Mable's Smokehouse and Banquet Hall
44 Berry St, Williamsburg
Rating: 3 out of 5 L's
My name is Cara, and I'm a recovering vegetarian. I grew up in Connecticut on lentils bought in bulk and zucchini cake for birthday parties, far from any intimate knowledge of the sacred fire pit, from which the term barbecue derives. If that familiarity were a prerequisite for entry into Mable's Smokehouse, opened in January by a husband-and-wife team from Oklahoma and Kentucky, respectively, I would be the last person allowed in.
With Williamsburg barbecue joints (Fette Sau, Fatty 'Cue, Pies-N-Thighs) popping up like, well, pop-up shops, it was just a matter of time before I'd have to brace myself and meet the meat craze head-on. I walked into Mable's and saw Velveeta & Ro-Tel Queso Dip and State Fair Frito Pie on the menu and was a little scared. “What's Ro-Tel?” I asked my friend, a fellow Yankee and no help at all. The young woman who took our orders at the counter handled our questions with such patience on a bustling Friday night I wondered if they named the Sweet Tea after her. (Ro-Tel is a brand of canned tomatoes with chiles.) An hour later, I had a belly full of delicious St. Louis ribs and a stupid, satisfied grin on my sauce-slathered face; no cattle prod needed to make me clean that plate on my cafeteria-style plastic tray.
Although most of the restaurant's recipes come from one of the owners' actual Grandma Mable, the meats, especially the tender beef brisket and almost- juicy pulled pork, are more reliable than the sides. Just the sight of potato salad drowning in a creamy sea of mayo was appetite-inhibiting, and mac 'n' cheese arrived cold and congealed. The vegetarian Sloppy Joe, swathed in a sweet-salty sauce that made me thirsty for more cheap beer, had the taste and texture of the real thing. After polishing off most of the platter ($14.95 includes one meat, two sides, slaw, pickles, jalapeños, sliced onion and Wonder Bread; the DeLux platter, with three meats and three sides, is $24.95), including collared greens as token roughage, we were too full to try the daily pie of peanut butter with whipped cream and chocolate.
The restaurant's high ceilings, communal tables, and easy-going country tunes make for an airy, festive atmosphere that's good for large groups. The skeptical New Englander in me finally recognized that the place is not wrapped in kitsch (despite the taxidermy mounted on wood-paneled walls). If there were Wrangler-clad men with cow-dung on their boots around these parts, this is where they would talk tumbleweeds while downing pitchers of Coors ($16, $4 a pint) and shots of basic bourbons. The multi-tiered speedrack stocked with bags of Wonder Bread in plain view of the dining area says it all: there's nothing clever about Mable's Smokehouse, and therein lies its charm.