Before there was Virgil’s Real Barbecue, before Blue Smoke, before Hill Country, before the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, and before New York City’s current love affair with Texas ’cue there was Robert Pearson. The British hairdresser caught the barbecue bug while working in Texas. He returned to New York City to open Pearson’s Texas Barbcue first in Long Island City, and then in the back of Legends Bar in Jackson Heights. I never got to taste Brit’s ’cue. And I’ve never been terribly impressed by successor outfit The Ranger Texas, Barbecue. Last night the smoky arts made a triumphant return to Legends with the opening of Alchemy, Texas, BBQ. The pitmaster behind this Texas barbecue homecoming is Josh Bowen of John Brown Smokehouse. Bowen knows a thing or two about ‘cue in general, and Texas ‘cue too having logged some time at Hill Country.
Much as I love the barbecue at Bowen’s original spot, it’s never been all that smoky. That’s because the each of the smokers at John Brown is just slightly larger than a dorm fridge. The behemoth that sits in the back of Alchemy is roughly one-third the size of a shipping container. Bowen is firing it with a mixture of pecan and oak. All the meats that emerge from it—brisket ($22/lb.), prime rib ($26/lb.), beef ribs ($11/lb.), spare ribs ($10/lb.), chicken ($9/lb.), and goat ribs ($10/lb.) —are possessed of a deep smoke flavor and a truly impressive smoke ring.
The brisket is some of the best I have ever had. Like all of the meats it had an impressive crunchy crust that gives way to tender, smoky flesh. Bowen eschews the typical Texas dry rub trifecta of salt, pepper, cayenne for something more complex. In addition to salt, pepper, and sugar Alchemy’s rub includes guajillo and pasilla peppers, and fenugreek. “Cayenne is lame it’s just all heat. There’s nothing else to it,” Bowen said.
Alchemy’s spare ribs were also excellent, meaty and smoky. The prime rib was also quite nice. The one dud out of all the meats I sampled was the goat ribs, which were tough. I give Bowen credit for shopping at the halal butcher down the street and trying something new. Next time he should try lamb ribs though.
Years ago when I took the Kansas City Barbecue Society judging class I was told. “Smell your fingers, if you’ve been eating real ’cue, you’ll know where you’ve been.” As I sit here and write this my clothes and fingers still smelling of smoke I know where I was last night: A real Texas barbecue joint, deep in the heart of Queens.