The Forward announced the imminent opening of Izzy’s BBQ Addiction in October, 2014, but it wasn’t until over a year later that the kosher-certified spot debuted in Crown Heights, due to delays encountered setting up and legally stoking the Texas-made smoker, and negotiating other city-mandated obstacles.
Kosher barbecue? Well, Brooklyn already boasts kosher tapas bars, kosher French bistros, kosher Chinese restaurants, kosher Argentine steakhouses, and even kosher sushi bars — though featuring fin fish only, since shellfish are not permitted under kosher law. Heralded by the popularity of Texas-style barbecues like Hill Country, Hometown, and Mighty Quinn’s, kosher barbecue was almost inevitable. Indeed, with its heavy emphasis on beef rather than pork, Texas-style was the one school of barbecue uniquely compatible with kosher law. (Okay, the Kentucky mutton barbecue tradition would also work.)
There are now two kosher Texas-style barbecues in Brooklyn. Judging by their instant popularity, more are sure to follow. Four friends and I set out by car on a recent weekday evening to visit both, to see how kosher barbecues stacked up against the non-kosher places in town that preceded them. Our first destination was the aforementioned Izzy’s in Crown Heights, now known as Izzy’s Smokehouse. It lies a few blocks downhill from Eastern Parkway in a rather ramshackle storefront of only 600 square feet. The room was thronged when we entered, with a busy counter at the end of the room overhung by a bleached-white longhorn skull.
Gigantic ribs from that steer are the heart of the menu, priced at $38 a pound. We ordered one and it was wonderfully greasy, unstintingly meaty and coarse-textured, and mildly smoky. Served with a handful of pickles (sweet, alas!) and pile of purple cole slaw, the rib set us back $57. (Kosher-certified meat ain’t cheap.) At $20 for a half-pound, the brisket was lean and nicely smoke-ringed, served with a puddle of tomato-based barbecue sauce spilling across the paper-covered metal tray.
Odd man out was a fried chicken sandwich made with smoked poultry ($15), on a nice roll with a peppery mayo dressing dribbling out. There are some bargains on the menu, too, including a smoked sausage on a hot dog bun heaped with baked beans and sliced pickles ($6). What kind of sausage, you wonder? An all-beef Polish sausage, and is it good! As the place became more crowded and a long line began forming around 8 p.m., we finished up our ‘cue and headed back to the car.
Our next destination lay far away in the remote Mill Basin neighborhood, a knob-shaped peninsula surrounded by water on three sides approached by a narrow neck of land. Like a sailing ship, we tacked back and forth to reach it, though Brooklyn neighborhoods that included Flatbush, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, Homecrest, and Marine Park. Some were lively and neon-lit; in others only a few pedestrians lingered on darkened streets. Forty-five minutes later we arrived at Main House BBQ, located in a waterside industrial location next to a bowling alley.
The recently opened place is nostalgically named after the principal recreational building in a Catskills vacation bungalow colony, once a key institution upstate but now mainly the object of nostalgia on the part of grandparents. We entered at ground level and descended into the sunken dining room, which was thronged at this relatively late hour with guests sitting at trestle tables beneath lighting fixtures that managed to evoke a bungalow colony and a Texas barbecue simultaneously. Employees wore gray coordinated outfits stenciled with a logo showing a two-story wooden frame structure.
The menu offered brisket, both moist and lean, the way they do it in Texas, plus turkey breast, deli pastrami, roast beef, chicken wings, and quarter and half chickens. One of the centerpieces of the menu is a "sloppy josef" sandwich, and eight sides are available, evenly divided between hot and cold. Schmaltzy potatoes is one of the former — mashed spuds tasting of chicken fat topped with caramelized onions. Delicious! Other sides were more doctrinaire, including the usual coleslaw, potato salad, and shoestring fries.
We ordered the moist brisket ($20 per half pound) but what arrived was decidedly lean. That was okay, because it had a smoky flavor and the surface glistened with fat. Unfortunately, they were out of pastrami, which was one of the things we’d eagerly anticipated. At least it proved that these new kosher places resemble their Texas prototypes in another regard — it’s best to arrive as early as possible to guarantee the best selection of meats.
The sloppy josef ($17) proved to be fragments of beef inundated in a dark barbecue sauce and topped with cole slaw. Served on a bun, the thing was awful, and not as a result of sweetness alone. The chicken wings (six for $10), however, were spectacular. Not only was the flesh flavorful from being smoked first, but the hot-sauce-annealed skin had been rendered crisp from a subsequently frying. The schmaltz potatoes were wonderful enough that we left craving more. The turkey breast? Low on fat and not very smoky.
Already, these two kosher barbecues based on Texas models have their own styles, idiosyncrasies, and contrasting selection of meats. Still, beef brisket and ribs remain the center of attention, though Izzy’s already has a propensity to dabble in lamb, with both belly and ribs available on our visit. If you’re a barbecue fan, Brooklyn’s kosher smokehouses should be part of your New York City tour. We’ll certainly be back!