Winter is coming, you need an extra layer of insulation for survival. It is time to partake in shameless carnivory by eating Barbecue. Hip bbq joints in Philadelphia are a relatively recent phenomenon, but they are here and they are smoking, rubbing, and saucing meat. Fette Sau, Barbacoa, and Blue Belly are three such institutions and they are considered to be among the best that the city has to offer.
1208 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19125
Mon-Thurs 5pm-11pm, Fri 5pm-12pm, Sat Noon-12am, Sun Noon-11pm
German for fat pig, Fette Sau sounds a little pretentious until you realize what it means, but it’s still in German. Angela Merkel does not call to mind down and dirty American food. Also, this restaurant is imported from NYC, so it’s not a Philly original, but when it comes to BBQ in the Northeast one can’t really enforce originality. Putting my quibbles aside, this place is known for a cafeteria style serving line where you get meat by the pound. They are known for their dry rub brisket and ribs, and all of their meats are “hormone, antibiotic, and steroid free”. When you place your order, they carve out your portion from on the spot, and give you some dinner roles for making an impromptu sandwich. On the side, their roasted mushrooms have a following, but they don’t offer the traditional lineup of bbq sides like cornbread, mac n’ cheese, and collard greens. The fanfare here is about meat and atmosphere, and they have some great patio seating that is heated for year round enjoyment.
Directions: Take the MFL to Girard, walk east along Girard until you hit Frankford Ave, then make a left. Fette Sau will be just up the street on the left.
64 Rittenhouse Place, Ardmore, PA 19003
Tues-Thurs 5pm-9pm, Fri/Sat 5pm-10pm, Sun 4pm-8pm, Closed Mondays.
Barbacoa has the advantage of being close to home, so if you have a bbq craving that just can’t wait, this might be your best option. They specialize in fire-roasted peruvian chicken, which they brine for 12 hours, and cook on spits over hardwood coals and oak logs. They also offer bisket, St. Louis ribs, and Nowegian salmon, along with the classic sides: corn bread, mac n’ cheese, slaw, etc. Menu note: they are the only restaurant in this trio to offer traditional corn bread and a salmon option. Barbacoa offers 10% off take-out orders on Tuesday and Wednesday, so you can pop by and grab some of their Peruvian chicken to drag back to your cave and gnaw on the bones.
Directions: Walk along Lancaster until you get to Cricket Ave. then turn right. Make the first left onto Cricket Terrace, then a right on Rittenhouse Pl. Barbacoa will be on the right.
Blue Belly BBQ
600 Catharine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Sun, Wed, Thurs: 12–8 pm, Fri/Sat: 12–9 pm, Closed Mondays
Of all the restaurants discussed in this post, Blue Belly comes the closest to a southern bbq joint. Of course, they own their northern identity- a “blue belly” was a northern soldier during the Civil War. What they have in common with their southern counterparts is a respect for the side item. When you order a platter of Berkshire pork, grass-fed beef, or organic chicken, you get your choice of three sides. None of the “sides extra” nonsense. Sides are sacred, a part of the bbq ritual, and Blue Belly gets it right. Additionally, their loaded tater-tots have bacon, cheese, pulled pork, scallions, and sour cream so that you can start your meal off right. The chef, Gene Giuffi, also runs the upscale restaurant Cochon, so you are eating serious food in the laid back tradition of bbq at Blue Belly.
Directions: Take the train to Market east, or the NSHL/MFL to 5th, then walk along Market until you get to 6th. Walk south on 6th until you get to 6th and Catherine, Blue Belly is on the right near the corner.
Go forth and feast on tasty bbq!