Monday, November 19, 2007

Reality check at Virgil's

Well it's definitely BBQ, real BBQ. But is it the best? I doubt it. Virgil's Times Square location means that the place is always heaving with bodies. It has one of the largest neon signs of any restaurant in the city, very Times Square I suppose, and it promises REAL BBQ. Whether you've had it before or not, any place that promises that probably needs a visit.

We checked in at the desk and had a brief wait for a table, which we expected. It was a good opportunity to drink a quick beer and check out the clientèle. While sipping a Boston Lager in the crowded bar area, I spied a fabulous low-rent Isaac Hayes, complete with 'budget' ruby rings, wheelbarrow beard and suit from Men's Warehouse. More bizarrely, next to us stood a couple who didn't say a word to each other for 20 minutes while they waited for their table. I did notice his Adidas track suit and sneakers though, and I calculated that his silence and the track suit could only mean one thing: International barbecue athletes come to train at Virgil's. After somebody started shouting my name, we were seated upstairs on a large table covered in a myriad of bottle and red towels containing cutlery. Our waitress was a very cheery sort considering she'd been on the floor since 9am. She took our drinks orders and said she'd be back to take the food order. I was with a friend Paul, who is a Virgil's regular and he said I should opt for one of the BBQ platters.

I was concerned about the presence of cutlery, I mean BBQ should be tender enough to be eaten with mucky digits right? But then I remembered that all that smoky meat does come with some sloppy sides - BBQ beans, potato salad, biscuits. They could also substitute chips (ahem, fries) and some other stuff like cheesy grits and coleslaw but if this was REAL BBQ then I'd try to be as REAL as I could (unlike the Isaac Hayes knock-off downstairs) and go with tradition. Potato, beans and biscuits it is then. I also saw 'Trainwreck Fries' on the menu, and despite a fairly accurate description of what these things are the menu, I was still curious and ordered a plate for the table. What turned up was exactly as described: A large plate of chips, covered in bacon, cheese, green onion, jalapenos and ranch dressing, like a sort of chip-based pizza without the tomato sauce. Well they were alright, but I suspect somebody just PR-ed the hell out of something they made when they came home from a mammoth piss-up and threw everything in the fridge on a plate, baked it and covered it with sour milk.

Now firmly in the BBQ spirit (drinking cheap beer, watching the Knicks lose on a flat screen telly and inhaling burned meat) our main plates arrived. The ribs on my platter were the best bit, all succulent with tiny lakes of translucent fat hidden between strata of smoked pig, but the 'brisket' was drier than Gandhi's flip-flop and tasted like tree bark seasoned with rain water. Not pleasant. The sides were just OK, The beans reminded me of Heinz Beans with some smoky bits chucked in there, the biscuit was a very crumbly affair and didn't hold up well when I tried to use it as a vehicle to get the beans from the plate into my mouth, but the potato salad was good. (If you can mess potato salad up, you're really in the shit.) I sneaked a couple of forkfuls of cheesy grits from the wife's plate, which were not at all cheesy. I also tried her beef steak, which tasted of, well, steak. Not bad, not brilliant.

Is it REAL BBQ? Well I think so. It tastes like all the other BBQ joints I've been to in New York, so it must be real. I even pinched myself in the restaurant to make sure it was REAL. Yes - It's definitely there. The ribs are the high point, almost everything else is plain mediocre. Some dishes are horrific and that brisket will suck the saliva out of your mouth faster than half a brick of alum. You should go to Dallas BBQ, spend a fraction of the money you'll spend here and get great BBQ of similar quality.

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