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When Juicy Lucy BBQ won Brisket King 2019 back in April, a lot of people including myself were surprised. The team hadn’t even opened its restaurant yet, and it still beat out many of the best pitmasters in New York. Naturally, barbecue lovers have been waiting patiently for Juicy Lucy's restaurant to finally open.
On Monday, Juicy Lucy BBQ officially opened its doors at 809 Father Capodanno Boulevard on Staten Island. On opening day, nearly 700 guests showed up to try the barbecue and see what the buzz was about.
“Inundating probably isn't a strong enough term for our opening,” Juicy Lucy BBQ owner Richie Holmes said. “It was mind blowing that that many people would come to a restaurant here in Staten Island. We sold out of brisket and ribs at two points.”
On Tuesday, I decided to stop by to see how Juicy Lucy BBQ compared to what I tried at Brisket King and see how things were going on day two. I’m happy to report that the Brisket King winners have still got it and almost every food item I tried was top notch.
I tried perfect brisket, tasty pork ribs, pork candy (hickory-smoked bacon), and delicious brisket poutine. It’s without a doubt some of the best barbecue I’ve had in the NYC area.
“Everybody cut us some slack on our opening day, but the response for the food has been over the top with people telling us it's the greatest they've ever had,” Holmes said. “We're very humbled by it."
If you go to the restaurant, the first thing you'll see when you arrive is a medium-sized red building with the words "BBQ" and "Home of Brisket King NYC 2019" on the side. The joint seats 150 people including inside and outside areas, which unfortunately means there may be long wait times if you don't show up early.
"We cook almost 2,000 pounds of brisket and over a hundred racks of ribs every day, so the volume is there," Holmes said. "But the biggest problem we have is that there isn't enough space."
What makes Juicy Lucy BBQ stand out besides the food is its sheer audacity and ambition. It's a big bet that people will come out to Staten Island for "barbecue as a destination." In Texas, people are willing to travel hours to eat at a top barbecue joint, but the question is will people in the Northeast do the same? As of now, the answer is yes.
It doesn't hurt that Holmes is a huge Texas barbecue fan and studied what makes the best BBQ joints popular. Holmes has actually never owned and operated a full-scale restaurant before, but took notes from people like Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que.
"Barbecue to me is the only true American cuisine," Holmes said. "It originated here, it developed here, and as far as I'm concerned, it's been perfected here. We wanted to jump on to that bandwagon."
Another way Holmes emulated the best Texas barbecue joints was to hire experienced people from Texas. Juicy Lucy's pitmaster Mauro (Max) Chiefari and meat cutter Troy Flynn both previously worked at Franklin Barbecue. Chiefari has also worked at other big name BBQ restaurants.
"Max is so passionate about this," Holmes said. "His passion makes us passionate. To have someone at his level up here is a gift."
One interesting thing barbecue watchers may have noticed was Juicy Lucy went virtually dark on social media around opening day. That was due to the restaurant being so slammed that they wanted to encourage people to come out at a later date, a rare problem for a restaurant to have.
"The truth of the matter is a buzz was created unintentionally," Holmes said. "We were putting pictures up and doing our thing. I think in New York City, there is such an urge for barbecue that once word got out that we did well at Brisket King ... people are coming from all over the place because they know Max is here and know what's going on. We unintentionally created that buzz and it's gone crazy."
Going forward, Holmes said his team will do everything they can to build on the success of the launch.
“We're going to ride this out obviously,” Holmes said. “We tried to be open for Memorial Day weekend, but New York City is difficult to work with logistically. We were happy we got our permits in time for the Fourth of July. Now that it's open and we have this boat in the water, it's important that we keep smooth sailing and keep focus."
Sadly, it was just me sampling items on Tuesday, so there were a few items I wanted to try but didn’t. Those include the Juicy Lucy burger (with cheese the middle of the patty), the Austin Cheesesteak (made with brisket), and their crazy Instagram-worthy milkshakes.
Juicy Lucy BBQ's kitchen is now open seven days a week from 11 a.m to 10 p.m., with the bar staying open later most nights. I was impressed by nearly every aspect of the restaurant, and I can't wait to go back for more this summer and fall.
Founder, NYC BBQ
EAT ALL ABOUT IT
Here are the top BBQ and food stories in the New York area this week:
New York’s barbecue scene is often underappreciated by press and barbecue fans, but VacationRenter has a new guide of five cities where you need to eat BBQ this summer and it includes New York City. On top of NYC, it also spotlights good ‘cue in Austin, St. Louis, Atlanta, and Raleigh. The restaurant picks on the list are fairly standard, but it’s nice to see NYC in the mix with other heavy hitters.
Barbecue restaurants don’t frequently offer gimmicky foods, but Morgan’s Brooklyn Barbecue is embracing a somewhat ridiculous item that looks amazing. They are now offering a 20+ pound brisket sandwich that can be shared with friends, family, or co-workers. Or if you’re really, really hungry, keep it to yourself. It must be ordered at least four days in advance.
One of the best things about New York’s barbecue scene is the willingness to be inclusive with non-meat options. Ducks Eatery in the East Village is one such restaurant. It is now offering a special off-menu watermelon steak with no preorder required.
A recent study by 24/7 Wall Street estimates hot dog and hamburger consumption by state on a yearly basis. The Northeastern U.S., for better or worse, ranked low on the list. New Jersey ranked 48th, Massachusetts ranked 47th, Pennsylvania ranked 45th, Connecticut ranked 44th, and New York ranked 43rd. Hawaii was interestingly ranked 1st on the list.
Here are the top BBQ (and related) food events coming soon to the New York metro and the Tri-State area:
July 5-7: This weekend, the I Love BBQ and Music Festival 2019 will be taking place up in Lake Placid, New York. This large event, which is in its fourteenth year, attracts barbecue enthusiasts from all around the Tri-State area. Not only are there Kansas City Barbeque Society competitions happening on-site, but there are also lots of food and drink vendors for the public to eat and drink well while watching live music. More info here.
July 12-14: The New Jersey State Barbecue Championship will not only be about competition, but will also have live cooking demonstrations and music throughout the weekend. Sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, the NJ champ will have the opportunity to compete at the American Royal later this year. Details about the weekend here.
July 17: If you love beer and burgers, you will not want to miss NYC Brewers Choice in Brooklyn. This all-inclusive event will feature outdoor space, sunset views, live music, and a ton of beer tastings. The main food event will be the famous "smash burgers" from George Motz, who makes some of the best fried onion burgers in the country. If you're looking for beer, 15 diverse small batch brewers will come together to celebrate local grains and malts and you'll be able to try them all. Buy tickets here.
August 16-18: When it comes to barbecue festivals north of New York, Hudson Valley Ribfest 2019 is one of the top events. RibFest will be held at the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz and it will feature family activities, live music, and more. More info here.
August 24: One of the last summer barbecue events held in NYC is the Hudson River Park Blues BBQ Festival, which is held annually at Pier 97 at Hudson River Park on the west side of Manhattan. Admission is free and there will be five different blues acts throughout the day and BBQ vendors selling grub. More info here.
September 7: For those that love all things pork and barbecue, the 10th annual Pig Island NYC will be a can’t-miss affair. Held outdoors at beautiful Erie Basin Park in Red Hook, Brooklyn, this all-inclusive event will feature a ton of great food, beer, cider, and liquor. I’m already hungry for it all. Buy early bird tickets here.
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