (formerly Stick to Your Ribs)

170 East 81st St.

212.288.2700

Owners: Robert Pearson and Ken Aretsky

Opened: Robert Pearson opened the original Stick to Your Ribs in Stratford, Connecticut, in 1983. He opened in Long Island City, Queens, in 1988, and later changed the name to Pearson's Texas BBQ. He sold his interest in the restaurant in 1998 and consulted for barbecue restaurants across the country. In 2003 he opened Pearson's Texas BBQ on East 81st Street in Manhattan.

Specialties: Pork ribs, brisket

Brother Jimmy's

1485 Second Ave.

212.288.0999

(Also at 1644 Third Ave. and 428 Amsterdam Ave.)

www.brotherjimmys.com

Owners: Josh Lebowitz and partners

Opened: 1988 (original location at 1572 First Ave.)

Specialties: Pork ribs, three styles in all

Waterfront Ale House

155 Atlantic Ave. (Brooklyn)

718.522.3794

(Also at 540 Second Avenue)

Owner: Sam Barbieri

Opened: 1989

Specialty: Pork ribs

www.waterfrontalehouse.com

1990s

Virgil's Real BBQ

152 W. 44th St.

212.921.9494

www.virgilsbbq.com

Opened: 1997

Owners: Founded by the late Artie Cutler and partners

Specialties: Pork ribs, pulled pork

2000-Present

Bar BQ

689 Sixth Ave. (Brooklyn)

718.499.4872

Opened: 2005

Owner: Frank Turnitza

Specialties: Pulled  pork, sausage

Biscuit

367 Flatbush Ave. (Brooklyn)

718.398.2227

Owner: Josh Cohen

Opened: 2002

Specialties: Pulled pork

Blue Smoke

116 E. 27th St.

212.447.7733

www.bluesmoke.com

Opened: 2002

Owner: Danny Meyer/Union Square Hospitality Group

Chef: Kenny Callaghan

Specialties: St. Louis, Memphis, and Kansas City Ribs; Texas-Style Brisket; bourbon

Bone Lick Park

75 Greenwich Ave.

212.647.9600

Opened: 2005

Owner: Nick Accardi

Specialties: Beef and pork ribs

Bubby's

120 Hudson St.

212.219.0666

(Also 1 Main St., Brooklyn)

www.bubbys.com

Opened: 2002 (restaurant opened 1990; barbecue added in 2002)

Owner: Ron Silver

Specialties: “Frog Parker Pulled Pork,” St. Louis ribs

Daisy May's BBQ USA

623 Eleventh Ave.

212.977.1500

www.daisymaysbbq.com

Opened: 2003

Owners: Chef Adam Perry Lang and Richard Gans

Specialties: Pork and beef ribs, brisket

Dinosaur BBQ

646 W. 131st St.

212.694.1777

www.dinosaurbarbque.com

Opened: 2004

Owner: John Stage

Specialties: Pork ribs, brisket

Earl's

560 Third Ave.

212.949.5400

(Also Duke's, 99 E. 19th St.)

www.earlsnyc.com

Owner: Michael Schatzberg

Opened: 2004

Specialties: Pulled pork, chopped brisket

Mara's Homemade

342 E. 6th St.

212.598.1110

www.marashomemade.com

Opened: 2004

Owner: Mara and David Levi

Specialties: Pork ribs, brisket, pulled pork

Pig'n Out

60 Henry St. (Brooklyn)

718.522.5547

Opened: 2005

The Ranger Texas Barbecue

Legends Sports Bar

7104 35th Ave. (Jackson Heights, Queens)

718.779.6948

Opened: 2005

Owner: Canobio Canalizo (formerly operated by Robert Pearson and Ellen Goldberg)

Specialties: Pork and beef ribs, pulled pork sandwich on Portuguese roll

R.U.B. (Righteous Urban Barbecue)

208 W. 23rd St.

212.524.4300

Opened: 2005

Owner: Paul Kirk

Specialties: Brisket, burnt ends, pastrami, duck

Smoked

103 Second Ave.

212.388.0388

www.smokednyc.com

Opened: 2005

Owner: Keith Bullock (Tennessee Titans Linebacker)

Chef: Kenneth Collins (of Ida Mae's)

Specialties: Brisket, duck confit

Spanky's BBQ

127 W. 43rd St.

212.575.5848

www.spankysnyc.com

Opened: 2005

Owner: Heartland Brewery

Specialties: St. Louis ribs, pulled pork sandwich

Texas Smokehouse BBQ

438 Second Ave

212.725.9800

Opened 2004

Addresses are in Manhattan unless otherwise specified

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Without citing statistics and stuff, it seems to me, Mr. Shaw, that you are absolutely right. Looking at the second half of your topic-starter, we spoke in the puu-puu platter thread clicky here... about how that Polynesian restaurant standby gave people a little taste of a lot of things, a sense of the exotic (fire at the table! dipping sauces! :smile: ), and an entry/entree to a cuisine from a perceived as far away and exotic place.

Buddakan is the new Trader Vic's because, even though we're more experienced and less naive now, and we've had wider experiene with food, it retains the showmanship, the flash, and the sense of having a Night Out Somewhere Far Away.

I'm not comparing Buddakan to EPCOT, and none of the EPCOT restaurants are great, I don't think, yet they are all little microcosms of the places they ostensibly represent.

If some of the chain places like Cheesecake Factory, Olive Garden, TGIF's, &c. got a bit more serious about their food, and had decor that reflected a locale or theme, they would also be getting close to what Trader Vic's was... It's a contradiction, but what these places sell is a 'unique experience for the masses'...

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the ocean."

--Isak Dinesen

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I would say supply and demand, and population trends, beget the culinary trend, not the other way around...

While authentic Jewish delis have all but disappeared, you can get them in many town in the suburbs that you never could before; the Jews all fled to the suburbs.

As New York City has become safer, cleaner, more gentrified, and in general a more attractive place to reside and go to school, start a career, move your company, etc. so goes the influx of non-NYers.

In general, i have seen ton more imports from BBQ havens like the Carolinas, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, etc. in the past 10 years, than in the 10 years before that. And of course, as they come into the city, they're convince all us yankees that we need proper cue, especially in the summer. I credit that for a big part of the trend - a lot of cue-lovers I know are simply craving a taste of home, and are very vocal about it, blog about it, etc.

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the food tastes of the general populace are more diverse now than ever before. I think it follows that it will be hard for a single cuisine to have a massive market share...rather...you have many more discrete cuisines available in the past.

in other words, what replaced delis was BBQ + ______ + _______ + _______

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the food tastes of the general populace are more diverse now than ever before. 

Maybe, but New Yorkers are not the general population. There has been a diverse culinary scene here for a hundred years. While there has been continued immigration, I'm not really sure whether the city today is more or less ethnic than it was in the 1890s or 1970s. The descendants of immigrants sometimes have less diverse palates than their ancestors. Perhaps the influx of Americans from the rest of America has in some ways made the city less diverse as well. And some of the trends of modernity, like chain restaurants, which are gaining strength in the city, may indicate a homogenization of the local palate.

I think it follows that it will be hard for a single cuisine to have a massive market share...

Market share, maybe, but the population is much larger than it used to be so the market can accommodate more restaurants.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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