Just because New York is the definition of urbanity doesn’t mean us city slickers don’t enjoy country food. Case in point: The Big Apple BBQ Block Party, which was packed when I arrived late in the afternoon last Saturday. It was somewhat chilly outside — an abrupt interruption to the week’s resented heat wave — and rain threatened with spits of little sprinkles. None of it deterred the throngs, which consisted of every demographic imaginable. All races were represented at the BBQ, along with all personality types; I saw a preppy, lean guy in salmon colored pants and black-rimmed glasses, NYU students in collegiate hoodies and middle-aged women in mom jeans.
The crowd seemed to indicate that this block party contained delights for all tastes, and I was eager to dive into the row of barbecue stands along Madison Avenue. For the sake of this article, however, I roamed the grounds a bit before indulging. The center circle in Madison Square Park was designated for drinkers. As the band on the park’s stage hit a lull, tapping on its drums but not playing any particular song, I scanned the barricaded alcohol zone. Most of the beer patrons seemed to be in their mid-twenties, laughing and standing in groups of at least five or more. Everyone had a clan. Having come alone, I wasn’t entirely comfortable wandering in the middle of everyone and staring at them like a lonely puppy, so I moved on.
Real Simple had a booth at the back of the park in which they were holding some sort of raffle. A representative for the magazine invited a man to spin a wheel for a prize. She asked his name, and he announced in a heavy Indian accent that he was from Jupiter. With the microphone at her mouth, the girl laughed nervously in reply. She sounded exactly like every person I know at the moment they realize they just mistook a crazy person for someone normal. A minute later she announced, “He was just kidding, he’s from New York!” I’m not sure that was any relief.
After 15 minutes of all that nonsense I decided to hit the grub. I landed on Baker’s Ribs, which promised “St. Louis-style ribs.” I didn’t know what constituted St. Louis-style, but I was game, and there was a short line. For $8 I received four ribs and a small scoop of peppery cole-slaw. Steep, but I’m no stranger to BBQ festivals so I knew what to expect. The ribs had a thick coating of pink meat but were fatty. I was so hungry that I didn’t care. Instead of the usual sauce slather, the meat featured a smoky dry rub. It had a slightly sweet kick to it that brought out the natural flavors of the meat (I still prefer a thin coating of tangy sauce, though). I didn’t have a spoon, so I used the ends of the rib bones to scoop the slaw — charming in a cave woman sort of way.
Next to Baker’s was a dessert stand being mobbed by a half-block line of customers: The Original Fried Pie Shop. You already know that I love food gimmicks, so you also know that I got in line. Within half an hour, I moved about 10 feet; the pie dealers couldn’t wait on patrons fast enough for the line to make significant progress within a reasonable amount of time. In sugar suspense, I thought about how I would write this article, answered inquiries about what line I was in a dozen times and gazed up at the apartments around me. I wondered if anyone who had enough money to live at that corner, 26th and Madison, would actually attend a BBQ like this. I figured they probably wouldn’t.
Finally, a man with a long blond and gray goatee and a cowboy hat walked to my section of the line and announced that the pies wouldn’t last much longer. “There’s no way anything will be left by the time we get to you,” he warned. No one seemed to believe him, but once he said “absolutely not” for the second time in his raspy, decidedly Texan accent, I bolted. I eventually managed to grab a blondie a la mode from Blue Smoke’s dessert table. It was basically a cookie with some melted vanilla ice cream thrown on top — not bad, but certainly not deserving of $6.
All in all, it was a perfectly fine party. Next year, though, I’ll make a point of bringing someone along to keep me company in the endless and inevitable lines of fellow BBQ lovers.