On the lengthy list of inconveniences I might consider in order to consume good food, there are those that fall under never (two-hour wait), occasionally (BYOB) and regularly (cash only).
I don’t mind loud music, cramped quarters or strange payment rituals involving lines and tickets. I embrace the challenge of curmudgeonly maître d's that stand between myself and a superior slice of pizza.
And I have been known, on occasion, to sing along to karaoke taking place five feet from my perfectly seasoned fish tacos.
But when faced with the option of eating while standing at a counter at Fort Reno Provisions, the three-week-old barbecue restaurant at 669 Union Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues the other night, I was truly torn.
Barbecue is joyfully messy, hands-on eating. Moreover, it is food that has been crafted after hours of seasoning, basting and grilling. So it is best enjoyed, one could argue, in the same leisurely fashion: leaning back against a chair, taking breaks, with the option of discreetly loosening your belt a notch (or two) beneath the table if need be.
After ogling revelers tucking into BBQ Chicken, Pulled Pig and Buttery Biscuits for nearly an hour, however, I conceded to myself that to stand was better than to starve. So I placed my order with the two friendly cashiers working the desk in front of the kitchen window.
Just as they predicted, my tray containing a quarter pound of ribs, and three bowls of sides (baked beans, collard greens and mac ‘n’ cheese, respectively) appeared in under 15 minutes.
As I arranged my dinner and a pint of Kelso beer before me at the counter, bar manager Akil Marshall came over to give me the good word on Fort Reno’s two house-made hot sauces.
The first was tomato based, the second mustard based. Both were spicy, he warned, and poured quickly from the bottle. Then he deposited another stack of napkins on top of my already inch-thick pile and returned to making drinks for the couples brushing knees at the bar.
Lifelong friends, Jacques Gautier (owner of nearby Palo Santo) and Lia Forman (formerly of Collichio & Sons) . It’s no surprise then that the 25-seat venture is a neighborhood kind of place: small and sparsely decorated with space-enhancing mirrors, hardwood and reclaimed tin colanders as nouveau lampshades.
A small chalkboard above the cashier desk lists the five or six items on offer. The soundtrack is a feel-good mix of Roy Orbison, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty and their ilk.
It’s inherently nicer than your run-of-the-mill ‘cue joint, with a cocktail program featuring high-end hooch like Brooklyn Gin and trendy meat-washed tonics from Bitters, Old Men. But between customers being constantly called to claim orders and the free-form, seat-yourself policy, pretension is left at the door.
Just don’t leave your appetite there too—because those ribs are dang good. Grilled in the St. Louis style, using a sweet, slightly acidic, tomato-based barbecue sauce, the meat slipped off the bone like a prom queen’s party dress.
At Akil’s suggestion, I poured some of the mustard hot sauce on top to turn the heat up. And despite my watering eyes, running nose and Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again” imploring me to stop, I couldn’t resist returning again and again to the fiery vinegar tang that it brought to the ribs.
In the more five-alarm moments, there were always the hearty baked beans, the sweet collard greens or the creamy mac ‘n’ cheese to soothe my burning insides. But the embers of hot mustard and crispy pork would always call me back to battle it out. And in the end, I won.
Turns out, some barbecue requires you to stand up to it.
Fork Slope is a weekly review column of restaurants, bars and other food-related businesses in Park Slope, Brooklyn. You can find it on ParkSlope.Patch.com and on www.fwordsblog.com.