I’d classify myself as a barbecue fanatic who often returns again and again to places I think are great. But sometimes I miss a place, and that’s what happened in the case of Hamilton Pork, which is located in a remote corner of Jersey City where I rarely stray, more often finding myself in Grove Street, Journal Square, or the Heights. The pit is named, not for a cynic’s view of the musical Hamilton, but after the lovely residential neighborhood of Hamilton Park. It would be hard to find a better collection of century-old houses and handsome corner storefronts than here.
But perhaps potential visitors are discouraged by its proximity to the mouth of the Holland Tunnel, with its line of gas stations and sleezy motels. The neighborhood feels isolated, and has developed its own collection of restaurants little known to outsiders. Indeed, I’d never heard of Hamilton Pork before a friend mentioned it, and when I went was amazed by the quality of the ’cue, which I tasted for the first time a week ago.
Hamilton Pork was founded in 2016 by brothers Michael and John Gondevas in a former auto-repair garage, following a trip to Austin, where they fell in love with Texas barbecue. The place boasts picnic-table seating in front and in a side yard, each with a proportion of sunny and shady tables. The stained glass windows of an adjacent church glint in the afternoon sun if you happen to be sitting in the side yard. And the high-ceilinged interior feels like a cool refuge from the summer’s heat.
The barbecue menu — smoked in a contraption that stands on its legs behind a counter at the rear of the dining room, and looks like a metal kitchen cabinet — is doctrinaire for Texas barbecue, but with some interesting twists. In addition to pork ribs, there is lamb belly, both looking almost identical with their black-crusted lengths. The lamb rib lacks bones, but makes up for it in the opulence of its fat. The pork ribs are some of the best in the region, soft but not too soft, with a slight crunch coming from the spice-coated surface. A range of four sauces are offered (vinegar, barbecue sauce, kung pow, and hot sauce), but you really don’t need any of them.
The brisket is good, too, fattier than most and milder in its smoky nuances. There’s a good sausage unique to Hamilton Pork, made with brisket, which gives it a firmer texture than most Texas beef sausages, which tend to be loose in their casings. This sausage is tight, and fragrant of beef and charred hardwood.
Then there’s a half pulled chicken; humongous beef rib, a meat that has garnered much attention over the last few years here and in Texas; jalapeno-cheese sausage, pulled pork, and a couple of other things. The menu’s barbecue selections are available in either largish single servings (most $12 to $18) or in sandwiches ($12 to $14).
But the menu also strays into Tex-Mex territory with its tacos ($5 or $6), many involving smoked meats, and many amazingly good. I’d recommend the brisket taco, which reminds me of ones I’ve eaten in Lockhart, Texas, at Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que, only with more sauces on top. Among the dozen tacos, there were stunt tacos, too, including one made with brussels sprouts and another name-checking a philly cheesesteak, featuring brisket and queso.
Another listed merely as “potato” made me think it might be a southern Californian taquito, but it turned out to be stuffed with french fries, garnished with crema and green onions, a flavor combo akin to scallion cream cheese on a bagel. (Those fries can be ordered separately as a side, in a large enough order that an entire table can relish them.)
On Saturdays and Sundays the menu dives even deeper into Tex-Mex with breakfast tacos, huevos rancheros, and even more desirable, a brunched-up version of migas, Austin’s unique contribution to Mexican-American cuisine. While I’ve often eaten it in Austin as a modest dish of eggs scrambled with crisp tortilla chips, salsa, and cheese, at Hamilton Pork it’s an epic mountain of eggs, chips, and guac festooned with sauces, making every bite different and delicious.
Served with a choice of meats (pick the jalapeno-cheese sausage), the migas ($18) are already great, but throw in the ’cue and tacos, and you have one of the area’s best barbecue restaurants, and one that’s little known to folks not living in the vicinity. I’m going to be visiting again — very soon.