I love barbecue, I mean, really, who doesn't? And in the past, I've loved Danny Meyer's porcine party, the Big Apple BBQ weekend. Despite the 'cue queues, I've always felt satisfied and happy after scarfing down brisket, sausages, and even last year, pig snouts. But this year, things didn't go so well.
Last year I got to Madison Square Park early, like 10.30, found my favorite pitmaster (Michael Rodriguez of The Salt Lick BBQ) got in his line and had my brisket and sausages within 5 minutes of the opening bell at noon (I even kinda got on tv!) I then jumped in another line while eating my delectable 'cue and had a second round, this time of pulled pork, before 1pm.
This year though I couldn't follow through on this perfect plan. I came down with a sinus infection last Sunday night and suffered all week, unable to take a day off from work for various crappy reasons, so on Saturday morning, I was knackered. It took two World Cup matches to levitate me from the couch and motivate my feet towards 23rd Street.
I got to the park and scoped out the lines. Salt Lick was way too long, even Dinosaur was a bit long, so I settled on Brisket and Sausage (are we sensing a theme here?) from Southside Market & BBQ. Being alone and iPod-less I was forced to listen to the conversations of the two tools behind me. Sample? Sure:
Tweedletool 1: So, I consider myself a total barbecue epicure.
Tweedletool 2: Really? What's your favorite place in New York then?
Tweedletool 1: ummmm… I'd say Brother Jimmy's.
Tweedletool 1: You know what's surprising about this event?
Tweedletool 2: What's that?
Tweedletool 1: That there's so many people outside New York that are SO into barbecue!
Sigh, yeah, for 45 minutes I had to listen to these two tools that would probably take offense if I called them frat boys, because, actually, they prefer the word fraternity and we graduated from Columbia three years ago (I'm just guessing at that fact).
Finally, I was about about to make the turn onto the last leg of the line where you pay for the food and then pick it up. At this turn was a man that, when I and my friends were about the same age as the Tweedletools would have called an SOS/TIG*, aka, a yuppie. He grabbed my arm when I ended up next to him and shoved $50 at my face. "Please, will you buy 2 portions for my buddy and me? You can keep the change."
Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?? Hello, Eater? Yeah, hi, um, yeah, just wanted to let you know that you were correct about corruption in Madison Square Park. You just had the venue wrong…
Anyway, back to our story. With jaw agape, I turned to the guy and said something to the effect of "Are you f*cking kidding me??" SOS/TIG "What, is $50 not enough, here, have another twenty." Me "Seriously dude, go f*cking stand on line like the rest of us."
I am proud to say that he tried this on about 4 or 5 other people and, to a man and woman, my fellow New Yorkers all told him to go shove it. He ended up slinking off into the throngs with his tail between his legs to be replaced quickly by a younger version of himself. Man, sometimes I hate these hedgefund guys…
Back to the food: I got my brisket and Elgin sausage and headed for another line to wait and eat simultaneously. The brisket was fatty and gummy and barely edible. The sausage was really very, very yummy, but the best part? Seriously, it was the luscious slice of potato bread soaked in barbecue sauce and hot sauce onto which I dumped the cole slaw. Seriously, heaven.
The line I ended up in was very exciting to me. It was Mitchell's BBQ from North Carolina, and they were doing the whole hog. And I mean the WHOLE hog. They had smoker after smoker lined up next to their serving tent each with a full grown pig cooking away later to be chopped up and served on bread with some vinegar based barbecue sauce and mustard cole slaw. Or, at least, that's what I'm told they were serving because, well, I never got any.
Yeah, this is where it gets ugly.
I stood in line happily chomping away and playing with my new cellphone. Finally, I got to a place in a line where I could watch the proceedings. It was fascinating! They would pull a whole hog off the smoker, pull out all the big bones, put the ribs in a plastic bin and hand that to a girl who methodically pulled the meat off and handed it off for sandwich making.
As soon as the pitmasters got all the big bones out of the hog, they'd start shredding the meat by hand, looking for little bones and connective tissue (I'm assuming) and then eventually passing it over to another table where big cleavers chopped the meat into smokey porcine love. Or at least, that's what I imagine it tasted like (because I never got any).
At last, I was there, after an hour and half of waiting, I paid, and I was next on line. I was watching the woman pitmaster pulling apart the fresh hog they had just pulled off a smoker. I was watching the "VIPs" on the other side of the tent (those that paid tons of extra money for their "Bubba FastPasses") being served sandwich after sandwich. My mouth was watering, my eyes were fixed on the mistress of the hog. I was concocting a strategy (bbq sauce on the meat and then the slaw on the meat, a dash more sauce on the top of the bun, smoosh it all together and chow down) when to my horrified eyes, the woman pushed all the hog meat into a bin, topped it with the pig's skin, turned around flailed her arms in the no more signal and shouted out "The pig was bad, grubs over."
Noooooooooooooooo! I was so close! There was one person in front of me! This caused chaos on the line, but even more so on the VIP line. As Gothamist pointed out, the lemonade "spiked" with Skyy Citron vodka was flowing freely, and the guy at the head of the VIP line had definitely consumed his share of it. He started harassing the girl handing out the meat, he started pulling ribs out of the plastic bin and handing them to people to chew on and then throw at people on the line and behind the counter, he and his friends started grabbing whatever they could, coleslaw, sauce, etc, playing with it and tossing it around and then they started pouring some of said lemondade concotion on the table (I think if they could have pissed on the table they would have). They began yelling. This finally got the attention of the pitmaster, Mr. Mitchell (who is a very large man). He came over and said a few words to our new favorite idiot of the day and he kind of calmed down, that is until the subject of getting his money back got into his head which set him off again. Oy vey. Luckily by this time I had been given my money back and I was able to finally leave the hell hole known as Madison Square Park.
I felt so cheated having wasted almost two hours by this point standing on line and getting nothing for it. I don't know how they can fix this event, but it definitely needs fixing. I know they want to keep this as an event for the people, but the lines are so long that people get really cranky. Maybe there needs to be timed tickets (like they do for big museum exhibitions). Maybe they need to jack the price up, or make it one price, not $7 per dish. I don't know, but I really hope they bring in some logistics people before next year because I've lost my fervor.
*an SOS/TIG is something that my friends and I called yuppies back when we were too ignorant to know that we were heading straight towards yuppie-hood ourselves. A TIG is a Tucked In Guy, a nod to the art of tucking in one's pink polo shirt. An SOS is a Sweater Over Shoulders. This was generally used for women only, especially those that artfully tied their Ralph Lauren cardigans over their Lilly Pulitzer shells, but every now and then, you see an SOS guy. It's rare, but it happens. However, even rarer than an SOS guy is a TIG/SOS. It's kind of like spotting Nessie.