NEW YORK – SI.com college football producer Ben Glicksman, who as of this moment has a standing invitation to every forthcoming Heaven Is a Buffet review meal, stared at the raw mustard greens before him like an astronaut examining a moon rock. “What am I supposed to do with the lettuce?” Ben asked.
Unfortunately, I had no acceptable answer.
The late, great Lewis Grizzard warned us about restaurants that cook the tomatoes and don’t cook the green beans. Fortunately, Lewis didn’t live long enough to eat at Fatty ’Cue, where they don’t cook the mustard greens and where they charge $26 for a brisket plate. Before the culture vultures descend, I understand Fatty ’Cue is not really a barbecue joint. It is a culinary experience that melds the style of the great pitmasters with Asian, Mediterranean and other influences. The food tastes wonderful, just not that wonderful. As much as I’ve broadened my gustatory horizons, I remain Ann and Robert Black’s son. They taught me a few hard-and-fast rules. One of those – and I’m paraphrasing here – is that if someone charges you $26 for a brisket plate, it had better be the best damn brisket ever smoked. When you bite into this brisket, angels must sing. If you consumed this brisket in an early-’80s movie starring Kathleen Turner, you’d need a cigarette afterward.
The brisket, ordered by SI.com senior college football producer Mallory Rubin, was tasty enough, but no angels sang when any of us bit into the few meager strips of brisket offered. I didn’t crave the Post-Coital, a cocktail that easily grabbed the title for best name on the Fatty ’Cue menu. When you bite into the brisket at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, every cherub and seraph in heaven breaks into an impromptu rendition of Respect. At Franklin, a plate costs $10, a pound costs $16 and people wait two hours in line for a taste. When you bite into the brisket at Snow’s Barbecue in Lexington, Texas, those same heavenly creatures crack open the Commodores’ catalogue. The price doesn’t differ much from Franklin, except the place is only open on Saturdays, and if you show up at noon you might go hungry. I understand rents are considerably higher in the West Village – as well as in Williamsburg, where the original Fatty ’Cue resides – but a $26 brisket plate should blow the mind as well as the wallet.
I ordered the smoked lamb shoulder ($23), which was juicy with just the right amount of crust. Tossed on a pita wedge and dabbed with a spiced goat yogurt sauce that did get the angels at least humming, it made for a fine meal. My Smokin’ Bone – a mix of Maker’s Mark, lime, chocolate bitters and Tabasco sauce – complemented this as well as a similar concoction complemented my chicken and waffles at Founding Farmers in Washington. My beer was another story. I ordered Pork Slap Pale Ale, a delicious brew from central New York. It came in a can. Fatty ’Cue serves a variety of beer in cans, presumably because the type of person who happily pays $26 for a brisket plate finds it hilariously ironic to drink a beer out of a can like a poor person. Yet Fatty ’Cue only lets itself to get to second base with this conceit. Instead of allowing me to drink my beer from the can, the waiter grabbed the cylinder and then poured part of its contents into a Mug of Shame.
Don’t remember the Mug of Shame? I don’t recall the beer, and YouTube is no help, but in one late-’90s commercial, a group of delightful bros are having some beers when one of their number leaves a “pinger” – a healthy swallow at the bottom of the glass – to be discarded unconsumed. The rest of the group finds this terribly offensive, and the delightful bros sentence their wayward friend to henceforth drink from the Mug of Shame, which falls somewhere on the bar chart between a shot glass and a tumbler. The next time you see ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez on The Sports Reporters, just know that he once had the word SHAME inscribed on a tiny mug and gave it to our friend Steve, who had a terrible habit of leaving pingers. While the Mug of Shame made for a fine gag gift in 1999, it is an unacceptable beer-drinking vessel in 2012.
Some of my bitterness may stem from the fact that Fatty ’Cue was out of the deep-fried coriander bacon ($19 for a half pound) that I specifically came to try. But I fear that even if I’d eaten the bacon, I would have compared it to the deep-fried masterpiece at Sodolak’s Country Inn in Snook, Texas, and found it wanting.
Our waiter summed up the night when Ben inquired about the fermented sausage dish. “It’s quite lovely,” the server replied. And it was. Unfortunately, at those prices, we needed less lovely and more angelic harmonizing.