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Native New Yorkers might not get it at first. Think of it as another kind of ethnic food — something that New Yorkers, especially Queensites, do get. Ethnic foods are those that evolved in the kitchens and backyards of ordinary people rather than in restaurants, culinary schools or palaces. To be really authentic, they should be enjoyed in the manner of the cultures from which they evolved, as in using chopsticks when eating Chinese food.
John Brown Smokehouse gets that. No steenking plates for them. Meats are slapped onto pieces of paper on trays with the flimsiest of plastic forks and knives to aid in consumption. No weakling artisanal rolls here — only air bread (Wonder-type supermarket bread). No table service either. You get your tray and hope to snag one of a few tables inside, or — weather permitting — out front.
John Brown Smokehouse could credibly pass for a barbecue shack in the outskirts of Kansas City with the style of barbecue they emulate, or with a change of sauce, it could pass for Texas or the South. They’ve got it all down. The term “barbecue” as “cue” lovers know, does not refer to grilling on top of coals. It refers to slow smoking, and that’s how it’s done here.
The meat-centric menu includes beef, pork, chicken, lamb sausages and ribs by the platter, slab, pound or in a sandwich. To go with the meat, you can choose from slaw, beans, mac ‘n cheese, greens or fries — all house-made except for the fries. There are a few meat-topped salads which the menu states “can be made meatless upon request.” Oh please. The only approximation of a separate course is a list of seductively caloric desserts.
In the true Kansas City manner, all meats are made more or less the same way — dry-rubbed and slow-smoked — waiting to be slathered with sauce. The sauce is tomato and molasses based, slightly sweet and not particularly spicy. (If this was Texas, the heat of the spice would be a challenge to your manhood). Your meat choices should be a matter of personal preference — there are no particular standouts or losers here. Burnt ends are a Kansas City favorite, made from the thin tip of beef brisket and relying on caramelized fat for flavor. They can be ordered chopped up as a platter or in a sandwich.
Pork belly is another K.C. specialty offered here. Thick narrow slices of pork are edged with a layer of fat that you can cut away if you are finicky, and still enjoy ample lean meat. If you go for the P.B.L.T., though, it’s a mighty tasty sandwich, but a challenge if you want to avoid the fat. The ribs were lean and meaty with the proper resistance (as opposed to falling off) from the bone. The brisket was also properly elastic without falling apart.
If we had any criticism of the meats, it was that they were all on the dry side and we would have preferred a little more juice. Perhaps, since the slathering on of sauce is obligatory in Kansas City, the juiciness of the meat matters less. Or maybe it’s a matter of timing and meat sitting around being kept warm.
The mac ‘n’ cheese takes you back, if not to your barbecue roots, at least to your childhood with its homey lushness. The slaw is of the mayo-less variety, finely shredded and sweet and vinegary. K.C.-style beans include burnt ends to give them their unique flavor. The fries, while employing pre-cut mass produced potatoes, are freshly fried, with the right balance of crisp exterior and plump interior. They would do any classic diner proud.
The desserts, perfectly pitched to the theme, are homemade pies which they will bury in whipped cream on request. The flavors vary from day to day and they also serve commendable bread pudding.
Should you be a transplanted Kansas Citian, Texan or Southerner, you’ll feel right at home here. If you’re a barbecue, lover come get your fix. If you’re neither, but enjoy new, no-frills culinary experiences, come on down. Just remember to first strike the words “cholesterol” and “calories” from your vocabulary.
JOHN BROWN SMOKEHOUSE
25-08 37 AVE
Long Island City, NY 11101
Price Range: Sandwiches
$8-10, platters $10-17, sides $3/5 reg./large
Cuisine: Kansas City Barbecue
Setting: No frills BBQ shackService: Order at the counter and they’ll bring your tray
Hours: 11:30 am-10 pm
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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