Queue and 'Cue at Strand Smokehouse in Queens
It's funny that no one thought of it before: combining a beer garden and barbecue into a single institution. Well, now it has been done in Astoria, Queens. Named after a movie theater that once lurked in the vicinity, the Strand Smokehouse is located a rib's throw from the Broadway elevated stop on the N and Q, making it a convenient destination spot as well as a hang for locals. But how well it serves both constituencies was not apparent until I arrived there this past Saturday night with a friend from the nabe to find the place mobbed, with long lines for meat and beverages, and only a few days after opening.
It was a big mob, too, because the place must seat at least a couple hundred, with further seasonal outdoor seating in front on the street and in the back in a courtyard, now peopled only with cigarette smokers. A long counter runs along one side of the room, where customers line up separately for barbecue (the evening's offerings chalked above the station) and booze (including boutique whiskies, craft-brewed beers, and cocktails). A band playing a kind of ragged country folk on the other side of the room doubled an already ear-splitting volume level.
Of course, the genius of the concept is that liquor will always trump food, and the beer-garden aspect of the place handily wins out, making the smoked meats seem almost like an afterthought. Nevertheless, the wait for flesh is long, and some of the 'cue is good. At 9 p.m., it was apparent that some of the offerings were already sold out. From those that remained, we picked rib eye steak, pork belly, pulled pork, and pastrami, and avoided seared salmon and what looked like a rubber-skinned chicken. We picked -- from a slender and short-on-carbs collection of sides, which didn't seem particularly well-conceived and did not include any sort of potatoes -- collards cooked with ham hocks and an odd cold macaroni salad that featured cubes of cheese. Why not heat it up and let those suckers melt?
The best thing we ate that evening, and a good thing it was, was the rib eye steak, priced at $32 per pound. A quarter-pound turned out to be a good-size hunk, pink in the middle, caramelized on the outside, and pleasantly fatty. The smoke and flesh combined for a perfect texture and flavor. The pork belly was also good, nicely layered and porky tasting, while being only faintly smoky.
The other two meats blew. The pastrami seemed to have been made by thrusting an already-smoked lean pastrami into the smoker, which only dried it out and left the meat stringy and nearly inedible. The pulled pork, which might have brought a smile initially to the lips, turned out to have all its flavor deposited not in the shreds of meat, but in a dingy fluid that coated them, as if introduced separately from the actual smoking process. I don't know quite how they accomplished it, but it was a clear fail.
The beer and whisky list is really wonderful, with plenty of choices at reasonable prices (the $18 pitchers of brew are a boon). My whisky-drinking companion also declared the liquor list interesting and proceeded to knock back a couple of neat shot glasses' worth.
A word about the architecture: It's a slap in the face to the neighborhood and sticks out like a sore thumb. And one can only imagine the noise proceeding from the place in the summer.
Still, grab a slice of rib eye and a pint of IPA, and you're nearly in heaven.
25-27 Broadway, Queens