Quick – name something Williamsburg hasn’t hipster-fied yet. If your answer was good old fashioned Southern BBQ, you are wrong. At least now you are, thanks to opening of Fette Sau in a Brooklyn space leased from an auto body shop’s parking lot. Fette Sau serves up your favorite smoked meats until the wee hours of the morning, and has an impressive local beer list to match. A healthy mix of old-school neighborhood locals and drunken rock-and-roll kids have given this new spot a worthy buzz.
Not since the original Long Island City Pearson’s, perhaps, has a location been as ideally suited for barbecue as Williamsburg’s Fette Sau, however. Kim and Joe Carroll had been scouting locations for their second venture when they learned that Tony & Sons, the auto-body repair shop across the street, was renting out part of its fenced-in lot and cinderblock building. The couple preserved the shop’s industrial vibe, outfitting the driveway with picnic tables and the wood-beamed, cement-floored interior with phonograph-horn light fixtures and stools fashioned from John Deere tractor seats. The centerpiece, though, is the Southern Pride gas-and-wood-fired smoker capable of slow-cooking 700 pounds of meat at a time.
An avid backyard barbecuer, Joe eschews regional styles, finding inspiration in local ingredients like Italian fennel sausage from a nearby butcher, and his own proprietary panela-and-espresso-based spice rub. Head chef Matt Lang, late of Pearl Oyster Bar, swaps surf for turf with a rotating menu of pork and beef ribs and shoulders, pigs’ tails, flank steak, leg of lamb, pork belly, and pastrami, all sold by weight and served on butcher paper, sauce on the side. The drink list is appropriately heavy on North American bourbon and whiskey, with a smattering of tequilas, mescals, rums, and vodkas, and of the ten tap beers, four are custom-brewed by New Jersey’s Heavyweight and Brooklyn’s own Greenpoint.
The strong showing from behind the bar is no surprise because Fette Sau is the second venture of Joe Carroll and Kim Barbour, the folks behind Brooklyn’s best bottled-beer bar, Spuyten Duyvil, just across the street. (Berlitzy digression: Fette Sau is German for fat pig; Spuyten Duyvil is Dutch for spitting devil.)
There are no bottled beers at Fette Sau, but there are eight offbeat wines — who knew Rhode Island made such a zesty vidal blanc? — that play well with the barbecue and as many as 40 American whiskies on offer. When they’re called for, Fette Sau deploys glacier-size ice cubes, in step with the current preferences of the brown-spirit snob, and supplies eyedroppers of water to drinkers who want to temper the fire in their glass.
Ten local brews, available in increments from half-pints to full gallons, flow into jam jars and glass growlers through wall-mounted taps, each one crowned with what looks like the cast-aside tool of a departed butcher shop: a worn knife, a dull cleaver, a beaten mallet.
That attractive arsenal brings up another bonus about Fette Sau: she’s a looker. A floor-to-ceiling mural of meat from cows, pigs and lambs — the only three beasts Fette Sau currently cooks — has been painted on the east wall; the rest of the space is either handsomely tiled or painted in a smart brown and white pinstripe.
It’s probably best to file Fette Sau under “hostile to vegetarians.” The vegetarian sides — potato salad, sauerkraut and some sort of cold broccoli thing — seem to have been calibrated to punish anyone thinking about making a meal out of them alone.
The barbecue of Fette Sau’s pit boss, Matthew Lang, is, to an item, almost sooty in its blackness. Selections are alternately sugary — the ribs, billed as spares but more frequently baby backs, get a brown sugar rubdown — or peppery, as is the case with the pastrami and the pork belly. The application of salt is liberal. Smoke flavor is light.
Whatever you order will be unceremoniously piled onto a paper-lined sheet pan and topped with a few small potato-bread rolls. Plates are nowhere to be found and sauce is on the side, always.
About that sauce: Fette Sau fits into a subcategory of barbecue restaurants I had no idea existed, a “bag sauce” place.
It turns out that in some quarters, when you’re going to a barbecue joint where you know you don’t like the sauce — and in five trips with a gaggle of partners, I didn’t find a single taker for Fette Sau’s tongue-curlingly bitter version — you just stick a bottle of your own in your purse.