Entering Randall’s Barbecue for its press preview last week felt like walking into a cool, older family friend’s refinished basement from the ‘70s—if that friend also happened to be extremely skilled at smoking meat. New arrivals were greeted with wine and mixed drinks (I grabbed The Randall, a mescal, lime, and birch beer mix with Randall’s rib rub covering the rim) to carry through the congenial bustle of strangers grabbing ribs off each other’s plates and pointing out especially tasty dishes to try (as it turns out, all of them).
The ‘70s refinished basement vibe, I learned, was no accident. Jared Male, the Westchester-born chef behind Randall’s Barbecue, took design inspiration for the restaurant from his grandparent’s den. He even scattered some of their nostalgic décor throughout the restaurant (not a bad “I spy” game to play while eating there).
Male started his culinary career at Hill Country Barbecue, the kind of New York restaurant that lives in the city’s most populated office neighborhoods, making it a beloved eatery for the 9-to-5 crowd. Male eventually moved onto the famed Dinosaur Bar-B-Que—best known for its Harlem location before expanding out to Connecticut and New Jersey—and Big Easy in London, where he served as executive chef.
The BBQ chef’s latest effort, located in the Lower East Side, pays appropriate homage to its home. Kossar’s bialys feature in sandwiches like the house-smoked BLT and pastrami, chopped liver, and vinegar slaw offering, while pickles from next-door neighbors The Pickle Guys appear alongside multiple meals. However, my first dish at Randall’s during this visit was unexpected—hand-sized lobster rolls, with meat juicy enough to warrant a lack of mayonnaise. (Ideal for me, as I don’t like mayonnaise.) After hastily consuming a couple—they were so tiny!—I was told by my seatmates at the wooden communal table where I’d hunkered down for the evening that a lot more food was about to come my way. It did.
First, what looked like a puzzlingly small turkey leg turned out to be an Indian Spiced Lamb Shank, smothered in a sauce that was at once tangy, sour, sweet, salty, and spicy. The flavors greet you almost in that order, with the smoky quality emerging afterward, almost as an afterthought, but in a good way. Some bites proved smokier than others.
Meanwhile, new flavors from my mescal cocktail seemed to emerge with the flavors of the meal. The birch beer made a bold appearance as the smoky heat of the lamb mounted, the cocktail proving a welcome respite—even more so after I consumed some Smoked & Fried Portobello mushrooms. They started off as pure comfort food, with the perfect mouth feel (for lack of a better word) for something fried on the outside and squishy on the inside, before getting seriously spicy. Luckily, the Israeli Salad followed, cooling my mouth with fresh cucumber, tomato, and lightly oiled chickpeas.
Two mescal drinks in, a trip to the restroom offered a delightful surprise—wooden toilet seats (just me?).
Of all the pickled items that had appeared, as if by magic, at my communal table upon my return from the restroom, the sweet pink onions stood out. Eaten on a forkful of brisket, which had been set down on the table by a smiling server on a tray heaped with 5 Spice Duck and Pork Spare Ribs, the pickled onions helped cut through this meat-heavy course. However, first I had to get the brisket on the fork—not an easy task, as it fell apart to the touch. Though the brisket was drier than what my mom makes (I’m biased, and she also smothers it in gravy), this sauce-free counterpart benefited from the thick layers of fat accompanying every slice.
The duck and the ribs had no comparison in my mom’s cooking, or anyone else’s I’d encountered, for that matter. Though Male’s duck is a nod to the fowl served all throughout Chinatown just one neighborhood over, it’s preparation proved unique, the smoky outside giving away to a tender, salty inside, spotlighting a flavor that I can only call “duck.” Without the usual duck sauce accompaniment you’ll find at Chinese eateries, you get to enjoy the pure duck-ness of this gamey fowl. As for the ribs, the sheer amount of meat on those bones left me in a dreamy food coma. I recognized the familiar flavor of the rub from the rim of my cocktail glass.
To emerge from my meat-induced dream state, one last dish—a slaw, also without mayo. Instead, vinegar and mustard seeds made the crunchy side vibrate against my tongue. I kept eating long after I was already full. My last sip of mescal, lime, and birch beer washed it down.
Next time I go back, my plan is to get my hands on some corn bread (shaped like English muffins) and a chopped liver, pastrami sandwich on a Kossar’s bialy. Randall’s Barbecue is located just steps away from Kossar’s, on 359 Grand Street in the Lower East Side. It opens every day of the week at 5pm, closing at 1am Sunday through Wednesday and 2am on Thursday through Saturday (kitchen closes an hour earlier).
Come with a big group of friends who love meat and don’t mind getting messy while sharing it. You can visit the Randall’s Barbecue website here.