Just look at that gorgeous piece of brisket from Ducks Eatery with its moist, pink center and perfect, crisp crust. This was just one of the many samples that people flocked to Santos Party House to taste last night at the brisket showdown hosted by Jimmy’s No. 43 and its events arm, Food Karma Projects. This year, the event moved from the cozy back room at Jimmy’s to a much more spacious venue with an expanded roster of chefs who flexed their culinary muscles in vying for the title of Brisket King of NYC, with a portion of the proceeds of the event going to support the New Amsterdam Market.
This year, the tasting selections also included a sampling of the spirits created by Hudson Valley purveyors. In addition to producing wine in the New York area, many folks have taken up distilling, bringing back to life a number of alcoholic beverages that haven’t been seen in many years, using local grains to make them. A friend of mine came with me to play foodie wing-person yesterday evening. We dove right into the brisket-tasting, however.
Back from last year‘s competition, Mr. Bobo’s brought their brisket sliders with them last night to give us a taste of the South and their barbecue cook-off prowess. These were tasty, with moist, juicy meat, but we couldn’t risk filling up on them as we had a busy evening ahead of us.
As our second sample of the evening, this was an intriguing choice pairing the rich, fatty meat with a pungent cheese like fontina. I would have liked to have said that I thought the pairing worked well, but for me, it didn’t, as I took a bite of basically mostly fat from the brisket. My friend seemed to like it better than I did, saying that the dairy actually blended well with the meat.
Located in Long Island City (actually a part of Queens for the non-NYC-ers), if this delicious plate is anything to go by, I’m going to have to make the trek over there one day with the gang. I’m more of a North Carolina/Virginia barbecue fan myself, but these crisp, savory burnt ends with a slice of rich, buttery fois gras all tied together with a pile of vinegary, crunchy coleslaw that had a tiniest kick to it could almost, very almost, convert me to Kansas City-style barbecue. That isn’t likely to happen, but this was a great dish. Oh, and here’s what a whole tray of these juicy morsels looked like.
Another returning competitor was Joe Dough with this incredible-looking sub. Visually, this was probably the most appealing display of the evening. Unfortunately, we both felt this entry was just so-so. For me, the bread overwhelmed the meat completely, and I didn’t really get the feel for the whole concoction as I never got that bite of brisket, mayo, and onion all together that could have sold me on the sandwich.
Robbie Richter, well-known in NYC barbecue circles, brought with him one of the more out-of-the-box brisket creations last night. His Shabu Shabu transformed this cut of meat into an Asian-inspired delight with a delicate but flavorful broth, highlighted by a touch of heat and sharp anise notes from the Thai basil. This is the kind of meal I want when I’m craving some warmth and comfort. It was a hit with both of us for its uniqueness and terrific execution.
Patrick Connolly (The KitchenNYC)
From Chef Patrick Connolly, now based at The KitchenNYC, came this plate of tender meat that had a zippy finish courtesy the braising liquid and the addition of horseradish. As unlikely a combination as these all might be, it sort of reminded me of the way my family does roast beef, with the same kinds of flavors working in tandem. The bread was definitely needed here to soak up all the lovely juices to enjoy one more time.
Ducks Eatery – Chef Will Horowitz
Here is what the brisket in that first photo looks like when it hits the plate: chunks of pull-apart tender, smoky, fat-flavored meat paired with a crunchy, tangy, citrusy slaw alongside a dollop of sweet-hot barbecue sauce. For me, this is how I think every food-festival plate should work. All five flavor sensors on my tongue got to join in the dance. As my friend said, and I agreed, this entry really captured the taste of traditional “brisketness” of the brisket. Such a shame that by the time we’d made our rounds and considered going back for seconds, that this station was all out of food.
Jimmy’s No. 43 – Chef Jessica Wilson
The home team, so to speak, brought another terrific plate to the competition last night. Their beer-braised brisket with roasted grape chimichurri combined succulent, rich pulled-apart meat with a pop of bright, herbal freshness all nestled in a flour tortilla, which helped to catch all the fantastic juices. This is something I’d really enjoy having again, perhaps at one of the New Amsterdam Market days this upcoming season. That’s just a thought – no pressure, really.
Thomas Perone (Joseph Catering)
With the assistance of some culinary students from Kingsborough Community College, Thomas Perone‘s team whipped up this red wine and grape jelly-braised brisket with rosemary served over polenta squares. While the whole bite was really well-constructed and very tasty, what I enjoyed the most was eating up the polenta after it had soaked in the flavorful, leftover juices.
Bywater Bistro (Chef Sam Ullman) with Hudson Valley Harvest
Using New York State Empire apples alongside Hudson Valley grass-raised beef, Sam Ullman from Bywater Bistro kept his selection for last night focused on the super-local. The meat had been dusted on the outside with an Asian-spice blend and then braised. Served alongside an apple and fennel slaw, I did get the direction in which he was trying to steer our palates, but my meat was very dry, and I thought that the flavors didn’t quite come together to provide the balanced contrast that I saw in some of the other dishes that we tried.
Chef Emma Feigenbaum
For the most original use of brisket of the evening, this plate took the prize for me. Brisket was chopped up, rolled in panko, and then deep-fried on the spot. For my friend, this was not really a winner, but for me, I had to give Emma some high marks for taking brisket way out of the realm of the usual. Dressed with a dollop of mustard aioli, this tangy, savory, crunchy bite was delicious with the fat just melting away, keeping the interior meat moist and juicy.
Recent Mac-n-Cheese Takedown winner Andrew Gottlieb took us to warmer climes with his spin on brisket in a red mole sauce. The meat was tender and hearty with a great flavor from the sauce while the pickled onions and avocado crema gave it a crunchy, zingy lift. This was the perfect small bite with which to end our brisket tour, but I did wish he’d made his own tortilla chips, as those would have elevated the dish even more for me.
Stuffed full of brisket, we made our short list of the winners, put in our votes for the People’s Choice awards, and found a spot on the cushy sofas scattered around the room to digest the evening’s eats. A short time later, Jake Schiffman and Jimmy Carbone (of Jimmy’s No. 43) took the stage to get the awards part of the competition started. After introducing the competitors, the winners for the People’s Choice 2012 Brisket King crown were announced:
3rd Place: Murray’s Cheese (Brisket-Fontina Melt)
2nd Place: John Brown Smokehouse (Burnt ends with foie gras and tangy coleslaw)
1st Place: Andrew Gottlieb (Red mole brisket with avocado crema and pickled onions)
The judges for the more official part of the competition last night were: Charlie Granquist from the Food Network, children’s cookery writer Cricket Azima, Joe Distefano (a.k.a. Joey Deckle), Rev. Ciancio from Idle Hands Bar, Mark Russ Federman of Russ and Daughters, Chef Robynne Maii from Kingsborough Community College’s culinary department, Peter Kaminsky the author of Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (And Really Well), Rozanne Gold, multiple James Beard Award winner and chef to former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, and Annie Hauck-Lawson editor of Gastropolis: Food and New York City. Here’s how the chefs vying for brisket supremacy fared:
Best dish by a host: Chef Jessica Wilson cooking for Jimmy’s No. 43
Best interpretation of brisket: Joe Dough
Best deep-fried brisket: Chef Emma Feignebaum
Best student of Tom Deutsche: Chef Thomas Perone
Best reinvention of a condiment: Chef Patrick Connolly
Best brisket on a bun: Mr. Bobo’s
Best brisket not cooked sous-vide: Chef Sam Ullman
Best use of all parts of the cow: Murray’s Cheese
Best flavor condiment round-up south of the border: Andrew Gottlieb
So, who took home the big crown last night? Drum roll please….!
3rd Place: Robby Richter (Shabu Shabu)
2nd Place: Ducks Eatery (Bubby’s oak-smoked brisket with papaya salad)
1st Place: John Brown Smokehouse (Burnt ends with foie gras and tangy coleslaw)
My friend and I had called it quite close with both of us having really enjoyed the Shabu Shabu and the Smoked brisket with papaya salad. Two very different dishes which were well-executed, thoroughly delicious, and made us want more of them. I had put dibs on the Burnt Ends coming in somewhere in the top three, really, though, I just wanted a tray of those ends for myself, no matter where it placed. Thank you so much to all the hard-working chefs and cooks for a great evening last night. Thanks, too, to Jimmy for making it possible for me to attend this event and to bring along another set of tastebuds with me to enjoy all the fantastic brisket entries in this year’s competition. I’ll go take a nap now to rest up and get ready for 2013′s brisket showdown.