It’s Restaurant Week, putting Brooklyn’s already vibrant culinary scene in the spotlight. Now through February 4, no fewer than 62 restaurants in the city’s most populous borough are offering discounted meals as part of the annual promotion. It’s an embarrassment of culinary choices: There’s Italian fare, Brazilian grub, Mexican cuisine, chophouses, sushi joints, Indian food and more to pick from.
But today we’re talking about barbecue. There are three Brooklyn BBQ joints taking part in Restaurant Week — Morgan’s in Prospect Heights, Dinosaur in Gowanus and Mable’s Smokehouse in Williamsburg — and this native Texan was wondering how they stack up against the real deal.
It’s no secret that there is a lot of affinity between Brooklyn and Austin culturally so it’s no surprise that Texas BBQ in particular is in the spotlight. I went on a Restaurant Week barbecue tour to evaluate several key dishes, including sides like coleslaw, cornbread and potato salad and meats including brisket, ribs and chili.
Here’s how they held up:
The Holy Trinity at Morgan’s BBQ (Photo by Andy Hirschfeld)
Morgan’s menu is filled with Texas BBQ staples, making it a must-try. Crafted by executive chef Cenobio Canalizo, Its pork ribs fall off the bone and its brisket is succulent. Its Restaurant Week menu, however, lacks some Texas staples — with only a Texas Chili on the pre-fixe menu.
The highlighted appetizer is a robust and flavorful Texas Chili Bowl, with just a bit of a kick. The flavor was a bit undermined by the consistency, though: The chili included cubed chuck beef that was chunky, tough and the pieces were too big for comfort.
Any BBQ joint is beholden to the quality of the smoker and the wood inside it. In the case of Morgan’s, its wood of choice is a tasteful (literally) white oak.
The most Texas BBQ-centric plate on the menu is called The Holy Trinity and it is a lot of food. Which is an important part of the BBQ experience — a plate with more food than any reasonable person could eat in one or even two sittings.
The 10-to-12-hour smoked brisket is juicy and melts in your mouth and flavorful, though it struck this Texas BBQ snobs as a bit under seasoned.
The ribs are a different story. It’s tender and juicy and a bestseller on the menu for good reason.
Where this place truly excels is with its sides. Its house made cornbread is sweet and moist and the coleslaw is traditional but with a twist — a splash of lemon.
For dessert try one of America’s favorite artery clogging classics: fried Oreos. The taste and simple presentation elevates this state fair staple that will bring a true sense of nostalgia to any transplant.
Morgan’s BBQ is at 267 Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights
The Frito pie at Mable’s (Photo by Andy Hirschfeld)
Mable’s Smokehouse in Williamsburg is the real deal.
Mable’s vibes are straight out of the Texas Hill Country right when you walk in the door. It’s spacious and no-frills, boasts a stunning bar, a partial open concept kitchen and a lot of Dolly Parton-themed decor.
Laura, a hostess and bartender, here tells us that patrons from the south come in frequently and extoll its authenticity.
“The menu is meant to be simple, authentic and reminiscent of roadside BBQ,” co-founder Meghan Love tells Brooklyn Magazine.
The Restaurant Week at Mable’s menu is stacked with Texas favorites like Frito pie: The brisket and ground beef chili comes served inside a bag of the corn chips with a dollop of sour cream.
The ribs are as good as anything you’d get in Austin, perfection. The brisket stands out. Like Morgan’s BBQ, Mable’s smokes it for10 to 12 hours. Mable’s then finishes it off in the oven for another hour or two. The staff wouldn’t divulge what kind of wood they use other than it was a blend. Regardless, you could taste the difference.
The sides are no-frills takes on the Texas classics — including a mayo-based potato salad, coleslaw, cornbread and all the fixins’.
As for dessert, if you have room, the Peanut Butter pie is simple but delicious with a graham cracker crust and a peanut butter mousse filling. This is the perfect sweet bite to finish off an authentic take on Texas cuisine.
Mable’s Smokehouse is at 44 Berry Street in Williamsburg
Ribs and potato salad at Dinosaur BBQ (Photo by Andy Hirschfeld)
Brisket is the centerpiece of any decent barbecue restaurant and this Gowanus joint gets it right. Smoked over a mix of hickory and white oak, Dinosaur’s brisket is so smooth and succulent you don’t even need a knife. It’s also served alongside the burnt tips — a delicacy.
For its ribs, Dinosaur takes more of a St. Louis approach to barbecue — a slight to my Texas sensibilities, but satisfying nonetheless, grilled and smothered in fragrant, sweet and traditional BBQ sauce. Both the ribs and brisket are served alongside a decedent, moist cornbread.
The spacious kitchen has a massive collection of Texas-style smokers — we counted four of these behemoths, fueled entirely by its wood mix. They’re so big that the Dinosaur crew needs a shovel to load the wood.
Fortunately, meat is the centerpiece of BBQ because that’s where the it’s impressiveness ends.: The coleslaw lacked flavor and the potato salad seemed more like cold mash potatoes.
Dinosaur BBQ is at 604 Union Street in Gowanus.
The report card
Best brisket: Dinosaur BBQ Best ribs: Mable’s Smokehouse Best cornbread: Morgan’s BBQ Best coleslaw: Morgan’s BBQ Best potato salad: Mable’s Smokehouse Best chili (served in its Frito pie): Mable’s Smokehouse Best desserts: Mable’s Smokehouse Best overall: Mable’s Smokehouse
The final word
All of the restaurants had their strengths. Morgan’s BBQ has the best sides including its cornbread and coleslaw. Dinosaur BBQ had the best brisket. Mable’s Smokehouse sweeped all other categories, making it the best overall in the eyes of this Texan.