So. Let’s talk about brisket. I’d never even tried brisket until about four-and-a-half years ago, when I was on a road trip through the Deep South (the same fateful road trip that would ultimately lead to my importing an American into Europe and turning him into a food snob). My friend and I had decided to make a BBQ pilgrimage to Lockhart, home of Smitty’s Market, where we waited in line in front of a fire pit that was unbearably hot even for the five short minutes we were queueing, let alone for the hours spent behind it by the people working there. We ordered the sausage, because we are both huge pork lovers, and then we ordered the brisket because it seemed like it would be rude not to.
Never before had I tasted beef that was at once so tender and yet entirely cooked through, not rare as it’s so often served in other preparations. Full of peppery spice, it was cut in thick hunks of gelatinous, fibrous meat that melted apart at the touch. Little did I know at the time, but that brisket ruined me. Like many first experiences, I spent the next four years trying to recreate it – only to be disappointed by the dry, biscuity flakes of meat that were sorry excuses for the brisket whose juices had once run down my greedy chin. Eventually, I more or less came to the conclusion that Smitty’s brisket was a one-off – a platonic ideal that simply didn’t exist in the real world.
And then, last Friday, months after I’d given up on the whole brisket search and put it out of my mind, I went to Pendergast. It was with some trepidation that I risked ordering the brisket off the menu; “I’m scared I’m going to be disappointed,” I confessed to the South Carolina waiter. “It’s ok,” he soothed, “you’re gonna like it,” as though we were about to pop a pill or go to a fetish party together.
I trusted him. And oh boy, did that trust pay off. The brisket arrived. It was thickly cut and marbled with fat. I tore off a piece easily and put it in my mouth. The beef was as rich as bone marrow, as tender as butter, and as umami-satisfying as bacon. Memories of Smitty’s came flooding back, of hot fire pits in the Texan heat, of our Dodge Charger and my cowboy boots…
I’m getting carried away. The point is, it was bloody amazing. And since there were four of us, we got to try the pig’s cheeks, hot-smoked salmon and pork ribs, too. Everything was good, but the ribs deserve another special mention. While ribs are far easier to come across in Amsterdam than brisket, most places do them pretty badly. I have only two truly tried-and-trusted sources for ribs in my home city: one is my friend Jeroen; the other is Bulelani pop-up. Neither are available as often as I need them. So I was pretty darn excited to discover that Pendergast’s ribs were every bit as sweet and savoury and meltingly delicious as its brisket.
The sides weren’t bad either: I especially liked their barbecued beans and collard greens. And did I mention they serve cocktails? Most of them are modern takes on their Southern roots – a mint julep in a silver cup; an old-fashioned bourbon number called Smith Street No. 4; and pretty much anything else the bartender (Mr South Carolina who was moonlighting as a waiter before) wants to knock up for you.
Yes, we spent some cash. €65 each, as I recall, but we made a night of it: cocktails, wine, dessert, plus all the meaty mains I was so impressed by, of course. It may not have been the five bucks we spent at Smitty’s, but it certainly felt like value for money.
Will I be back? I think you already know the answer.
PS. The summer after this article was written, I started making my own pulled pork and beef brisket on my Weber BBQ at home… These were the results!