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I Am Just Going To Say It: I Don’t Get Blue Smoke

July 7, 2011
tags: ,

Somebody blew smoke alright.

There are food phenomena in New York City that simply elude me. Shake Shack. Beard Papa. Add Blue Smoke to the list.

People love this place. It is one of the first places people mention when you talk about where to get BBQ in New York City. And it is that: a place to get barbecue in New York City. But I do not think it is as wonderful as everyone else seems to think it is.

Does that mean it is bad? No. Not at all. It simply means the level of hype around the place is completely out of proportion to the food that you get. The food is ok, but it is far from revelatory, and doesn’t strike me as being the real deal for BBQ.

Now I am not a bbq afficianado. I presume that the folks who own and operate Blue Smoke probably know more about barbecue than I do by a long shot. That said, as a diner, I can state simply: There is nothing I’ve had at Blue Smoke that I would drop everything to go get, or go particularly out of my way to get. Frankly, I prefer Hill Country – Rack & Soul even more so.

The interior is spacious.

In truth though, this really just points to the dearth of quality barbecue in New York City. That should come as no surprise, considering the geography. But this is one of the great food capitals of the world. And New York (in my experience) just isn’t cutting it for quality Q at the moment. Sure, there’s Dinosaur, which again is just fine (recommend their deviled eggs and chicken). But the last really amazing barbecue I had in New York was from a tiny little spot that had a real pit going in its back yard near the Queens entrance of the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Unfortunately, that joint shut down about 10 or more years ago, so good luck. But they served a beef rib that looked like it came out of the Flintstones: you didn’t know whether to eat it or wield it as a club against your enemies. Of course, it was far too delicious to waste on that, so, you only did what’s right.

So I am on a quest for quality Q in town. If you know of a spot, please fill me in. I am eager to try R.U.B., but if I’m going through the trouble to get there, I’m going to Peter Luger’s instead.

But back to Blue Smoke.

I lucked out over the weekend and got a table right away, which is impressive since I understand the place is wildly popular. My seat was somewhat unfortunate, if I’m honest: upstairs, in the back corner, near the service entrance. There was a regular rush of servers hurtling by that was a touch distracting. OK, that’s no big deal, someone sits there every night.

The highlight of the meal.

The meal began with the deviled eggs. Everybody knows deviled eggs are always delicious. I found these to be a bit on the small side, and a touch liquid. It had a pleasant, strong mustard flavor.

My eye is always drawn to the beef ribs, for nostalgic reasons mentioned above. So I ordered them. They are served in a salt & pepper preparation.

I should say at the jump I generally prefer barbecue that doesn’t come from a bottle. A lot of places drench the meat in sauce, which I find just hides the quality of the preparation. Or disguises. Delicious sauce is wonderful, but too many places just swamp the food in it. Hence, I usually go for the rub.

If you look closely, you can see the pepper.

The trouble is that Blue Smoke’s rubbed salt & pepper beef rib comes caked in a pepper bark. The pepper flavor is too strong, and buries the taste of the beef. The texture of the beef, by the way, is suitably soft and giving, and on its own it almost seems candied. The pepper flavor though was too much for me and buried the beefiness.

A suitable mac.

It was of course necessary to get the mac and cheese. As always, mac and cheese is delicious. Blue Smoke makes a tasty, rich version. There’s no bread crumb crust, and it is a bit liquid within, but it’s still a suitable mac. It is not up to the Delta Grill standard. In fact, there’s a good argument that says Delta Grill is an excellent competitor for Blue Smoke (while offering different cuisine with much less hoopla).

Look. At the end of the say the food is basically mediocre. I don’t get it. It’s the Shake Shack of BBQ – that makes sense, they’re both Danny Meyer operations. I have got to give it up to him: he always gets great press and has a helluva batting average with most folks. For me, I am not surprised by Blue Smoke’s initials. Maybe it was just the hype machine that blew smoke.

Blue Smoke

116 East 27th Street
New York, NY 10016
8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2011 3:57 pm

    blue smoke is good bbq for nyc, but nothing revelatory. check out RUB it is one of the better bbq joints in the city IMHO.

    i eat out a fair amount and can say with certainty that there is pretty much no restaurant dish that i would run to. i would rather try a restaurant i have never been to before than go back in a relatively short time period.

    • July 7, 2011 4:11 pm

      On your assessment of BS, we are roughly on the same page, For me the gap between hype and the food was suitably large to present a problem. Eager to try RUB.

      On your second point, I am a bit surprised. I am all for trying new places, but so many of them are overpriced and mediocre that I routinely return to the places I love: Keen’s, Luger’s, Luke’s (to name a few) all have my devotion and loyalty, and I would gladly go out of my way for ’em. I guess it just goes to the question of what you mean by a relatively short time period.

      • July 7, 2011 4:32 pm

        for instance, i had an AMAZING meal at Ai Fiori last week(the new Michael White restaurant). every course was really delicious, but even if i had the money to eat there regularly i would pass in order to try something new.

        luke’s is really good, but more than once every 3 or 4 months isnt necessary for me. that may have to do with the health aspect of eating a whole stick of butter that is melted into that roll, ha.

      • July 8, 2011 8:00 am

        Ok, that makes sense. Ai Fiori is excellent< but pricey. Don't you have local joints you love, where the price point is reasonable, and the quality top notch? An example in my life: Mel’s Burger Bar, which is awesome. Nothing like that?

      • July 8, 2011 8:46 am

        good point jesse. Sarge’s in Murray Hill is a great old school deli. delish.

  2. Steve Z. permalink
    July 8, 2011 11:35 am

    I love BBQ, but in reality it’s over-cooked, fall off the bone, salty meat, served with some, usually sweet, concoction spread all over, then charred. Hey, what’s not to like? Surely there’s bad BBQ, but good? It’s just different. I’ve been to Texas. Everyone in Texas maintains they have the best BBQ in Texas. Just different, that’s all. BTW – You should let us know what these meals set you back. How about a $ rating.


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