Restaurant Review: Daisy May's BBQ
This review is appearing in today's NY Times. It's about one of my favorite BBQ restaurants in NYC and my buddy Adam Perry Lang. Take a gander...
Barbecue Overdose: Half a Pig for Seven
by Peter Meehan
We were slumped in our chairs, sated, even sleepy. We sweated a meaty sweat under the disposable plastic aprons that had accompanied the carcass of half a suckling pig, split snout to tail, to our table.
The six diners I had assembled to help me take down the beast concurred that we were experiencing some sort collective pork-induced delirium. But despite our best efforts, there was still plenty of flesh on the bones left to eat. That barbecued half pig ($200) is part of a new menu of massive cuts of meat meant for large groups that Adam Perry Lang, the pitmaster and an owner of Daisy May's BBQ U.S.A., now presents in his restaurant's modest dining room, along with the roster of barbecue dishes the place has served since 2003.
(In the interest of disclosure, I will volunteer that Mr. Perry Lang and I have met a couple of times. But any desire he may have had to give my meals special attention would have been futile because the meat goes into the pit hours before it is served, because I made reservations under a pseudonym, and because Daisy May's service is bare-bones).
The other items on the new menu include a whole eight-rib rack of American lamb ($95); a bone-in pork butt ($120) prepared in the fashion that won Mr. Perry Lang the prize for first place pork shoulder at the American Royal Invitational barbecue competition, and a whole 30-or-more pound suckling pig ($400). All must be ordered two days in advance, except the lamb, which must be ordered by 5 p.m. the day you intend to eat it. There is only one seating, at 8 p.m.
The meat is served with a heap of giant, garlic-rubbed slices of toasted brioche that are billed as "Texas toast," huge helpings of spicy coleslaw, two additional sides selected from the restaurant's roster of eight, and a gang of yellow watermelon wedges for dessert.
Except for the lamb, which either Mr. Perry Lang or Jeff Cicio, his aide-de-camp, will slice into chops after they present the whole roasted rack, the oversize cuts are served whole, on a cutting board, in the center of the table. An unceremoniously presented box of latex gloves comes next (you will be encouraged to "triple up" on them to insulate your fingers from the heat of the meat) and then the pig pickin' begins.
Though Daisy May's is known for the complex and intense sauces that dress much of the meat on the regular menu, these big cuts get a simple treatment: a little rub here, a light saucing at the end there.
For the pigs, he paints the cutting board with a sweet, sour and beguilingly aromatic barbecue sauce based on Chimayo chili powder before he brings out the meat. He encourages diners to drag the meat they've picked through the sauce if they're so inclined, or to go pig-to-plate (or pig-to-mouth) if not. Plastic tubs of fleur de sel, the fancy large-grain French sea salt, are provided as part of the deal and, though none of the meat I tasted was wanting for seasoning, the few fistfuls of pig meat I garnished with the salt were none the worse for it.
The flesh the suckling pigs yield after an eight-hour trip through the restaurant's pit is sweet and tender, whether it's from the belly, the cheek, the butt, the ham or the loin, or plucked from between the tiny ribs. If you don't know where on the animal each of those cuts is, you'll have a clear picture after an hour or so spent around either the half or whole pig at Daisy May's. If you prefer not to see your food's face, you may want to choose the shoulder or the rack of lamb.
It is the restaurant's position that a 15-pound half pig or a whole pork shoulder will feed 6 people (the whole pig, 12; the rack of lamb, 2). It is my contention that six people could hurt themselves trying to eat that much meat. A group of eight will still have leftovers to take home and will be able to sit close enough to the pig to jostle for tender, prime morsels clinging to bones. To, in other words, pig out.
Daisy May's BBQ U.S.A.
623 11th Avenue (46th Street), Midtown; (212) 977-1500.
BEST DISHES: Pulled pork sandwich; brisket sandwich; Memphis dry ribs; baked beans with burnt ends; half or whole pig; whole shoulder; whole rack of lamb.
PRICE RANGE: $7 to $23 for dishes on the regular menu, $95 to $400 for dishes for a crowd. Sides $3.50 to $16. Sweet tea, water and soda $1.25 to $3.50; bring your own alcoholic beverages.
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon to 10 p.m. Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.