What with the wildly popular Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in Madison Square Park each summer, and relatively new barbecue joints in nearly every neighborhood, barbecue joins burgers and Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches at the top of New York City’s most esteemed foods. And to think that a mere decade ago there were only three or four restaurants serving barbecue in Manhattan. Due to the city’s strict smoke emission regulations, starting a barbecue restaurant is a dicey—and pricey—prospect. It took the venerable Danny Meyer a good year to get Blue Smoke right.
Brother Jimmy’s just celebrated its 20th anniversary. The flagship restaurant, which I’m reviewing, opened at a time when there were virtually no Southern barbecue purveyors in the
city. Today, there are five Brother Jimmys around town, all thriving boisterously. Originally, former owner Jimmy Goldman accrued authentic recipes from his friends and family, and the restaurant hit the ground running. In 2000, the restaurant was sold to Josh Lebowitz, and today, corporate executive chef Eva Pesantez oversees an expanded menu of genuine Southern barbecue classics and house specialties.
If you didn’t look out the large front windows, which abut Second Avenue, you really could believe that you were in a restaurant and bar in rural Pennsylvania or Kansas City, Mo. Every effort has been made to recreate a good-ol’-boy, pork-heavy restaurant, with an emphasis on comfort. The red-checker-tableclothed tables are spaciously placed, each one graced with five squirt bottles of barbecue sauces: chipotle, “blazing,” mustard, Carolina and original. Even before your entrées are brought, plastic-wrapped pre-moistened paper towels are parked on the table, just so you know what’s in store.
Our server, Melissa, was quite engaging and not above making good recommendations. She’s from Nashville, so she knows whereof she eats.
I got things underway with a “Battle of Antietam” Bloody Mary that flaunted Old Bay seasoning front and center, caked around the rim of the drink’s Baltz Mason jelly jar. My boyfriend loved his tart 16-ounce “Myrtle Beach” raspberry frozen margarita. Melissa dared us to try the restaurant’s legendary “Swamp Water,” a heady, deceptively smooth blend of vodka, melon liqueur, lemonade and grenadine that arrives in a 64-ounce goldfish bowl with 15 multi-
colored straws and a 10-inch rubber alligator. Certainly not for the shy or the faint-of-heart, and as if to prove that, your server blows a police whistle when the fish bowl is brought. Whee!
“Humongous Nachos” gives a good indication of Brother Jimmy’s massive portions, another commitment to authenticity. (I’ve been to more than a few barbecue restaurants in the South and Midwest.) The enormous platter of nachos is easily enough for six hungry teenagers. Crisp tortilla chips are spackled with sweet red barbecued beans and chili, and topped with about 3/4 pound of cheddar, 1 cup of diced seasoned tomatoes, 1/2 cup of sour cream and a cup of very good guacamole. Good thing I’d fasted all day.
Six jalapeño poppers are house-made. Whole medium-hot jalapeños are stuffed with spiced cream cheese, then breaded and fried. Ranch dressing is on hand for dipping, and it provides some relief from the heat, but even my weathered brow needed mopping after two poppers.
The combo rib platter offers Northern, Southern and dry-rub ribs. The fairly sweet meat on the Northern ribs came right off the bone, but best were the dry-rub ribs, suffused with deep porky flavors. My sides of curly “Fire Fries” were perfectly seasoned and not too spicy, and baking powder biscuits and thick milk gravy were particularly toothsome.
Jimmy’s “Pig Pick” lets you choose any four of the following: Northern, Southern, or dry-rub ribs; pulled pork; brisket; BBQ chicken; or pulled chicken, all served with fried cornmeal hush puppies and cole slaw. The melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork is especially wonderful, unusually soft and filled with steamy flavors. Brisket—offered lean or marbled—is smoky and tender.
Desserts are no less generous. “S’Mores Cake” is an ample sandwich affair, with gingered graham cracker cake, melted chocolate and toasted marshmallow cream, all as rich as could be. Key lime pie has a thicker-than-usual lime custard and a buttery graham cracker crust.
This cuisine and its admirers and purveyors are obviously all about excess, and Brother Jimmy’s truly understands that. I would recommend the restaurants for group dining. Two people, as we were, are bound to be overwhelmed—make that completely overwhelmed; I’ve never brought home more leftovers from a restaurant meal.
Brother Jimmy’s BBQ
1485 Second Ave.
Betw. 77th & 78th streets
Entrées: $9.75 to $23.95; most under $20
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