To understand the brilliance of Hometown Bar-B-Que’s new Industry City location, it’s worth contemplating the classic pastrami on rye, sold here for $17.
This New York staple has three distinct archetypes. The first is the thinly sliced version, stacked high and glistening with fat. At 2nd Ave Deli and elsewhere, this is pastrami pretending to be prosciutto. The second type is the heftier sandwich at Katz’s, with the meat — smoked, boiled, and steamed — cut to the thickness of Thanksgiving turkey. The third is the cheffed-up iteration, best exemplified by Harry & Ida’s, where the meat is stuffed into an artisanal hero with a fistful of dill.
But now there is arguably a fourth archetype, which is fully the domain of Hometown. The brisket, as red as a fire hydrant, is never boiled, only smoked until the fat approaches the texture of silken tofu and the peppered flesh pulls apart like an old accordion. It then gently steams in its wrapping.
If some of Hometown’s peers hint at American barbecue in their sensibilities, this one is fully immersed in that craft. And it just might be the city’s next great pastrami sandwich.
Few restaurateurs pay homage to the past with the gusto of Hometown’s proprietor, Billy Durney. At his flagship location in Red Hook, he riffs on old-school Italian sausages. At his newer tavern, he upgrades the classic Peter Luger burger with careful sourcing and cooking. And now at Industry City, Durney supplements his barbecue offerings — pulled pork, ribs, some new queso brisket tacos — with a love letter to Big Apple delis. That means turkey bacon clubs and those epic pastrami sandwiches.
The best way to consume the pastrami, cut from the navel or deckle, is by approaching it like one would typical Texas-style brisket. That is: Try eating the meat by itself. Notice how the black pepper crust warms the palate gently, while the crimson meat assaults the tongue more aggressively. Is it too salty? Maybe. But this is where the exterior “cap” comes in to tame things down.
Durney’s slow, methodical cooking results in a layer of fat that is preternaturally sweet. “Sugar cookie,” is the barbecue term for this mystical phenomenon — there is no actual added sugar — and it plays a key role in offsetting the imperious salts.
Once you fully appreciate what’s going on, allow yourself to rebuild the sandwich. The sweetness of the cap comes through brilliantly, as long as Hometown doesn’t go overboard on the mustard, which it sometimes does. The toasty rye bread helps dampen the rampant salinity as well.
That said, all the layers of stacked meat, as rich as Miyazaki Wagyu, makes for an overwhelming lunchtime experience. This isn’t a question of nutrition, it’s a question of how much excess a diner can tolerate. Six slices of brisket, with six layers of fat, is... a lot of fat. The Hometown pastrami is like a whole lobe of foie gras for lunch. And while splitting a sandwich is common among pastrami connoisseurs, even half of one here lurches through the digestive system like a dry-aged steak. It drains the body of fluids like a pack of salt tablets.
The brisket taco goes down easier, which is a heck of a thing to say for a slab of tender beef smothered in queso. A swatch of salsa roja acts as a bridge between the dairy and the meat, adding a whisper of acid to the latter and a hint of spice to the former. Combined with the starchiness of the flour tortilla, the whole thing is like a Brooklyn-Austin answer to a Philly cheesesteak.
So here’s the breakdown: The brisket taco ($8), without question is a BUY. But the pastrami ($17) is even more of a BUY. It’s worthy of carnivorous pilgrimage and contemplation. Just keep in mind that it’s not something one will gobble down quickly. It’s best for a Friday lunch when most of your work is done for the week, when you can go home and take a nap.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).