(New York, NY) — After a disappointing breakfast, we are looking forward to our final meal in Manhattan: lunch at Virgil’s Real Barbecue. We pack up our suitcases and check out, hanging around the hotel to watch all the Times Square activity from 8 floors up, until it’s time to claim our OpenTable reservation. A couple blocks away is a glass-doored entrance with grungy-looking banners on construction scaffolding. It looks like a down-home ‘cue shack in Atlanta, somehow transplanted to New York. With some trepidation, we enter...
Juliet has been trying to get me to go to Virgil’s for the past few trips, and I’ve resisted. For one, she claims it’s “nothing special” just a good place to eat some BBQ and watch sports. (Never mind that I don’t watch sports and I’m not a fan of “nothing special” restaurants.) For another, we already hit Daisy Mae’s BBQ on one of our past trips, and it was truly nothing special. So why would I seek out another mediocre experience?
Heading inside, the decor is the same as most traditional BBQ establishments: old-timey photos on the wall, heavy wooden furniture, a long bar. Many servers mill about, waiting for a lunch rush that doesn’t appear to be materializing. (The city is relatively empty of locals, we suspect, because of the recent hurricane-swept rains, the ten year 9/11 anniversary, and general end-of-summer malaise.) I smell smoked meat right off the bat. That’s a good sign! We are led upstairs to the second level and given a large table overlooking the street below. For once, this trip does not seem to suffer the usual “bad table” OpenTable curse we’ve experienced in past.
I take one look at the expansive menu and I’m in love. There are many of the traditional offerings, but two items capture my attention immediately: Crispy Hush Puppies with maple syrup butter, and Porkslap Pale Ale. As advertised, the hush puppies are indeed crispy, with a light herb sprinkling in the batter. The maple syrup butter is addictively sweet and creamy. Butternuts’ Porkslap Pale Ale, done in farmhouse style, isn’t bad but doesn’t commit to either hops or the farmhouse pucker. It’s just okay.
I’ve had my fair share of ribs lately, so I opt instead to try a combo plate with Carolina Pulled Pork and Texas Beef Brisket. Both are redolent of deep smoke, tender to the fork and very, very authentic. The pulled pork has a sweet, salty sheen and with a little help from some mustard-based sauce, it elevates to succulence. The brisket melts in the mouth, with a nice crunchy crust. I have trouble remembering we are in New York City, and I regret not having trusted Juliet’s recommendation in past. Who cares about watching a game when you can get ‘cue this good!
The cornbread muffin has corn kernels in it (my favorite); the mac-n-cheese is over the top cheesy with just a little kick of jalapeno; and the pickled beets are earthy sweet (though I suspect they came out of a jar). To fill in the cracks, I order a Virgil’s Ale. It has way more personality than the Porkslap, slightly sweet, crisp, and light on the tastebuds.
Bottom line? If you’re in Manhattan and craving some truly authentic, savory smoked meats, definitely drop by Virgil’s. In a city filled with Michelin starred and celebrity chef restaurants, the comfort food of a BBQ “shack” can bring you back to center.
One of my favorite places to hit when I'm in NYC is Virgil's Real Barbeque. Not because it's a quintessential Manhattan eatery, but because it's got amazing barbeque. A co-worker recommended it years ago and typically I manage to indulge every other business trip. It's got a great bar with several televisions tuned into sports, so it's a relaxed place to unwind, have a icy cold beer and some good 'que. There's absolutely nothing fancy pants about the place and I love it.
As soon as we walk in and smell the wood fire, my mouth begins to water. We're shown to a table upstairs with a view of a Times Square sidestreet which provides interesting people watching. A mix of blues, country and folk music plays and the walls are filled with barbeque memorabilia...old menus, past awards, pig signs, etc.
We split an order of the hushpuppies which is a mistake. They're tasty, but really hushpuppies are just balls of fried seasoned dough and they're taking up space in my belly that could be occupied by pork!
I ask the waitress if I can have the "Pick Two" combo but substitute a catfish filet for one of the standard BBQ meat choices. I love good fried catfish and love it even more with some ribs. The last time I was here (with a different co-worker; I've become a Virgil's evangelist it seems) our waiter let me substitute the catfish. Well, unfortunately for me this server isn't going to let that slide, not even for an upcharge. So I go for the "Southern Style Surf & Turf" with Memphis style pork ribs and grilled shrimp.
I've long said the best part of Southern dining is the sides. Virgil's are all made from scratch and I've had most of them, the pickled beets and collards being faves. I can feel the start of a headcold coming on so I choose my go-to comfort foods, mashed potatoes and macaroni 'n cheese. I've had both before and am not disappointed this time. The mac tastes like it's got a mustard-based BBQ sauce mixed into the cheese sauce. It's so unbelievably rich and satisfying, I'm unable to finish the cup-sized serving. The potatoes are slightly lumpy, which I like a lot, and while delicious as is, become absolutely divine when drizzled with some of the accompanying (pork or beef?) gravy.
The ribs are exactly the way I like them with the meat not quite falling off the bone, but ready to disengage easily with one bite. The meat is dark pink from smoking, the sauce is tangy and sweet and in no time I'm licking my fingers clean. The shrimp are pretty good, but they are no substitute for a fried catfish filet. The portions are extremely generous. I'm filling up fast and have to leave two ribs and three shrimp behind. Once again Virgil's has filled my craving for 'que making our last meal in NYC memorable.