I first became introduced to proper barbecue when I visited family in San Antonio in the summer of 1998. I don’t remember much about that trip, save the go kart track in their front yard, my first encounter with Texas’ infamously oppressive dry heat, and the ribs at the barbecue spot they took us to. At this point in my Jersey-raised life, I wasn’t aware that ribs were supposed to “fall off the bone,” all I knew is that I didn’t need a fork or a knife to hew these deliciously tender morsels from their marrow carriages. That fact alone blew my young mind.
In the time since, I’ve tried a number of styles of barbecues from across our great nation and beyond. But, being a New Yorker, the vast majority of the barbecue I’ve had in my life has been within the five boroughs, and usually right here in Astoria. It tends to be one discipline or another — Kansas City, the Carolinas, Korea — but by and large, it’s been eaten here.
New York has a surprisingly active barbecue scene influenced by a myriad of cultures, immigrants, tourists and connoisseurs. Which begets a new question, however blasphemous some may find it: at what point will we see the rise of New York-style barbecue?
Euripides “EP” Pelekanos may not be trying to start the New York barbecue style, but he’s certainly adding nutrients to its primordial soup. Nearly a decade after launching Bareburger to intercontinental heights from its humble Astoria beginnings, Pelekanos is going back to his roots and starting fresh with Salt & Bone.
His approach here is laser-focused, first and foremost. The menu is one page, consisting of seven meats and seven sides. Everything is oak-smoked and rotisserie, and centered on doing one thing and one thing well:
The rest of the restaurant speaks to his laid-back, stripped-down approach: a personally curated playlist, vintage beer cans behind the bar, smoked pine lining the walls. To Pelekanos, Bareburger is his business, but Salt & Bone is his. He works the order window himself, something he hasn’t had the time or opportunity to do in his more well-known franchise in almost five years. He’s personally involved with the menu, and, in his words, “We do barbecue. That’s what we do.”
With a segue like that, I figured it was time to try the barbecue.
Now I have to be very frank with you, dear reader: I’m starting to worry about the objectivity of my reviews, because by my count, the first dish that has come out at the last three restaurants I’ve covered for QNS has been my favorite offering of the night. Whether that’s because I try to not eat anything substantial the day of a review or that the primary fare offered up for critique is just consistently good, the opening act on Salt & Bone’s bill was no different.
The beef rib quite literally looked like they managed to rip it out of a “Flintstones” cartoon, and it tasted like it had been perfectly slow-roasted for as long as it would have taken for the Flintstones to catch up to the modern day. Beautifully tender with a wonderfully seasoned crust and just the perfect amount of saltiness, this beef rib is worth the trip on its own.
Their brisket was next, a tender selection that made no apologies for the delectable fat still running along the grain of the meat. There was a BIG blast of black pepper in the follow through, a grainy, fiery heat that lit my tongue up like a Vegas jackpot. But don’t let that turn you off, as it only served to set up the burnt ends served alongside the brisket — a handful of delectable, smoky nubs of barbecue heaven that soothed me into sauce-induced bliss.
Before we moved onto the cocktails, the kitchen made sure to send out a few slices off their house-roasted turkey. This was a good, succulent bird, with a crusted, savory outside; familiar enough to call back your childhood Thanksgiving memories, but with enough attitude to earn a spot at a modern barbecue joint.
As my steadfast photographer continued to capture the interior and remainder of the food, I, in my unrelenting professionalism, soldiered on to a selection of original cocktails created specifically for Salt & Bone. First up was the Roadie, a sweet, citrusy cordial balancing tequila, honey and lemon in a light blend perfect for sipping on Salt & Bone’s sidewalk some Sunday afternoon this summer.
The Runner — my favorite — came next, an aperitif intended to stimulate the appetite before dinner, but one that would also work well as a casual, midday drink with a nice bitter aftertaste.
Finally, they served their Old Fashioned, a lighter take on the old standby built for summer weekends.
Salt & Bone, while not the first Southern-inspired joint to come out of Astoria (or even this location; the Salt & Bone owners made a go of it here with Burnside Biscuits last year), is still contributing to what could be the beginning of something. At what point will New York feel confident enough to make its own claim to barbecue glory? All of the greats had to start at some point — even Texas.
If the barbecue continues to be this good, and this focused, then that starting point may be closer and greater than we think.
Salt & Bone opened on Memorial Day, with outdoor sidewalk seating following shortly after. Stop in for brunch, weeknight dinners, or even a quick drink from their impressive bourbon list.