Butcher Bar

It’s the end of March and, here in New York, it’s actually snowing. Whatever happened to “in like a lion, out like a lamb”? While the weather may be distressing, the meal I ate this morning certainly was not. If you’re looking for a unique answer to “where can we go to brunch?” in Queens, Butcher Bar is it.

butcher bar burnt ends and scrambled eggs

burnt ends and scrambled eggs

This borough has been experiencing a sharp influx of hipsters. Brooklyn transplants have been making their way across the county line to settle in Astoria, Long Island City, and, now, my dear Sunnyside. Butcher Bar is precisely designed for the newcomers. It’s an organic, sustainable barbecue joint with a quaint, yet plain interior. I’ve never been to the proper South, but I imagine this is the type of place you’d find in Austin, TX. These new Queens-bound millennial types enjoy this kind of thing, and I can guess that Butcher Bar has capitalized on their sensibilities.

That’s not a bad thing, of course–especially when the quality of meat and dining experience feels unparalleled to anywhere else in the neighborhood.

This morning, MDP and I wanted something different for brunch and decided to take the subway to Astoria. Butcher Bar is just a few blocks away from the N/Q 30th Avenue stop, so we hiked through the falling snow to find the lauded restaurant (it has a four-star rating on Yelp, which is pretty good considering that people love to complain on this site).

butcher bar brisket hash

brisket hash

Butcher Bar only recently began to serve brunch. Their menu is chocked full of egg dishes, with the occasional pancake item making an appearance. But the real star of the menu is the meat. Butcher Bar only sells the finest grass-fed meat, and the sheer quality of their cut selections is readily apparent in their offerings.

MDP opted for the brisket hash, while I ordered the burnt ends with scrambled eggs. Both dishes were incredible and accompanied by a complimentary alcoholic beverage of our choice (sangria, cocktail, beer). Let’s start with the brisket hash, which features diced potatoes and peppers with–you guessed it–brisket mixed in. It’s covered with a white gravy and an egg on top. MDP seemed to enjoy it, and I had a taste and agree that it was top notch. My burnt ends were phenomenal. They were silky, smooth, and very flavorful. The burnt ends were situated atop scrambled eggs with a layer of cheese, to my delight. Expertly cooked potatoes and mixed greens also came with our selections.

In addition to the mains, we got the creamy macaroni and cheese as a side dish. I found the simplicity of the dish to be satisfactory, but MDP wasn’t as impressed by it. The pasta was drenched in a delicious cheese sauce, and paprika was sprinkled on top.

butcher bar creamy macaroni and cheese

creamy macaroni and cheese

At the end of our meal, the lovely waitress asked if we’d like a piece of apple cake on the house. I enthusiastically said yes, and she brought us a sliver of the cake. It featured a drizzle of caramel on top, and the rare apple piece inside the cake. Despite the lackluster showing of fruit, I found the crust to be thick and authentic tasting. I was pleased with this addition to our meal.

I’d say that the value of brunch at Butcher Bar is amazing. Although the burnt ends with eggs plate cost $18 or so, it came with 10 – 15 pieces of meat and the plate was filled to the brim with food. The cocktail I ordered would have been $10 a la carte, and I quite enjoyed it. Plus, let’s not forget the apple cake that was a surprising finish.

Even if you’re not a Queens dweller, I’d suggest making the trip to Butcher Bar for brunch or even dinner. If they can serve up masterfully crafted dishes for the Saturday-Sunday morning set, I’m confident in their ability to do this during the evening, as well.

Butcher Bar
37-10 30th Avenue (between 37th and 38th streets)
Astoria, NY
Take the N/Q to 30th Avenue and walk north several blocks. It’s on the east side of the street.


Neely’s Barbecue Parlor

You might find Neely’s Barbecue Parlor on Yelp, and, due to so-so reviews, cross it off your list of barbecue options to try. You’d be sorely mistaken. Neely’s is quite good and well worth the trek off the beaten path.

neely's pecan pie

pecan pie

Located on First Avenue and 62nd Street, Neely’s is not what you’d expect in a typical barbecue joint. A few steps up the stairs by the entrance and you’ll find a lounge area near the bar where patrons sip drinks like Dad’s Day Off (an excellent combination of Jim Beam, lemonade and maple syrup) or green tomato sangria, and munch on Neely’s fare. Down a dim corridor where Neely’s staff warmly greet you are a number of break-out dining rooms with ornate furnishings. It’s not the well-lit, basic table-and-chair set-up of Hill Country, by any measure. No, Neely’s is something special.

The menu features standard barbecue options: pulled pork platter, various styles of ribs, and sides such as cole slaw and molasses baked beans. The dishes are decently priced and sized.

I ordered a half rack of the Memphis style baby back ribs, and boy were they good. Tender and succulent, these baby back ribs were easy to polish off. I got Gina’s collard greens as my side dish, a hint of pork in their flavor. I was pleased with my meal and felt quite full afterward.

MDP got the “blue ribbon” chicken, which is a chicken that has been cooked with a can of PBR inside of it. He was served half a chicken with two sides: corn bread and macaroni and cheese. The chicken was supple and flavorful, and MDP had no problem finishing every last bite. I enjoyed the moist corn bread, and the creamy macaroni and cheese tasted delicious.

neely's red velvet cake

red velvet cake

For dessert, we ordered the red velvet cake and pecan pie a la mode. I preferred the red velvet cake topped with a delectable cream cheese frosting. The pecan pie was soupy and too sweet. MDP enjoyed the Haagen-Dazs vanilla bean ice cream served alongside the pecan pie so much, he gushed that we should get some for home. (Really, the ice cream was kind of basic to my palate, but, sure, let’s get a pint…)

As an aside, you’ve probably noticed that I only have pictures of desserts on this post. The table right next to us had two women who had equally poor manners–the older of the pair, in particular, had a severe staring problem–and I felt uncomfortable photographing my food in front of them. Pretty silly, but they were kind of strange. I hope you’ll forgive me.

Anyway, try Neely’s! Everyone at the restaurant seemed to be having a great time and enjoying their food. I think you would, too.

Neely’s Barbecue Parlor

1125 First Avenue (at 62nd Street)

Upper East Side, Manhattan

Take the 4/5/6/N/Q/R to 59th-Lexington and walk east a few avenues and north a few blocks.


John Brown Smokehouse, Astoria

“Let’s go, it’s going to be really crowded. This place is popular.”

“Alright, already.”

john brown smokehouse burnt ends

burnt ends with macaroni and cheese

So we left for the John Brown Smokehouse, a barbecue place, at 5:30 pm. It took us about a half hour to walk there, and the farther we went, the more we realized that John Brown Smokehouse is in the middle of nowhere and that the chances of a crowd were slim. It turns out, we arrived at the right time–when we were the only customers in the joint. Five minutes after receiving our food, other hungry people trickled in and crowded the Smokehouse, a small establishment with about six tables that each seat around six people.

How’s the food? Excellent. This place is well worth the walk and would likely be a great destination on a warm summer day. There was a draft in the restaurant while we were there, which forced me to consider wearing my coat as I dined.

John Brown Smokehouse boasts a simple menu with reasonable prices. I ordered the burnt ends with macaroni and cheese for about $11. Often referred to as “nuggets of barbecue gold,” burnt ends are flavorful pieces of meat cut from the point half of a smoked brisket (yeah, I got that from Wikipedia). They’re fatty and salty and chewy and just plain delicious. According to reviews on yelp, John Brown sometimes sells out of their burnt ends by 4 pm, but I was lucky enough to catch them on a slow day. Mimicking my dining partner, I wrapped the burnt ends in the thick slices of country white bread that accompanied my meal. What a sandwich, I tell ya. I’d say the portion was adequate. The mac and cheese tasted greasy and cheesy, and was quite good.

john brown smokehouse apple cobbler

apple cobbler

My dining partner opted for the two meat platter for around $13: pulled pork and brisket with baked beans. The pulled pork was flavorful, but the brisket was on the dry side. I wouldn’t recommend it. I enjoyed the baked beans, which were flecked with pieces of pork/bacon.

For dessert, John Brown Smokehouse offers apple cobbler, apple pie, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and bread pudding. “What’s bread pudding?” my dining partner asked. “Not something I want to try,” I replied. So we went with the apple cobbler that closely resembled apple pie. Did they serve the apple pie on a plate but the “cobbler” in a bowl? we wondered. Nothing special to report on here. A pretty standard apple pie/cobbler.

Even though its far from the train, John Brown Smokehouse is well worth the walk. If you live nearby, good for you for having such a delectable take-out spot in your ‘hood.

John Brown Smokehouse

25-08 37th Avenue

Astoria, Queens

Take the N/Q to 36th Avenue. Walk to 37th Avenue and turn right. Walk a few blocks.