Doubts that Joe and Kim Carroll were serious when they named their new Williamsburg barbecue joint Fette Sau, German for “fat pig,” are put to rest at the food counter, where the lightest meat served is charred pork (even chicken has been banished). Any lingering apprehension vanishes at the bar, where beer drinkers can choose from ten brews on tap, offered in gallon-size glass jugs.
Such unbutton-the-pants gusto, fervent even by gluttonous barbecue standards, makes Fette Sau great fun. After waiting dutifully in line, patrons order their meats by the pound, glistening mounds heaped onto paper-lined baking trays (only about half the menu’s offerings are available at any given time). Want a drink? You’ll have to make a separate trip to the bar. For those who prefer their smoke in a glass, there’s an encyclopedic bourbon selection—no surprise to diners familiar with Carroll’s obsessive Belgian beer list at Spuyten Duyvil.
Offsetting the boozy pedantry is the physical space, a former auto body shop. Picnic tables now fill both the driveway and the cement-floor garage, and tractor seats serve as barstools. The hipsters in the crowd, sporting handlebar mustaches, their finest plaid button-downs and Cat diesel hats, looked like they’ve stopped for dinner enroute to a red-neck costume party. They dab their soiled fingers with low-grade paper towel—the Wetnaps haven’t arrived yet.
Carroll leaves the cooking to pit master Matt Lang, a reformed fishmonger from Pearl Oyster Bar, and his gas-and-wood Southern Pride smoker. Lang has no professional barbecue bona fides, but he does have his moments. Lean baby back ribs come tender and pink in the middle, the tasty meat carrying a hint of smoke and a light rub of espresso and brown sugar. Lang cakes a coriander black-pepper rub onto his thick-crusted pastrami, which gets a sweet, fatty coating from the drippings of its ovenmates.
Lang’s more ambitious options were comparatively bland, including flank steak and pork belly (save a pulled lamb, beef and pork are Fette Sau’s two exclusive muses). The steak came extra-lean, and the belly was all fat and no marbling. Barbecue is not inherently a complimentary process for either cut—both tend to shine when prepared with kid gloves.
Fette Sau’s serving system also puts the meat at a disadvantage. The cuts sit in chafing dishes, which I blame for the ashen state of the pulled pork. It got no help from the horrid sauces, which sit on tables in unmarked squirt bottles. One, made with chipotle and ancho chilis, tasted so astringent that I sampled numerous bottles to ensure mine wasn’t an auto-shop castoff. An alternative was a hopelessly cloying mix of brown sugar and ketchup. (The best option: vinegar.)
There’s little to recommend in terms of sides. Apart from the baked beans with burnt-brisket ends and cold broccoli spears, the rest (half-sour pickles and fresh sauerkraut from Guss’ Pickles on the Lower East Side) are pre-fab. Ditto on desserts. Carroll offers a sole option: a plate of chocolate truffles. Not the most natural (or appetizing) ending to a ’cue dinner.
Like its bourbon selection, Fette Sau should get better with age. Until then, there’s just one way to eat here: in-house. This food only works in context.