Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Bed-Stuy for some barbecue.
On two lovely evenings last week I sat on the streets of Bed-Stuy and slowly, gleefully devoured my way through monstrous amounts of good barbecue.
Thursday's meal came courtesy of Linda's Rib Kage, the relatively new take-out spot on Halsey Street near Tompkins. The only signage out front celebrates their ATM, but the place is the bright red storefront with curtains in the windows, right next to the barber shop.
Linda's menu is taped down onto the counter near the register, and stacks of supplies fight for space with the kitchen and waiting area. Everything is served from a row of steam trays (except for the cold sides... you grab those yourself from the fridge) and piled ridiculously high into sectioned-off styrofoam platters.
"We don't leave you hungry here," said the affable gentleman at the register, understating things considerably.
One of the owners told me he plans on putting a few tables and some "green carpeting" in the small back patio, but for now you're on own. I feasted perched on a makeshift bench—really just a wooden plank—outside the barber shop, chuckling quietly as a group of regulars bragged and bullshitted about... well, everything they could think of. It was fantastic.
The next night I strolled down the block, crossed Throop, and got on line at the legendary Royal Rib House, which has been slinging BBQ on this spot for more than 50 years.
I'm not kidding about the line. It was around 6 p.m., but per the good-natured grumblings of long-time fans, no matter when you arrive here you can expect to wait. Part of that has to do with Royal's large reputation and limited availability—it's only open on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, that's it—and part of it has to do with a food fulfillment system (if you will) that's akin to a sit-down restaurant even though Royal is very much a take-out joint, down to the plexiglass window/cubbyhole that was probably much more necessary in the 1980s than it is today.
Basically: they don't take your order until they've cleared out enough tickets ("tables") to keep the kitchen from going crazy. This is fine, it's not fast food, and everyone's very chatty if you're in the mood to be neighborly. Just don't expect to pop in and grab a plate in less than 15 to 20 minutes.
Once you do procure your heavily-laden trays (again, of the styrofoam variety), take a walk over to Potomac Playground and dine at one of the chess tables there, the sounds of summer in the city filling the air.
On back-to-back nights, these were the two most pleasant and relaxing meals I've had all year.
At Linda's a mountain of meaty and tender BBQ Ribs, plus two sides, costs $11, and everything on the plate is delicious. Same for the juicy and well-seasoned Jerk Chicken platter, except that's only $8.50. This is homemade food, maybe not assembly-line or pro-kitchen perfect, but clearly it's all prepared with love. Like if Linda invited you over for a barbecue, and you were sitting out back with her family and friends, this is what you'd be eating.
The Baked Macaroni was a sticky, cheesy delight. The Collard Greens hit the right balance between bitter and sweet. The Cornbread was as moist and gooey as the yellow-and-chocolate cake I ate for dessert, but it held onto its essential savory-ness. The Candied Yams were a bit too mushy, but the Potato Salad, served cold and thick with eggs, was the stealth winner of the bunch, and made me want to try the cold Macaroni Salad next time, to see what she can do with that picnic staple.
Be sure to sample all of sauces lined up at the register, too. There's a spicy vinegary one, a mustardy one, and a straight-up, slightly sweet BBQ one, and all are worthy of generous squirts onto your plate before it gets packed away.
The food down the block at Royal is all a bit more polished... or, at least, you can tell they've been feeding large amounts of hungry people for a long time. The Barbecue Ribs are less funky, more smooth. The Baked Macaroni is rich and creamy. The Collard Greens maintain considerable bite. For $13.75, you get an enormous amount of extremely good food that will make you very happy.
I also ordered the Barbecue Chicken "sandwich", but what greeted me when I unpacked my bag in the playground was a half chicken and two slices of bread. Hard to know if this is a deliberately DIY situation or a communication mishap at the window, but I'm not complaining. Royal makes a terrific bird, the meat juicy throughout, and you can order with confidence either way.
Blueberry-stained slabs of Cornbread came each order, and they were welcome companions. Sadly, there was no Banana Pudding available on this night, and I didn't think I could manage the tempting-looking Coconut Cake on top of everything else.
Most everything was great at both places. Overall I'd give Royal the nod, but Linda's is a solid spot as well, especially good to have in your pocket considering Royal's limited hours. And if you love this city, either one provides a deeply satisfying a dining experiences.
Linda's Rib Kage is located at 260 Halsey Street, just west of Tompkins Avenue, and is open Tuesday through Sunday at 12:00 noon until 8:00 p.m. on weeknights, 10:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday. CASH ONLY.
Royal Rib House is located at 303 Halsey Street, just west of Throop Avenue, and is open from 12:00 noon until 9:30 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday. CASH ONLY.