Over the past five years or so, New York has become increasingly fascinated with barbecue. Attribute this how you please, but it's a safe bet one driving force behind the improvement of the city's barbecue is the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party (going into its 11th year). It has exposed New York's restaurant-goers, cooks, and chefs to more (and better) barbecue than most of the city's 8 million inhabitants have ever seen. That's a good thing. It means that New Yorkers realize they deserve better 'cue. It's also shown chefs that there was an untapped market for the cuisine. But this surge in interest also means lots of people think they know good barbecue when that really might not be the case. And as in the case of Serious Eats founder Ed Levine's recent review of Mighty Quinn's, an East Village barbecue joint that took over the space of the failed Dutch endeavor Vandaag in the East Village, that can lead to some dangerous, and at the least, dubious reviews.
Here are the takeaway bullet points from a recent Serious Eats review of Mighty Quinn's:
• Just by looking at it and the pit master's eyes, Ed knew this "barbecue was going to be serious."
• Both the brisket and pork were probably the best being made in New York's five boroughs.
• Being an FCI grad, cooking at Nougatine and Union Pacific, working in Bucks County for 10 years, being a drummer for 10 years, living in LA, and making barbecue on the weekends with your Texas-born father is enough to give you a Serious Eats pedigree (what exactly does that mean?).
• Serious Eats will now use Mighty Quinn's barbecue (with a few exceptions) as the "standard by which all other barbecue [in New York] is judged."
• Serious Eats believes that the three-bean salad (with edamame, that's right, edamame at a barbecue joint) could be served in the front room at Gramercy Tavern.
In all fairness, Ed Levine isn't the only one smitten by Mighty Quinn's. The Village Voice's Robert Sietsema was taken, too, calling it "destined to be a great dining asset to the neighborhood." You could forgive him because of the great collection of YouTube covers of Bob Dylan's "Quinn the Eskimo" that he put together. And The New York Times kind of weighed in by not actually commenting much on the food, but asking a few people a bunch of questions irrelevant to the food.
Trusted friend of The Daily Meal Big Poppa Eats was fond of the brisket, calling the sandwich "a winner" (moist, lean, and smoky). And that's just the thing. Mighty Quinn's is pretty good — good enough that East Villagers who should long have known better, might finally be embarrassed enough about Dallas BBQ two blocks away to shut it down. The Mighty Quinn's is fine — serviceable as a neighborhood joint for NYU students too lazy to go 20 blocks north to Hill Country Barbecue where they serve superior product.
Having been to Quinn's once, having visited the Lockhart four, tasted Franklin in Austin, and sought out brisket and sausage elsewhere in Texas (would like to throw a little love out there for the Hard Eight in Stephenville, Texas), hearing that Mighty Quinn's is "the standard by which all other barbecue in New York is [to be] judged" is too much to bear.
The brisket was hit or miss. Some parts were dry. Some moist enough, but not transcendental. The finishing salt that they throw on the meat seems like a next-level idea because you probably haven't seen that move before, but when you sit down and eat the food you realize that it makes for uneven seasoning, and they really should have figured that out in the rest of the brisket process anyway.
Finishing salt on sliced brisket is an unnecessary touch. It's not even barbecue for Yankees. It's trying to do something special when it doesn't work. Why bother?
The ribs had a nice rub, but were cold. It's a restaurant. It's barbecue. They shouldn't be cold. The sausage, which some proponents of Mighty Quinn's even noted as lackluster, just didn't have much snap, and there's nothing about it that you can't have 10 times better at Hill Country Barbecue Market where they serve Kreuz's signature jalapeño cheese sausage.
Then there's the matter of the sides. Pommes frites? Edamame salad? Why an underwhelming edamame salad is being served... with barbecue (this is why Texans make fun of New Yorkers) is beyond comprehension. Ditto why Levine has something against chef Michael Anthony and Gramercy Tavern. Certainly Levine was trying to herald the side. But it's pretty ludicrous to believe they'd present this under-seasoned, limp, and uninspired mess in the front room.
If you're a neighborhood-oriented restaurant eater living in the East Village, if you don't seek out the best place for a cuisine, Mighty Quinn's is fine. You finally have decent barbecue in the East Village that you don't have to venture far for. If you're actually seeking out great barbecue and need to check a place off your list that you've heard things about, going once to Mighty Quinn's will be enough.
New York needs better barbecue. New York's barbecue has gotten better. But New York already has better barbecue.
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.