Texas-style Salt & Bone Smokehouse aims to be the Hometown Bar-B-Que of Astoria. The huge space sprawls a block east of the N stop at 30th Avenue, penned in by 32nd Street and Newtown Avenue on its own micro-block. Outdoor seating circles the flatiron-shaped building, with oak-log cross sections decorating the metal perimeter fence. Inside, tables of salvaged and whitewashed wood face floor-to-ceiling banks of windows in two dining rooms.
First off, the beef brisket ($28 per pound) is fantastic. Served in quarter-pound slabs, it’s coated with the usual salt and coarsely cracked black peppercorns. The meat develops a dark crust and a pink smoke ring after a 14-hour smoking, and arrives richly veined with fat, every bit as good as the brisket at, say, Hill Country or Mighty Quinn’s. (Needless to say, brisket quality varies at even the best barbecues.)
There’s a too-sweet barbecue sauce and a vinegary hot sauce on the table — both unnecessary, and even detrimental to the smoky flavor. Pork ribs are sold by the half or full rack ($22 and $40, respectively). These ribs are smoked four hours — which may be an hour or two shy of perfect — and come lightly coated with a sweet glaze, post-pit. They are perfectly fine, and you shouldn’t hesitate to order them if you’re a rib fan. Beef ribs also available ($28/pound), but we didn’t try them due to the low meat-bone ratio.
The most mind boggling barbecue is the beef sausage. Made by Fossil Farms of Boonton, New Jersey, it’s composed of brisket stuffed in a pig intestine and is more fine-textured than the Hill Country product, which is made at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas. Mildly spicy and modestly smoky, it oozes orange fat and might be the best sausage you’ll try all year.
Other barbecue offerings include pulled pork and turkey breast, which we haven’t tried yet. We did get a half Moroccan chicken ($11), which is a daring experiment on the part of Salt & Bone: Coated mainly with rosemary and overcooked, it tasted more French than Moroccan. It wasn’t bad, it was simply disappointing but we ate it anyway.
And the sides? As at all the world’s great barbecues, they are principally forgettable. In this case they have been dressed up beyond the usual potato salad, cole slaw, pinto beans, and dill pickles. There’s a dish of undercooked green beans with a sweet garlic-and-black-sesame-seed dressing, a roasted-beet salad with arugula in a champagne vinaigrette, and a cole slaw made exclusively with purple cabbage, but pretty good anyway. The beans are fine, too, but the bread that comes with the barbecue proves way too dry and wheat-y, and the pickles are sickly sweet, rather than dill and tart as they should be.
As long as the smoked meat is good, who cares that the sides are more fit for a bistro than a barbecue restaurant?