Hillbilles of the Bronx?
Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times
To get to Mo Gridder’s BBQ, go to the Bronx, then head to Hunts Point Avenue. Drive east under the Bruckner, through the more residential part of Hunts Point, where I spied a stroller tangled in barbed wire atop a rusted fence, where tied-together sneakers hung slung over tree branches overhead and where a wizened, weathered Chihuahua, loitering outside a bodega, eyed passers-by with suspicion.
Keep going. The street slopes down at Lafayette Avenue, into blocks and blocks of auto repair businesses. If you pass Max A. Million’s Mr. Wedge strip club (where boxing strippers were once an attraction) you’re almost there.
When the weather is good, keep an eye out for the Mo Gridder rig, which will be proudly parked out in front of Hunts Point Auto Sales and Service. (If not, it will be tucked away from the elements on a lot in the back.)
It’s a sight to behold: a 35-foot-long fire-engine-red competition-ready barbecue trailer. Tacked onto one end is a Southern Pride 500 barbecue pit, a piece of equipment fearsome enough to impress even the most casual rib eater. A cartoon mural of a hillbilly, shotgun in hand, in pursuit of a fleeing pig astraddle a cow, is painted on the side.
Fred Donnelly is the man behind Mo Gridder’s. It’s his trailer and his ’cue, and the office of his auto repair business doubles as the dining room. (It’s his name, too — Mo Gridder was a childhood nickname.) “MoGridder’s World Famous Smoked BBQ,” it reads on the big sign out front, below the auto shop’s name, “www.MoGridder.com.”
A television set is in the corner, a fresh bottle of sauce is on each of the few tidy tables and a desk is in the corner where you can inquire about auto insurance claims.
Though the big red machine outside has been smoking only since May, Mr. Donnelly said he has been “doing barbecue” since 1992. It was a good way “to show some customer appreciation” at this location and at his used car lot. He’s gotten serious over the years, becoming a certified barbecue judge, competing around the country and now staking a claim for real barbecue in the Bronx.
His menu is expansive, much like those at other New York barbecue spots. And much like the food at other New York barbecue spots, not everything is magic.
But the ribs: that’s where the getting gets good.
The ribs are St. Louis cut — from the middle of a rack of spareribs — and they are dry-rubbed before a six-hour snooze in the Southern Pride.
Mr. Donnelly said cherry and apple woods are his main smoke makers, that they impart a subtler flavor than hickory, which he sometimes throws into the mix, too. Whatever the fuel, the meat is sweetly and amply imbued with smoky flavor by the time it’s in your hands.
The meat on the ribs — and the ribs are meaty — has a yielding tenderness, but none of the falling-off-the-bone toothlessness of lesser barbecue.
Barbecued ribs are supposed to be meat, not pablum, and the crew at Mo Gridder’s gets that. They paint the ribs with a slick of sauce before reheating them on the charcoal grill inside the rig, which gently intensifies the flavors of the sauce and ever so slightly crisps the outer flesh of the ribs.
Maybe only the most hard-core barbecue fans will trek to Hunts Point to decide whether Mo Gridder’s ribs are among the city’s best.
But with a side of sweet barbecued beans and coleslaw that could double as mayonnaise soup, those ribs make for a mighty fine lunch.
And the place has a charm all its own. I’ll leave the last word to Mr. Donnelly: “It’s a real Bronx thing, you know? That’s about it. And it’s going pretty good.”
Mo Gridder's BBQ
565 Hunts Point Avenue (Randall Avenue), Hunts Point, Bronx; (718) 991-3046.
BEST DISHES Ribs, beans, coleslaw.
PRICE RANGE Sandwiches, $4.95; platters $6.95 to $14.95; sides $2.50.
CREDIT CARDS All major cards.
HOURS Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS All on one level.