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Wildwood BBQ

Serving up ecumenical barbecue in Gramercy Park

Address: 225 Park Ave. South, at 18th St., (212) 533-2500
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m.; Sat., noon-midnight; Sun., noon-11 p.m.
Cuisine: Regional barbecue
Vibe: Big-city barn
Occasion: Festive occasion; group dining.
Don’t Miss Dish: Barbecue burger; Texas smoked brisket; carrot cake.
Price: Appetizers, $5-$9.50; entrées, $9.95-$28.95; dessert, $7.
Reservation: Recommended

If you want barbecue in New York City
these days, you have to ask yourself what kind you’re craving. You can
get down & dirty barbecue – sauce on your T-shirt – at Dinosaur
BBQ. You can get artisanal barbecue – sauce on your business suit – at
Blue Smoke. But if you want breezy barbeque – sauce on your white
leather banquette – you should try Wildwood BBQ, a few blocks from Blue
Smoke in Gramercy Park.

Eating
at Wildwood is like eating at a theme park called Barbecue Land – big
faux barn, dish towel-size napkins, jam jar glasses, firewood stacked
against the wall. Over the youthful roar at the bar, you can hear George Thorogood
singing “Bad to the Bone.” Servers wearing T-shirts that say “Wingman”
or “Get Sauced” squeeze between tables, carrying tequila shots,
pitchers of beer and cowboy margaritas.

What Steven Hanson
did with Mexican at Dos Caminos and Asian at Ruby Foo’s, he’s doing
with American barbecue at Wildwood. He’s not alone in this because when
barbecue comes to New York, it tends to be ecumenical.

At Wildwood, there’s Carolina pulled pork, Memphis-style baby back ribs, and Texas
smoked brisket “hand rubbed by Big Lou.” Big Lou Elrose is the pit
master, a retired cop who’s 6-feet-4 and took up competitive barbecue
three years ago. His own barbecue sauce sits in a basket at every
table.

So what works at Wildwood? Brisket. Anything with
brisket. The kitchen tosses burnt ends of brisket into the
kettle-cooked baked beans. It dices brisket into the Texas jailhouse
chili, topped with cheddar, onions and sour cream. The Texas smoked
brisket – crusty edges spiced with pepper, cumin and paprika – comes
hand-sliced on a butcher board. Best of all is Big Lou’s barbecue
burger – 90% brisket (10% chuck) – piled high with caramelized onions,
sautéed mushrooms, Monterey Jack cheese and sturdy bacon.

I’d
come back to Wildwood just for the burger and the homemade salt and
vinegar chips that come with it. But be sure to tear open a few Handi
Wipes before you tear into your burger.

Unfortunately, the
“fallin’-off-the-bone” short rib refused to fall off the bone. It was
also salty enough to chap your lips. The kitchen seemed to have left
the flavor and the vinegar mopping sauce off the Carolina pulled pork.

Wildwood
likes to use a chipotle-raspberry barbecue sauce. On chicken wings, the
ingredients get along fine, but they bicker on baby back ribs. The
cornbread is dry as Wyoming grassland. We had to pry it out of the cast iron skillet it was baked in.

Saving room at a barbecue joint is downright impossible. But you need to at Wildwood.

Elizabeth Katz,
who used to work at Fiamma – a much more upscale restaurant – oversees
desserts here. The eight-layer chocolate cake and the six-layer carrot
cake are so comically oversized that you can’t believe they’re any
good. They almost look like diner cakes. But they’re not. They may be
huge, but you won’t want to share them.

And don’t forget the fluffernutter s’more – the love child of a peanut butter cup and a campfire s’more.

Wildwood is a survey course in American barbecue -Barbecue 101 – until you get dessert.

Then it’s an advanced seminar.

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