What could be more appropriate on July 4th than to review a restaurant which does its best to bring the taste sensation of the rest of the country to New York City, Virgil's BBQ on East 44th? Fortuitously, since I'm spending a few days here in NYC, I can bring my Texas BBQ judging skills to bear on Virgil's and see if it lives up to its reputation.
The atmosphere in Virgil's isn't bad. They've got the basic look of a relatively unassuming barbeque joint down pretty well, with a lot of rough wood and idiotic pictures and bric-a-brac on the walls. But there are some refinements which are jarring right off to those of us from real barbeque country. One issue is that the barbeque is served on actual ceramic plates, a sissification which I guess I can live with, though I'll always prefer brown paper. What is a bit more troubling is that the pits are nowhere to be seen. Serious BBQ gets served right off the pit, and you ought to be able to see the smoker and feel the fire when they bring the meat out. Not having that element of direct exposure to the cooking process is a real let down, not to mention that it means that the dining area isn't full of savory smoke and the smell of roasting meat.
The menu and presentation are intriguing. The placemats have a rusticated map of the country showing BBQ joints they approve of, including a number in Texas. The good sign is that they include Kreuz Market, which is arguably the best BBQ in the world. The bad sign is that they think Southside Market in Elgin is even vaguely in the same league, which it certainly isn't. On the menu they offer a wide variety of meats, cooked in the styles of different regions, including Memphis Pork Ribs, Owensboro Lamb, Smoked Maryland Ham, Sliced Texas Briskit, Texas Link Sausage and Pulled Carolina Pork. In addition to straight meats they offer a selection of sides, salads, appetizers and sandwiches, which is nice - but barbeque is all about the meat, not the other stuff.