We don’t usually venture outside our home borough for our dining adventures, but this time we had a compelling reason. Fatty ’Cue in Williamsburg is the result of a collaboration between Zak Pellaccio, the wunderkind of Southeast Asian flavors, and Queens’ own Robbie Richter, the Horatio Alger story of barbecue.
You have to wonder what a nice Jewish boy, brought up in a kosher home, is doing in a place like this. Richter started grilling in his parents’ Rego Park backyard. When his brother, Dr. Michael Richter, moved to Fresh Meadows, a neighbor turned him on to “real” barbecuing — that is, slow smoking over an indirect wood fire. Both brothers became so passionate about this cooking technique that they went on to form Big Island Barbecue, a team that joined the BBQ competition circuit. They became state champions and were the only New York team invited to compete in the Jack Daniel’s Invitational, the world championship of barbecue.
After a few years of competing, with some catering on the side, Richter knew he had found his calling. After honing his barbecue chops at Kreuz’s Market near Austin, Texas, he was hired as the pit master for Hill Country Barbecue, a Texas-style barbecue restaurant in New York City. After Hill Country, he formed alliance with Zak Pellaccio of Fatty Crab, and together they created a new kind of ’cue.
Fatty ’Cue, in hipsters’ Williamsburg, is way too cool to have a sign outside. We walked passed it twice before we were sure we were in the right place. It melds the barbecue-shack aesthetic with Brooklyn post-industrial as successfully as it marries lemongrass and galangal to greasy smoke. It occupies three levels, with a bar and a few tables on the first, the rusty old Big Island BBQ sign adorning the second and Pellaccio’s girlfriend’s glittery sculpture of a pig dangling from the upper balcony.
The food here is too seamless to be called fusion. Its much more like a cuisine that should have existed before but didn’t. Smokey bone broth, a recommended starter, was like a distillation of the signature flavors of the restaurant in a clear liquid — meaty, smoky and mysterious.
Two daily specials enticed us. First, seafood sausage made from cold smoked shrimp and scallops served over green curry with charred spring onion. The juicy sausage merely hinted of smoke and seafood yet still held its own against the more assertive flavor of the green curry. Next, whole pig was an assortment of smoked pig tidbits served with fragrant pineapple chutney, bao (Chinese puffy steamed pancakish buns for wrapping) and charred ramps.
From the regular menu, red-curry-rubbed duck had crisp skin, a thick layer of fat and rosy delicious flesh. The challenge was relieving the skin of the fat so that we could enjoy the crunchy skin with only a reasonable amount of guilt. As with every meat we sampled, the accompaniments, smoked red curry and sweet pickled daikon, were thoughtfully chosen to amplify rather than overpower the flavors of the meat.
American wagyu brisket is the centerpiece of the menu — the must-order item. Richter takes exquisite beef and smokes it to perfection in the time-honored Texas way. The beef doesn’t exactly melt in your mouth — it retains just enough elasticity to assert itself, but doesn’t make your jaw do very much work to polish it off. The platter is a sort of parody of the quintessential Texas barbecue meal. Instead of white bread (yes, that’s what’s eaten there) there is bao; instead of barbecue sauce and cole slaw (also de rigueur in the Lone Star state) there are chili jam, aioli and pickled red onion. Just wrap that all up in the bao, and, to gild the lily, dip it all into the cup of bone broth that’s thoughtfully provided. Now gloat over the thought that New York has one-upped Texas.
The Bottom Line
Expertise and top-notch ingredients are a winning combination. Fatty ’Cue has both in spades. Whether you’re a fan of barbecue, Southeast Asian flavors or both, you’ve got to try this place. You’re going to love it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
91 S. Sixth St.,
Price Range: Appetizers $6—13, entrees $14—24
Cuisine: Southeast Asian barbecue
Setting: Dark, hip, multi-level
Service: Professional and accommodating
Hours: Open for dinner from 5 p.m. seven days, late night menu on weekends
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit Cards: All
Noise Level: Acceptable
Handicap Accessible: Stairs
©2010 Community News Group
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