By Sheila Mathew
What does BBQ have to do with a 19th century militant abolitionist? Absolutely nothing! But that didn’t stop Josh Bowen from creating two worlds in one: savory home-style BBQ and an educational taste of what’s been, until now, a controversial historical past.
Several months ago, my friend Julie said she was baking pies for her friend who was thinking about starting a restaurant. A year later, what started as a store front self serve BBQ joint morphed into a one of a kind eatery/beer garden in Long Island City. With John Brown’s century old signature across the awning, above the bar and on their beer mugs, this new smokehouse offers both phenomenal BBQ and a decent conversation starter about our country’s past.
To key in on just how savory the dishes are, each and every day, Josh smokes the meat for 10-12 hours. Everything is prepared fresh. We were served a sampling tray that pretty much covered the entire menu for the evening—pulled pork, burnt ends, pork belly, rib tips and BBQ wings. After being smoked for that long, by the time the meat is plated it is so tender that it simply melts in your mouth—it almost seems silly to be given a knife with your meal. The burnt ends were, by far, my favorite, and apparently everyone else’s too! The daily menu is written out on a massive blackboard as you enter the restaurant. As the evening progresses, items are erased as they run out. From what I’m told, the burnt ends are the first to go, and usually by around 7pm.
Our side dishes were equally impressive: Corn bread, baked beans, homemade cold slaw and kimchee. The corn bread was filled with full kernels of corn and the cold slaw was marinated in zesty Italian dressing. I never would have thought of kimchee to be served with American BBQ, but it was the perfect compliment to the pulled pork and burnt ends. It seemed to take the place of wine as a palate cleanser.
The ambiance has a typical southern BBQ feel. You order off the blackboard menu as you enter. Everyone has a smile and everyone is having a good time. There’s even a John Brown lending library in the main dining area.
John Brown’s Smokehouse was noted for the best BBQ in New York by the Village Voice in 2012. This has most definitely resonated as true with me. After one bite of the burnt ends I felt like I was at a family reunion, barbequing in the backyard with my grandfather. Once the weather warms up again, the bands will come out and the beer garden will open. And if he’s not too busy, Josh will be on stage with his banjo!
John Brown’s Smokehouse is located at
10-43 44th Drive
Long Island City, NY 11101