NOT long ago New York was bereft of true barbecue, save for one outpost called Pearson’s in Long Island City, Queens. Since its departure, notable practitioners of the craft were largely absent from the area, until the recent opening of JOHN BROWN SMOKEHOUSE, 25-08 37th Avenue (Crescent Avenue); (718) 361-0085 ; johnbrownsmokehouse.org.
Not everything is amazing. But there’s so much flavor and tenderness to the pork ($8 to $25 a platter), the lamb sausage ($8 for a sandwich) and the incomparable burnt ends ($11.50 a platter) that a dry brisket ($10 a platter) and a chewy pit beef ($10 for a sandwich) don’t spoil the fun at this tiny, affable place.
On a recent weekday, the garrulous assistant barbecue pit master, John Zervoulakos, won over a municipal sanitation crew, double-parked outside, with samples from the countertop warmer.
The wonderful sausages, ground with basil, garlic, pecorino and tomato at a local Greek butcher, are a nod to the surrounding international community, but the rest of the menu is pure Kansas City. The owner and pit master, Josh Bowen, helped smoke central Texas barbecue at Hill Country before returning to his roots at John Brown, named after the abolitionist who fought slavery in Kansas, and who glares from the takeout menus.
Squeeze bottles of thick sauce, smashingly sweet and spicy, sit at the ready. The daddy of all the meats are the burned ends (“like better brisket,” Mr. Zervoulakos explained to the garbage guys, “more flavor”). To make them, the fatty segment of brisket called the deckle is thrown back into the smoker for extra rendering, then served as a pile of crunchy, unctuous hunks, crusted in a swarthy, earthy rub that includes brown sugar, paprika and Greek coffee.
They’re good enough to skip the sauce. The pork, too, is superb. Mellow pecan and sweet peach woods coax meaty St. Louis-cut ribs ($14 a half-slab) and rib tips ($8 for a sandwich) to juicy, porcine excellence. Soft, subtle pork belly melts across the tongue ($10 a platter).
A side of tangy slaw ($3) cleanses the palate, prepping it for peach-blueberry pie, made by a friend of Mr. Bowen’s who picks the plump berries herself ($4).
You’ll be too full to move, but if you sit long enough, you might hear Mr. Bowen pick at his banjo. But for that banjo in a corner, a “Come and Take It” Texas flag and a Victrola spinning scratchy 78s (“Bones, Bones, Bones,” by the Golden Gate Quartet), there’s no décor. The focus is on Mr. Bowen’s expert meats.
“He learns me up,” Mr. Zervoulakos said. He’s learning up his hungry Yankee customers, too. It’s a delicious education.
Far north of the nation’s Barbecue Belt, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a neighborhood already schooled in the form, is starting to feel like the Barbecue Brooch. Its latest jewel — MABLE’S SMOKEHOUSE, 44 Berry Street (North 11th Street); (718) 218-6655 ; mablessmokehouse.com — brings to town the smoky style of Oklahoma City.
In a way, Mable’s is as Williamsburg as you can get: reclaimed wood, pickletinis, women in pigtails taking orders with Elly May charm. But then you get your food, out of industrial smokers, served cafeteria style from the counter. Based on recipes from a co-owner Jeff Lutonsky’s Oklahoman mother and grandmother (Mable herself), it doesn’t feel put-on at all.
The brisket ($14.95) is smoky, tender and moister than any other in these parts. The sauce, doled out like liquid gold, has lip-smacking tang. It almost rescues the wan pulled pork and sometimes-underdone ribs ($14.95 each for platters).
Though Mable’s isn’t serving hot links from Oklahoma because of shipping problems, there are other folksy foods like Ro-Tel queso dip and Frito pie ($4.95 each). The substantial vegetarian sloppy Joe might make Mable’s an incongruous destination for non-meat eaters ($9.95).
Like the meats, it is served with freebies: pickled vegetables, snappy slaw, white bread. Lovable sides ($3.95 each) like eggy potato salad, peppery stewed corn, savory borracho beans (“drunken” pintos) round out the meal.
Key lime pie is too fancy a finish, but peanut butter pie ($4.95 each) is the right coda to a lesson in Oklahoma-style belly filling.