Thursday, April 17, 2008

Fette Sau

Fette Sau joined the increasingly crowded pantheon of NYC barbecue joints last year, a few weeks ahead of Hill Country. If Fette Sau had opened in Manhattan it is likely that it would have been relegated to supporting cast status, overshadowed by performances from the numerous rising stars of the boroughs more celebrated joints. Out in Williamsburg, Brooklyn however Fette Sau has the chance to shine on a solo stage, at least until Zak Pelaccio and Robbie Richter open up their Asian inspired barbecuer. I mention Hill Country because aside from similar birthdays Fette Sau and HC share a similar aesthetic and service system. Both establishments eschew waiter service in favor of a cafeteria system that requires lining up for ones food at a counter. Beyond that both establishments can claim to be spiritual heirs to the German style meat markets that dot the Texas landscape. While HC tries hard to mimic Kreuts Market in Lockhart,TX, Fette Sau is unabashedly parochial, it might share a certain industrial minimalism with the afore mentioned institution but at its heart it is pure NYC (and perhaps more specifically Williamsburg) eclectia. And ultimately so is the food, which does not ascribe to one regional style over another but in a real sense may be at the vanguard of a style that one day will become known as “NYC style.”

The first thing you notice about the barbecue here as you reach the counter, past the rows of communal tables and a plasma TV that plays an endless loop of a fireplace is the sheer quantity of dry rub that is applied to the meat. A thick black “bark” covers almost all the meats and is far darker and denser than any barbecue I have eaten. It seems inspired more by the pastrami of the classic New York delicatessen than the ‘cue from a Southern smoke joint. Fette Sau actually serves pastrami but I have yet to make its acquaintance, a result of the rotating menu system. The items on offer changes daily at Fette Sau, this rotating menu allows for a wide range of options but also means that you may not always get exactly what you want. It is a good idea to call ahead and check on the days selections. The beef menu is extensive with some interesting and none traditional offerings such as Wagyu cheeks and flank steak as well as more familiar items such as ribs (both with and without bones) and brisket.

The beef ribs are probably the best bet as they have always been juicy and flavorful in my experience. The brisket proved to be more inconsistent, while it can be extremely moist and succulent; with a hearty flavor from the dry rub and a more subtle smokiness than other locals joints (perhaps the thickness of the bark minimizes the penetration of the smoke into the meat) it is not always so. Unfortunately, more often than not it has been rather dried out, perhaps because it sits under a heat lamp. I surmise that the juiciness of the 'cue is determined by the length of time it sits there. Get there early and your experience will be better than if you roll in at the end of the evening. I find that the method for keeping the meat warm at Hill Country, which uses large hoppers tends to result in a moister product. All the ‘Cue at Fette Sau is served dry, sans sauce. After tasting the somewhat acrid, ketchupy sauce on offer I am glad that they do. I actually found the mustard they serve to go better with the beef, balancing out the caramelized dry rub. I have never considered using plain mustard on barbecue but after my experience I may be sneaking a bottle of Coleman’s English mustard on might next barbecue meal, sort of like Calvin Trillon’s nephew Cary Fox sneaking Kansas City barbecue sauce in to a Kreuts Market in TX, recounted in Trillin’s endearing “Feeding a Yen.

I also sampled the pork belly that is frankly too rich to eat in large quantity as it is almost completely composed of caramelized fat. The pork ribs, also covered with a thick bark where more serviceable, not the finest I have eaten but perfectly respectable. I was less enthused with the pulled pork which was less tender and flavorful than expected. While the meat offerings are bountiful and mostly recommendable despite some inconsistency the sides are almost universally disappointing. A cold broccoli salad was completely soggy and pale. The baked beans, which look like they should be delicious, peppered as they are with burnt ends and pork scraps are unfortunately sauced with a soupy, ketchup like mixture that was not appetizing in the least.

The bar has an impressive lineup of bourbons and microbrew beers and would be a draw even if no food was served here. This is not surprising considering that Fette Sau's owners also run the well regarded Spuyten Duyvil across the street.

The outdoor benches double the available seating inside and offers diners a relatively secluded environment despite being quite close to the street. It must be quite pleasant to relax with a brew and some 'cue during spring evenings as the sun is setting. On the other hand the nearby Mclaren Park might also make an ideal place to get take your ‘cue if Fette Sau is too crowded, which seems to be the case with increasing frequency as the days warm and lengthen. It is best to get there close to opening time to not only avoid the line but also to insure that the barbecue if moist.

I should give special mention to the “charts of meat” mural that graces the east wall of the establishment, it is genius.

Barbecue loving denizens of Williamsburg can rest assured that they have some decent barbecue close to home. While I felt that Fette Sau fell behind my favorite joints in Manhattan - Hill Country, Daisy May's and Dinosaur BBQ, it does offer a unique take on the genre. While the thick application of dry rub and the smoking of the meat until it quite literally falls of the bone, as was the case with a rack of pork ribs I tried recently, probably won’t win any barbecue awards, straying so far from the competition ideal as it does, the ‘cue here never the less offers a pleasing diversion.

Fette Sau
354 Metropolitan Ave

Brooklyn, NY 11211
Phone 718 963 3404


Wednesday's Child said...

Matt Lang, executive chef, just won 50,000 dollars with the dry rub in best in smoke. Eating your weds might never taste better.

Nick Solares said...

Sorry, TV shows are not the same as competition barbecue. I stand by my statement - as delicious as it is the amount of rub on the meat at Fette Sau (at least the last time I ate there which was in 2008) would not win a sanction event.