Daisy May's BBQ USA

(New York, NY) Last weekend, we decided to hang out in NYC. Juliet had to work a trade show during the day, but our nights would be free so it sounded like the perfect opportunity to revisit one of our favorite cities on the planet. Yes, Manhattan can be a bit expensive, but the sheer opportunity for foodie nirvana outweighs the monetary concerns. And the challenge, for us, is to find the gems, polish them up and offer them to you for consideration and enjoyment. With that in mind, I boarded an early flight out of GRR and landed at LGA while the warm sun rose over the skyline...

He Fed:
After a lengthy cab ride, I make it to the hotel just in time to see Juliet before she heads to the trade show. I unpack, then head down for a quick bite of breakfast in the hotel restaurant (more on that in another review). We are supposed to meet for lunch a bit after noon, but there is a snafu and we are delayed a couple hours. By the time Juliet is able to leave for lunch, I am starving.

We leave the hotel and walk 2 blocks south to Daisy May's BBQ USA. In preparation for the trip, I had queried "Who has the best bbq in NYC?" on Aardvark. This place was recommended and it is only a stroll away from where we are staying! It is an unassuming brick building with red canopies and the familiar red canvas entryways nearly every restaurant in NYC sports. Even though it is well past lunchtime, there are a few customers ahead of us waiting in the narrow corridor to order at a cafeteria-style food line. The menu is a parade of pulled pork, ribs, and various other meats; the smell is maddening.

Finally, we are able to order. I ask the cashier what she thinks is better, the Kansas City Sweet & Sticky Pork Ribs or the Memphis Dry Rub Pork Ribs? "Get a mixed plate," she advises. "That way you can try them both, three of each." Good deal, because I can never remember which I like best. My plate special also comes with two sides so I opt for Cajun Dirty Rice and Beans, and Golden Spicy Corn Bread. Thanks to advice on foursquare, I also order the sweet tea served in a mason jar. (But just in case it isn't palatable, I get a Magic Hat #9 as well.) We grab our tray and drinks, then head into the dining room.

The dining room consists of three long trestle tables with many stout chairs. On the wood-paneled walls, various placards and awards tell you the story of Daisy May's, and just how good the meal is that you're about to eat. We hunker down at the far table, just next to a freezer door. There is salt, pepper and other minor condiments, but no barbecue sauce. No barbecue sauce!?! That's okay; I'll make do without it.

My first bite, I dive into the Kansas City Sweet & Sticky Pork Ribs. They are indeed sweet (but not overly so) and lead to sticky fingers. Unfortunately, this is my least favorite cut of meat because the "nodules" of cartilige at one end of each rib. The flavor, however, is amazing...smoky, spicy with just the right amount of brown sugar sauce. I'm initially a little nervous because the meat is so tender it seems raw. A quick inspection shows it is cooked just fine. I move on the Memphis Dry Rub Pork Ribs. The meat is tight to the bone, and you really have to work at it with your teeth. Again, the smoky flavor shines through the generous spice rub. Both ribs are good, but I've had better.

Sweet tea isn't my favorite beverage. In fact, I've only had it a couple other times. It's just too sweet! As I chug down glass after glass during lunch, though, I think I finally discover why this sugary beverage exists in the first place: it's a soothing counterpoint to typically over-spiced southern cooking. I nearly finish the large mason jar all by myself (along with the beer).

Both of my sides are quite dry. The rice and beans, though flavorful, would benefit from a gravy or brown sauce (especially in light of the lack of sauce at the table). I munch a couple bites from the cornbread, but it too lacks moisture, as well as flavor. My stolen forkful of Juliet's baked beans makes me realize the error of my choices; it is creamy, smoky, and sweet. I am not as impressed with my sampling of her pulled pork, with its heavy mustard overtones and pedestrian preparation.

The atmosphere leaves much to be desired. A young family had seated just after us (thankfully at the far table), and the little kids were just too rambunctious, yelling and crying and playing with the furniture. You could tell the mother was trying her best to corral the kiddies, but having a difficult time of it. Dad looks like he couldn't care less; the kids are mom's job. Also, some of the staff has to load and unload products from the freezer and bang the door against my chair several times, blocking our exit.

When we are finally able to leave, we do so with some relief. The food was decent, but exactly what you might expect from a rib shack situated alongside car dealerships, auto mechanic garages, and plumbing supply shops, in a more industrial section of Hell's Kitchen. For a quick lunch place, it's suitable but I think we both recommend the takeout option for serious foodies.
She Fed:
To my surprise, we 're overstaffed at our booth on Friday, so I'm able to go have a real "lunch hour" with my husband. The plan was for me to leave the booth at 12 noon, but it ends up being past 1 pm before I can bolt. Jeremy and I are both ravenous and as soon as I can change out of my business suit and into jeans and flats, we racewalk down the street to Daisy May's.

In the interest of full-disclosure, I should tell you I'd been to Daisy May's just two nights before with a few co-workers. We were tired, it was late and barbeque just a few blocks from our hotel hit the spot. I had the beef brisket, macaroni and cheese (like that's even an option for me) and creamed corn. And a bottled water, Corona and Diet Coke...like I said, it had been a long day. I didn't pay much attention to the atmosphere or the other patrons. It was nearly 9 pm and we were all scarfing down our food. I remember the brisket was sweet and rich and the mac and cheese was dense and comforting. The creamed corn had white cheddar in it and had I known that beforehand, I never would have ordered it. It had no spice or kick to it like most Southern creamed corn dishes; it was essentially corn in a thick cheese sauce.

I am so excited to have some time with Jeremy on Friday, I don't really care where we eat and I know he has his heart set on Daisy Mays. I figure this will give me an excuse to try some different things. As soon as we walk in, my mouth starts watering because the place smells so damn good. Smoke, seared meat and barbeque sauce...a trifecta for the nose that will evoke more than one fond memory of warm summer nights, cold beers in hand and a white hot grill begging for ribs, brisket, chops, steaks and more. Ahhhh, but I digress.

The set-up at Daisy May's is confusing and none of the staff seems to be in any big hurry to help you figure it out. You walk in and must either head right to the dining room (where you will never, ever be waited on) or head left to the order counter. As you walk left (or wait in line as the case may be) you will see all of the day's sides in large steamtable vats. I know the word "vats" sounds so very unappetizing, but once you see the mounds of mashed potatoes, red eye gravy, macaroni and cheese, braised collards, baked beans with burnt ends, creamed spinach, peaches with bourbon sauce, creamed corn, dirty rice and corn bread...your stomach will begin to growl and you will happily order something out of the vat.

This time around, I order the pulled pork which comes in a vinegar-based Carolina style sauce and a side of baked beans and macaroni and cheese. (I truly will never be bored with mac and cheese; it's an addiction and I may need professional help.) While the brisket from a few nights ago had been chewy, dense and sweet, today's pulled pork is a tender, fall-off-the-bone consistency in a spicy but sweet sauce. The mustard, vinegar and brown sugar all play very nicely together. It would be impossible to pick a favorite between the brisket and the pork and I would suggest asking for half portions of each if they'd let you try it.

The mac and cheese is fabulous again, only even more so as I asked the server to scoop me up a few of the crunchy pieces from the corners. (I'm an "edger", I like those crispy, crunchy bits around the edges of any casserole or roast.) The high point though is the baked beans with burnt ends. They are slow-cooked, probably overnight, but still have some tooth to them. The sauce is dark and sweet, I can still taste a bit of molasses, and the burnt ends, at least for an edger like me, are chewy little bits of meaty bbq heaven.

Like so many NYC eateries, Daisy May's is doing the best it can with it's limited space. The seating is communal, the tables are slightly tacky with the slightest residue of barbeque sauce and you're stuck eating with whoever else is there the same time as you. (Yes, I'm talking to you, the two beastly children who screamed, scratched and chortled nonstop while Daddy pretended to be anywhere else but here.)

In any case, this is not a place you come to for haute cuisine, personal service or memorable atmosphere. You come for the 'Q and perhaps what I hear is the best red velvet cupcake on the planet...alas, I find I am too full to try one. The sides are very generous and most of the meats, excluding ribs of course, are available on a sandwich. I recommend scoping out the dining room first and maybe considering getting your meal to-go. There is a small park a few blocks to the north and I can see a lovely feast of brisket or pulled pork, baked beans and a cupcake in my future!

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