The gradual barbecue revolution of the last 20 years — it all started with Robert Pearson's Stick To Your Ribs in the early 90s — has yielded a bumper crop of great BBQs. But of the 10 or so that may be called great, nearly all are militantly Texas-style. New York City virtually turns its back on many other significant barbecue traditions, apart from a dish or two sprinkled around area menus, including that of Memphis; Owensboro, Kentucky; St. Louis, Kansas City, and Chicago; and, most significantly, North and South Carolina. This is one reason Arrogant Swine is so welcome.
Located on the border of East Williamsburg and Bushwick near the English Kills Canal, Arrogant Swine is the brainchild of pitmaster Tyson Ho, who studied under perpetual Barbecue Block Party participant Ed Mitchell, sometimes called the Pope of North Carolina barbecue. The hulking 3,000 foot space is a former warehouse, with high ceilings, a full bar, and a counter at the rear where the smoked meat and sides are sold by the plate or by the pound. Place your order and receive a number hoisted on a metal rod; carry it to your table and your meat horde will be delivered by and by. There's an outside seating area, too, with giant graffiti murals decorating the outside walls of the building, and an L-shaped shack out back where the barbecuing is done.
On an early visit over the weekend with a group of friends, pitmaster Ho proudly pointed to the modest wood stack and proclaimed, "All our wood is local. In fact, most of it is oak." North Carolina barbecue can be divided into two traditions: lowlands and piedmont. The barbecue found on the seaboard and eastern inland areas involves smoking whole hogs, while in the mountainous areas to the west, pork shoulders are preferred, resulting in smokier-tasting barbecue. Arrogant Swine makes a good stab at both.
The traditional pulled pork of eastern North Carolina ($24 per pound) arrives in half-pound paper boats already doused with vinegar and dotted with crunchy pork rinds. On the platter ($15), you also get cornbread and either vinegar or mayo coleslaw. It's quite good, though a friend complained "It's not smoky enough." So be it. The whole hog tradition means that the outside areas receive more smoke than interior flesh; this is all pulled and mixed together to make the final product. Unfortunately, no bread or buns are provided, preventing you from assembling North Carolina's most famous barbecue product: the pulled pork sandwich with slaw in the sandwich. Arrogant Swine: please remedy this deficiency.
At the same price, you can also get cubed pork shoulder with a smoke-blackened outer edge. If you're just going for one meat, this is the one to get. Also great is the homemade pork sausage, delivered in ring form ($7 each) and delicious in its meaty plainness. It forms a perfect parallel counterpart to the wonderful beef sausage at Hill Country and the Oklahoma hot links at Mable's Smokehouse. It's not uncommon in South Carolina to find mustard-based rather than tomato-based sauces, and Arrogant Swine wisely provides both. The mustard is on the sweet side, and it's this sauce that lightly coats the pork spare ribs ($24 per pound; about six ribs). Not bad and perfectly cooked, but the ribs can't match the shoulder or the sausage.
In lieu of bread — and this is a crazy notion — waffles are offered, sweet yam waffles covered with syrup, and savory mac-and-cheese waffles, with the macaroni and cheese actually embedded in the waffle. (I bet that makes a mess of your waffle iron.) Both have their appeal (save the sweet potato waffles for dessert), but they ain't no substitute for bread. Funny how bread has become a fearsome substance among foodies.
The only other meats available on our visit were pork belly — small strips that looked like miniature slices of bacon. Unfortunately, they begged to be compared with bacon, and fell short in the comparison. Bacon is much smokier. Near the end of our relaxed hour at Arrogant Swine (merciful noise level, not too crowded), a guy stepped up to the red menu board and chalked — Turkey Legs $15. We had to have one. When the humongous thing arrived it was coated with black pepper and had been rendered the loveliest shade of sienna brown. The flavor was pretty good, but the flesh was tough, and it was hard to get the interior parts from around the small bones that circle the main one like ribs on a ship's hull. Nevertheless, the drumstick could be a treat for some gnawer with lots of patience.
We finished up our draft beers and strode into the night, glad to have Arrogant Swine as a dining resource in what remains a little-visited industrial neighborhood. And the ‘cue is, on the whole, damn good! 173 Morgan Ave, Brooklyn, (347) 328-5595.
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