I’ll be the first to say it; finding good barbecue in New York City is a difficult task. The city is a mecca for all things delicious from all over the world, but it often falls short when it comes to tantalizing the taste buds with the food of the southern Gods: Barbecue.
There are exceptions. Dinosaur BBQ on 125th St has ribs that could easily stand up to Kansas City’s best. Dallas BBQ has perfected the art of fried chicken wings. In short, they are hope in a bleak reality of the world’s best pizza and hotdogs.
Then there’s Wildwood BBQ.
Located in the Union Square section of lower Manhattan, Wildwood BBQ manages to overly excite (the decor) and utterly disappoint (the food). Wildwood BBQ manages the impossible: A feast for your eyes that doesn’t manage to connect with your stomach; a gastronomical failure of epic proportions.
We had an 8:30 reservation, thankfully I had the foresight that a Saturday plus a mostly 20’s crowd equals an emergency room style wait. We sat at the booth and were warmly greeted by our server Tanisha.
Southern Hospitality? Check.
We ordered our drinks and Tanisha promptly brought two large Mason glasses filled with water, and a small complementary order of Vinegar Chips. The vinegar chips were exquisite, golden, fresh-cut russet potatoes peppered with spices. They were super crunchy without being uncomfortable to chew. The flavor literally explodes in your mouth; tangy yet sweet and the vinegar managed to grip every single taste bud and linger just enough to make them irresistible. These chips were the perfect start to a rather imperfect meal, and they stood out as the star of Wildwood BBQ. If the barbecue business falls through, the owners should consider branching out and making Wildwood BBQ Vinegar Chips; a guaranteed money-maker.
I started with the Kentucky Cooler cocktail, which is billed as a delicious mixture of bourbon, Firefly sweet tea vodka, white peach and lemonade. Like the water, it was artfully displayed in a mason jar with a fresh slice of lime.
The novelty wore off with the first sip.
Whatever was in the jar was nothing compared to the description on the menu. One sip and I was certain that they had made a horrible mistake and serve me a cup of rubbing alcohol but no, Tanisha assured me that it was indeed the Kentucky Cooler so the lightweight in me (or the non-alcoholic in me) sent back the drink and asked for “more of the other ingredients” anything else but the standard liquor that overpowered my palate and made me gag. What was returned tasted like a margarita minus the tequila and I’m not saying this in praise; it was simply awful. My boyfriend had a Sam Adams; simple and reliable, probably the only part of the meal that he enjoyed.
Cornbread has a special place in our heart; we consider ourselves cornbread aficionados. We have traveled the likes of South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, and Maryland to name a few for the deliciously delicate yet earthy flavor native to our American ancestry. What we got was essentially a corn patty covered in grease. The menu bills this special corn bread as “The World’s Greatest Skillet Cornbread”, skillet must be French for rancid. The size of a paperback book, this cornbread had real whole kernel corn pieces and to be fair, was more traditionally southern in appearance than any southern style corn bread that I’ve had, but the buck stops there. The bottom was soaked in grease and the top was sweet and crunchy, almost caramelized but way too filling for a side cornbread. The mark of a good cornbread should be light and fluffy if it’s going to be accompanying baby back ribs and other stick to your stomach fare.
This cornbread just did not make the grade.
After the cornbread we finally received our entrées. I had the Carolina pulled pork with mopping vinegar sauce, baked beans with burnt ends and bacon, and creamy coleslaw. The pulled pork was bone dry, I started to believe that the mopping vinegar sauce was a way to mask the parched piggy in my mouth, but this reviewer was not fooled. The pork could have been moister. The beans were grossly undercooked, in direct contrast with the pulled pork that had apparently been cooking for weeks. The burnt ends were the littlest bit of saving grace, essentially small bits of burnt meat. I couldn’t imagine how awful the baked beans would have been without them. The sauce was independent from the beans; a sign of sheer undercooking. The coleslaw was generic as ever, but I didn’t love it or hate it.
My boyfriend had the Kansas City Sticky Ribs, and therein laid the problem of our meal. Smoked ribs will have a ring of pink that comes with the smoker territory; every good barbecue chef knows this.
Unfortunately, the pink did not stop there.
The entire half-rack was a step above bloody; in short, completely inedible. Tanisha insisted that they were, in fact cooked, but the smoker gives them the pink hue was could easily be confused for undercooked. A quick Google searched proved Tanisha was wrong, but our stomachs were already begging for our departure, so we politely asked for the check and a doggy bag for the ribs. After all, Tanisha was as knowledgeable as a waitress in a sub-par restaurant could be; I doubt the chefs were any wiser.
Bottom line; go to Dinosaur Barbecue if you want delicious food without the chance of being infected with trichinosis. Bring your enemies to Wildwood BBQ.