A Closer Look at Tres Carnes' Texas-Style BBQ
Brisket taco drenched with toppings
Many people have been comparing the Flatiron's new Tres Carnes to the fast-casual model of Chipotle, with its assembly-line and infinitely customizable tacos and burritos. But a more astute comparison lies eight blocks South, at Dos Toros, which has brought in Mexican flavors by way of San Francisco while Tres Carnes pulls its from Austin. Similar to Dos Toros, the young entrepreneurs behind Tres Carnes have built a dining space as streamlined as their menu, and offer carefully chosen meats, house-made salsas, and agua frescas that contain actual fruit. The Tres Carnes approach is to put a long-smoked, Texas-style BBQ spin on the Mexican basics.
They've got Mike Rodriguez, a pit master who spent years tending the smokehouse at Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas, shepherding their proteins -- which is a little like bringing in Richard Serra to teach your kid's 5th-grade sculpting class.
Charros, or cowboy pinto beans, with smoked pork
Tres Carnes offers, unexpectedly, three meats: brisket smoked for 16 hours ($8.73), pulled pork butt ($8.04), and chicken, brined with adobo and lime ($8.04), to be placed in burritos or tacos, or on platters with beds of rice and beans. All three meats are given dry rubs and all carry a nice smokiness from Tres Carnes' impressive JB smoker, but all three begged for salt and moisture. Vegetarians and the gluten-free can corral sturdy meals from roasted corn esquites, black beans, two types of rice, chipotle-honey-roasted squash, and a strangely smoky guacamole.
Caramelo-stuffed doughnut from La Newyorkina
What starts a passable lunch with underwhelming salsas is then cobbled over by "the works" -- a torrent of watery pico de gallo, sliced radish, crumbled cheese, a thicket of pickled red onions, and sour cream, obscuring any remaining flavor of smoke and meat. Give a shriek before the assembler drags your burrito through the salad gauntlet. There are crema de caramelo-stuffed doughnuts ($3.22) from Fany Gerson of La Newyorkina for dessert, rolled in smoked cinnamon sugar, a somewhat lackluster ending to an already smoked-out meal. Nevertheless, considering the line was wrapping halfway down the block on a recent Wednesday afternoon, Tres Carnes will be just fine.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city's best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.