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Thu September 27, 2012
Where Y'Eat: Smoke, and No Mirrors, at The Joint
The address may be a bit different, but the smoke signals at a Bywater barbecue destination make it clear the soul is the same.
Relocating a restaurant four blocks down the street in the same neighborhood may not seem too dramatic, but The Joint managed to make just such a move at least theatrical.
When this Bywater barbecue restaurant switched addresses in February, the job of transporting its giant smoker entailed a rented trailer, a festive gathering of friends and onlookers, a few cases of beer and an ersatz marching band of local musicians. The smoker got its own second line, and it seems a proper recipient for the honor.
About the size of a hot tub and blackened by smoke, it looks like a relic of the Industrial Revolution, but is in fact the heart and soul of what has been the city’s best barbecue restaurant practically since it opened in 2004.
New Orleans had its share of barbecue spots back then, though what remained so elusive was really smoky barbecue cooked in the low-and-slow style. More has since emerged (see notable pop-ups NOLA Smokehouse at the Avenue Pub and McClure’s Barbecue, which plans to open a permanent restaurant soon). But it was The Joint proprietors Jenny and Pete Breen who set the pace.
Before your first bite you can smell the difference this makes, and you can even see it. A pink smoke ring, testimony of a long, slow smoking process, paints the meats here, and it’s the unifying factor for a menu that borrows widely from different regional barbecue traditions.
Pork spare ribs are done St. Louis-style, for instance, and in their cross section you can read the variegations of smoke emanating down to the bone from the crackling, sticky, almost candied exterior. Thin slices of Texas-style brisket, topped with a tight band of fat, tear apart easily in geometric patterns and the pulled pork, prepared Carolina style, seems more blasted than pulled, with soft mounds strewn with blackened bits of salty crust. The smoke ring beautifully traces chaurice, a spicy, Creole-style sausage that The Joint sources from the legendary Poche’s Market out in Breaux Bridge. And if an order of chicken sounds plain compared to the glory of multi-colored ribs, you should reconsider. The Joint’s bird comes out smoky as a campfire but still juicy as chicken from the rotisserie.
The menu is short and traditional, with meats served as plates or sandwiches and abetted by squeeze bottles of thin, peppery, vinegar-based sauces.
The new Joint is substantially larger than the original and it’s vastly more put together. There’s a bar with cocktails and even a wine list — amenities that would have been unthinkable at the bare-bones original location. The whole room glows with honey-colored cypress and beadboard, and a collection of curios and folk art line the walls. The jukebox is so hyper local it makes me think there might be a residency requirement for musicians on its playlist, and the clientele includes every walk of Bywater life, from schoolgirls in pigtails to camo-wearing military personnel to laptop-toting types who look like they must be in New Orleans to film a documentary or finish a fellowship. The smoker now resides out back, under an enlarged carport, puffing away as always, scenting the air, the meats and the customers with aromatic gusts.
701 Mazant St., New Orleans