Georgia’s Eastside BBQ
By Ethan Wolff
The summer I moved to New York, with febrile expectation of circulating through fabulous black-clad crowds, every goddamn hipster in the city had gone out and bought a set of denim overalls. Broadway was ass to gills with folks looking like they were on their way out to slop the hogs. Maybe it’s a response to the over-burnished city, but the rustic craving seems to be back. Last year everybody and their brother opened an upscale-farmhouse type joint, and now you can’t spin a pig without smashing into a new barbecue spot. Call it the dawn of roadhouse chic. And if the food tastes as good as it does at Georgia’s, it’s fine by me.
I had a good feeling when I saw this Orchard Street storefront. The place has been put together with a lot of attention to detail, and it’s tiny, which I take as evidence that food is going to be a top priority’it’s hard to make your money selling overpriced cocktails and/or a trendy scene when you’ve only got 14 seats.
Sure, there are fratboy-friendly burgers, dogs, and wings for 2am drunken scarfing, but the focus here is on three essentials: pulled pork, baby back ribs, and chicken. The chicken comes two ways, in BBQ sauce or fried in buttermilk batter, and the latter fulfills many a late-night dirty South fantasy projection. The chicken is cooked when you order it, which takes about twenty minutes’not ideal for a place that’s at least half-takeout shack, but then that’s what the phone was invented for. And the fresh, juicy meat is well worth the wait. The batter is crisp and not too doughy, with a dash of black pepper steering the flavor.
Ribs and pork shoulders are as tender as they come, thanks to being steamed Georgia-style over beer, for hours. The pulled-pork sandwich is dressed with coleslaw, which is on the bland side, but then it serves as good texture, and the pork doesn’t need any help with flavor, augmented as it is by a homemade sauce, sparingly applied. My favorite, however, is the baby back ribs, hot off the grill, the meat melting off the bone, and topped with a spicy house rub. Sides hit the requisites like cornbread, baked beans, and collard greens that lean sweet, as in the direction of maple syrup.
The small scale here means the cooking has a personal feel, in contrast to say, Hill Country, which serves up some excellent meat, although by 7pm on a recent Saturday night you were looking at a 50-minute wait just to get on a long line for your brisket. Fette Sau in Brooklyn has a good thing going, too, although they’re known for running out of meat on the early side. The pulled pork at RUB is tender and tasty, but the ambiance there somehow comes across like a mall food court, with conversations clanging through the room. Georgia’s, by contrast, is closer to a family picnic, unless I’m being overly influenced by the vinyl checkered tablecloths.
Since this is still New York, even roadhouse chic is going to come across minimal, with tasteful touches of wood and slate. Georgia tchotchkes are scattered among random photos that look culled from family albums, and a suited Big Slick brightens the front mirror. The result is welcoming and low-pretense, which from a new entry on the Lower Heave Side, I’ll take any day’even if denim overalls still haven’t made my shopping list.
192 Orchard St. (Stanton and Houston Sts.) 212-253-6280 Lower East Side