"Fancying myself as a bit of a gunslinger I tried the pickleback, which, like a trip to the GUM clinic, was actually not as unpleasant as it sounds..."
Obviously we all do those things that we'd rather other people didn't know about: nose-picking, arse-scratching, food blogging and watching Downton Abbey. So late at night when you're watching TV and there's no-one in the house, what thoughts cross your mind? Do you find yourself tapping your feet, twiddling your thumbs and fiddling with the remote, before giving in to that irresistible urge and turning to...no not Babestation you pervert, the Food Network of course? Because late at night on the Food Network is my own dirty little secret, an American show called Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Presented by a bejewelled human gopher called Guy Fieri, Triple D, as it is known to us fans, is a an absolute treasure trove of Americana, featuring trips to roadside diners, neighbourhood Italian joints, burger bars, and (here's the real money shot) barbecue restaurants. But don't be fooled, this isn't barbecue as you might think of it, this is a serious business. Southern-style barbecue is a second religion in those parts of the USA where they still teach creationism in schools - think Kansas, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Kentucky and Texas. By smoking large hunks of spiced pork or beef for hours at a low temperature in enormous purpose built smokers, they are doing something that is light years away from the crud served up at your mate's impromptu back garden cook up.
Call me odd, but I just can't get enough of the scenes where Guy and the pit-master discuss the merits of a dry rub vs. a wet marinade; whether to smoke over beech or hickory wood; which goes better with the pulled pork, a Kansas City tomato based sauce or a North Carolina vinegar based sauce; and the quality of the bark (smoked outer layer) on the barbecued brisket.
I've had a couple of stabs at producing this type of barbecue myself and doing it properly is tricky. It is easy enough to cook a shoulder of pork or beef brisket for hours in a very low oven, but getting the proper smoked flavour is another thing, usually attempted by finishing the meat off over charcoal on a coolish barbecue. Despite my best efforts, the effect is just not the same. You will therefore understand my excitement when I learned that the Pitt Cue Co guys, who spent last summer selling proper barbecue from a van on London's Southbank, were setting up their own restaurant in Soho.
These days I only bother reviewing places that I have to queue for, it is just too easy to book somewhere and expect to waltz straight to your table at the heels of a charming Maitre d'. So I pitched up on Newburgh Street at 5.30pm on a Friday, half an hour before they even open, to join an already formed queue of 10 diners. By the time the doors opened at six, there was a long line of punters ready to tuck in, so if you're hungry get there early or be prepared to wait (something the British are genetically pre-disposed to, so you'll be fine).
Inside, there is a small and airy upstairs bar and a small, airless and featureless downstairs room for eating - pragmatism rules ok. Wooden chairs and tables, cutlery and sauces on the table and a small, typed menu are all the decoration provided. There is a part of me that yearns to eat this type food under the hot Texas Sun, sat at a wooden picnic table next to a long distance truck driver called Buck. However, as I was in a Soho basement we had to make do with a 40 watt bulb and an elderly, rather prim gay couple.
Our appetites whetted by fiendishly hot, salty and smoky deep fried nuggets of pig's head, two tin trays full of pulled pork, a mammoth set of beef ribs, pickles, grilled broccoli and mashed spuds with burnt ends were placed before VD and I. Suddenly, my inner caveman took over: dispensing with all niceties, I picked up the ribs, which were slathered in a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, and made very short work of them, pausing only to grunt at my date and take swigs from a Kernel IPA. Tender, beefy, smoky, delicious.
It is difficult to imagine what I looked like to our prim neighbours: sleeves rolled up, face and hands smeared with barbecue sauce, I must have seemed at least one or two stages back down the evolutionary ladder. Having finished the ribs, I went in search of the pulled pork, which was equally good; as was the mashed potato, which came with a topping of burnt ends in a rich, meaty gravy.
There are two ways to finish a meal at Pitt Cue Co: with a dessert, or, for the real gunslingers, with a pickleback - a shot of bourbon chased down with a shot of pickle brine. Fancying myself as a bit of a gunslinger I tried the pickleback, which, like a trip to the GUM clinic, was actually not as unpleasant as it sounds. In the interests of fairness, we also tried one of the two desserts on offer, a peanut butter brownie, which was perfectly respectable and a nice way for the neophytes to finish off their meal.
Price wise, it was all reasonable and they have a good drinks list of craft beers and bourbon cocktails to choose from. So what else can I say? Queue or no queue, in the words of the Governator, I'll be back.
Pitt Cue Co, 1 Newburgh Street, Soho, London, W1N 7RB
Monday to Saturday: 12pm-3pm & 6pm-11pm
£58 for two including service