Hudson Smokehouse is both a bar and a barbecue.
Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland
We could eat here for days, ”said my barbecue freak friend with tremors of joy in his voice as we stood in line not long ago at the. Hudson Smokehouse in the South Bronx and contemplated the bounty on the big blackboard menu. There were slices of smoked turkey breast and brisket sold by half a pound, full and half squares of pork ribs, and giant servings of freshly sizzled pork crackers seasoned with chili peppers for $ 6 apiece. There was a homemade burger, and there were eight kinds of sandwiches – one, the dreaded “Hat Trick,” made up of three kinds of pork, including the aforementioned cracklings. I think I counted seven varieties of chicken wings, which are smoked and then deep-fried (Buffalo, jerk, and barbecue, to name a few), as well as a blizzard of sides, including cabbage. roasted brussels, two coleslaw salads (vinegar and creamy), and a deadly bran creation called “cheesy potatoes”.
“This is a full service operation,” said one of the beef connoisseurs we met in line, a gentleman from Nanuet, Rockland County, just across the river. the Hudson River. He said he made regular pilgrimages on Saturdays when pit master Kenneth McPartlan smoked weekly specialties like pastrami, which our friend considered to be the second best pastrami in the whole town (“It’s not not quite as good as Katz’s ”), and a giant bone-in Texas-style prime rib that’s served on butcher paper and a metal platter, just like it’s done in the Hill Country around Austin. Others in the line married their own favorites: two elegant ladies in their best weekend clothes were there for the chicken; two cops during their lunch break recommended the breast. “It’s a heavy sandwich for lunch, but it’s a good sandwich,” one said before his radio sizzled and they left with their carry-on in a cruiser.
McPartlan is a bar owner by trade (his family has run the same tavern on East 149th Street since the 1930s). A few years ago, he and a partner bought a used smoker “from a guy from Jersey,” as he puts it, with the idea of bringing the kind of barbecue revolution that has been going on to the Bronx. years now in Brooklyn. They renovated an old bar space in a western saloon motif (sturdy oak table top, wooden barrel-shaped shade) and opened a few days before the city closed in March 2020. The restaurant has survived thanks to PPP money and a now thriving delivery business, and McPartlan has used the time to hone his self-taught pitmaster skills and techniques, which he says are influenced by the big dry schools of the Midwest (” We’re a Kansas City and St. Louis combo ”) and smoke artists. from the Carolinas and Texas.
When we tasted them, the homemade pork ribs had a nice rind on the outside but were loose and tender on the inside, and the combination of spices and smoke didn’t overwhelm the essential porky character of the meat. . The same goes for the excellent short ribs, which are stacked in small paper boats, as well as the cooked and candied pork belly ends, topped with a classically sticky barbecue sauce. The chest, we generally agreed, was a good, honest example of the genre, although it needed a bit more weight to challenge the Blue Ribbon Champions in places like Hometown. The chicken was rather dry when we ordered it, although the smoky wings, in all their multi-flavored splendor (try the jerk and vinegar made with “Alabama White” mayonnaise), are worth a special trip.
What separates this neighboring barbecue shack from others around town are the sides, many of which taste like they’ve been projected into this little corner of the Bronx from an ethereal country kitchen in the sky. McPartlan assures us that’s not true – the sides are the work of a talented cook named Bilal Muhammad – but he’s learned from the bar that variety is the secret spice of a good, lively hospitality operation. So these two coleslaws, one in a vinegar sauce, the other a classic “creamy” variety made from strips of red pepper for an extra vegetable crunch. I’ve identified at least three kinds of beans in homemade baked beans, which are folded with apple pieces and remind you of something you would find at a Thanksgiving dinner. Ditto for green beans and bacon and dense cornbread patties, which taste like real corn like the best masa cakes do, and are coated in sugar and honey.
Timing is all in the eccentric realm of real smoky barbecue, and the best time to visit, as mentioned, is on Saturdays when the meat is fresh from the smoker, salsa bands set up on the streets on a warm day, and there has plenty of after lunch to quietly digest your afternoon meal. The pastrami isn’t as good as Katz’s, it’s true, but I don’t think I’ve encountered anything like the deeply smoked prime rib outside the barbecue temples around Austin; it is crusted with garlic crystals, with the usual clouds of salt and pepper, and baked overnight for 16 hours. I don’t recommend consuming any of the fried dessert options afterward (there are six including the Oreos, Twinkies, and Fried Snickers bars), but the soothing, fresh banana pudding is the perfect antidote. to a pleasant barbecue event stun on a hot summer afternoon.