Friday, July 21, 2006

Daisy May's - BBQ From the Grave

It’s very rare that I visit the graves of restaurants that have been retired to my culinary cemetery. With so many fantastic restaurants in this city, there is almost no reason to return to a place where I have had multiple meals of rudimentary cuisine. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Sometimes my desire for a certain genre of food (Barbeque, Tex-Mex, Diner, etc…) outweighs my distaste for a specific establishment, and despite knowing that my meal will be less than satisfactory, I eat there by default. Other times I succumb to a group mentality, where expressing an opinion will cause more disdain than it’s worth. And finally, there are times when a free meal is a free meal and we’ll leave it at that.

Earlier this week my boss surprised everybody by offering to buy lunch for the entire office. As word quickly spread of the gratis meal, everyone began to opine on what we should order. Some suggested sushi (trite), some suggested deli (boring) and some suggested pizza (not expensive enough when someone else is picking up the tab). As I’ve mentioned before, I am manic for barbeque. There are times when I get such an enormous craving for dry-rubbed, smoked meat that I’ll say anything, do anything and go anywhere (even to some restaurant that I had already sworn off) to get my hands on that tender, sweet good stuff. With that in mind, I boisterously argued that we should get barbeque, knowing full well that (unfortunately) the only place we would be ordering from would be Daisy May’s.

To be fair, I do not hate Daisy May’s but more often than not I have overpaid for an underwhelming meal. The first meal I had there were the Memphis Dry Rub Pork Ribs ($11.50 / Half Rack), which were small, dry and seawater salty (to the point of gagging). Next was the Turkey Leg Special, which was a ginormous sinewy leg of meat that was bone dry and utterly tasteless (except for, of course, the salt). Although two bad meals should have knocked this place off my restaurant list for good, there came a time last winter when my cravings got the better of me and I found myself ordering the Texas Chopped Beef Brisket Sandwich with Pickles and Onions ($9.50). Although the sandwich was tender, moist and covered with a sweet and slightly spicy BBQ sauce, it just didn’t meet the standard of any Beef Brisket Sandwich I had eaten when I lived in Texas. Three strikes and your out: I dutifully removed Daisy May’s and vowed (to anyone who would listen) to never return again.

Or so I thought, because here I was, only a few months later (with my tail between my legs), staring at the newly revamped menu of Daisy May’s. I decided to order a side of creamed spinach ($3.50, tried and true) and wanting to try something new, I ordered the Oklahoma Jumbo Beef Rib ($14). Just before ordering, I realized that all the other rib dishes implied multiple ribs, while this dish implied only one rib. Sure it was a few dollars more than the half racks, but I wanted to make sure that I was going to have enough food. I called over to the restaurant and engaged in a conversation that went something like this:

“Hello, is this Daisy May’s?”
“I’m calling about the Oklahoma Jumbo Beef Rib.”
“Is it only one rib?”
“Will it be enough for a meal?”
(Pause) “Yes.” (Click)

So with that, I pl aced my order and waited to see if the BBQ gods would again frown upon me or, for once, bestow me with saucy smiles of tender goodness.

Permit me to go off on a small tangent and ask, “What should be considered a large portion?” Many people consider that an appropriate serving of food is the size of your two fists placed together and that any more than that is unhealthy, indulgent and, in some cases, absurd. So when my nine-inch, three and half pound rib was delivered to me, it was easy to see that my two fists paled in comparison. At first, the rib seemed more like a visual gag than something I was supposed to consume, but its overpowering sweet smell and perfect, molasses color reminded me that this was something to be devoured, but how to tackle it? I tried picking up the rib, only to have the hunk of meat immediately fall off the bone and back into the plastic tray. My next move was to pick up my fork and attempt to pull apart the meat, which I did with easily. To say the meat was simply tender would be an understatement. The meat was so soft that my fork went through it like a hot knife through butter. The meat dissolved in my mouth and hit all the proper notes of traditional barbeque: a cooked-in-smokiness, an evenhanded mix of fat and meat and a balanced, salty sweet aftertaste. Touché, Daisy May’s, touché.

Needless to say, I polished off the entire rib much to the astonishment of my co-workers and much to the dismay of my stomach. I spent the rest of the day contemplating that rib and thinking about how amazing it is that one dish can change one’s perception about a restaurant. And for those of you who care, Daisy May’s has risen from the grave and received a new lease in my culinary life.

Daisy May's BBQ is located at 623 11th Ave in New York City.


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