When we heard that Queens’ own BBQ luminary Robbie Richter had his farewell party at Alchemy, Texas BBQ in Jackson Heights before heading for the Coast, we knew we had to check this place out.
The location, in the rear of Legends Sports Bar, is a bit of a legend itself. It was a second location for Queens’ smokin’ pioneer Robert Pearson, a British hairdresser who became a BBQ devotee while working in the Lone Star State. When Mr. Pearson decamped in 2004, the joint continued barbecuing, but somehow lost its mojo. Happily, it’s being reinvigorated by Josh Bowen, another barbecue fanatic who also owns John Brown Smoke House.
Alchemy, like its predecessors here, is faithful to every nuance of Texas BBQ etiquette. It could bring tears to the eyes of any homesick Texan. You order from a counter by weight (the meat’s—not yours) instead of by portion. Your order is heaped on paper on a plastic tray along with a few slices of Wonder-ish bread, their only deviation from Texas orthodoxy. In Texas, a whole loaf, usually open and standing on end, resides on the table. The tables are covered with red and white checkered plastic, and sport a roll of a scratchy brand of paper towels. If you wish to divide what is on the tray, small cheap paper plates and weak plastic-ware are begrudgingly provided as if to say, “this is what we think of you wusses that can’t just slap the meat on the bread and finish the whole thing by yourself.” But don’t hold it against Alchemy—that’s the Texas way.
The menu—actually chalkboard (there is no menu)— offered four meat options: brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, and chicken. The behemoth of a smoker in the back, lovingly tended by Andrew Marcus, a disciple of Robbie Richter’s from his Hill Country days, is kept at a constant 220 degrees to coax maximum tenderness from the pounds and pounds of flesh inside. The back room is cluttered with a variety of spices, mostly procured from the local Indian grocers, from which the various rubs and mopping sauces are conjured.
If you’re unfamiliar with the cuisine, brisket is the quintessential cut for Texas BBQ. Here it’s moist, tender, and elastic with that tell-tale red ring below the blackened surface attesting to time spent in the smoker. If you were back home on the range, you would pile it between two slices of white bread along with some excruciatingly hot sauce and a mound of cole slaw. They didn’t have any cole slaw, only an eggy potato salad and creamed spinach. We will overlook the absence of slaw because of the fine quality of the brisket.
The beef ribs equaled the brisket in juicy tenderness. If you prefer ripping meat from the bone with your teeth, rather than forking it up, you will favor the ribs. Be forewarned, the ribs have a peppery rub that will make you wanna grab another brew.
Just because you’ve been beguiled by the meaty stuff, doesn’t mean you should pass on the poultry. The barbecued chicken is about as succulent as a bird can be. Even the breast meat squirts juice.
Our one disappointment was the pork ribs. Ours were tough and dry, although our fellow diners found them less so. Perhaps the meat itself was inconsistent. We will give them another try in the future.
Being situated in the back of a bar ensures that you can get whatever you want to drink. Of course the only two acceptable accompaniments are beer or Jack Daniels. Legends bar (under separate ownership from the BBQ operation) offers a decent if not comprehensive selection of brews on tap or bottled. Too bad there’s no Lone Star.
With not a single dessert offered here, we headed out into the Jackson Heights night in search of the nearest Indian kulfi stand to suck down a cylinder of pistachio pleasure.
Alchemy Texas BBQ @ Legends Sports Bar is like a trip home for a displaced Texan, and a window into that unique culinary tradition for the rest of us. If you’re a die-hard carnivore, there’s nothing not to love. Don’t tell your cardiologist.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Alchemy Texas BBQ @ Legends Bar & Grill
71-04 35th Ave
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
Price Range: Lunch specials: $6.95—11.95, A la carte: $7.95—69.95 (all shareable)
Cuisine: Guess, the name is a hint
Setting: Authentic Texas Dive
Service: Assisted self-service
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Alcohol: Full bar
Dress: Snakeskin boots optional
Children: Welcome (but it is a bar)
Credit cards: Cash rules here, plastic verboten
Noise level: Rowdy at times
Handicap accessible: Yes
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