It’s fair to say that you smell Fette Sau before you actually see it. This is partly due to the hideaway nature of the restaurant – down a Brooklyn side street, housed inside an old car workshop. But, also, because the aroma of the barbecue drifts out over the surrounding block, guiding you onwards until you find the small neon sign overlooking the street. Williamsburg has plenty of hipster hangouts, but none advertise themselves so successfully. I’ll bet many locals over the years have wandered out for dinner with no specific plans and ended up there, following scent trails like on the old Bisto adverts.
You don’t have to be a regular viewer of the food channel to know that Americans love their barbecue. Fette Sau – ‘fat sow’ in German – dishes out glistening meats, served by the pound, alongside a multitude of craft beer (in case you were wondering where this post was going). All of their meat is smoked in-house, with a blend of red and white oak, maple, beech and cherry, locally sourced for the restaurant. I don’t claim to be a BBQ expert by any means, but it certainly seems like they take their provenance seriously.
Fette Sau is the kind of place that works very hard to portray itself as having no frills – communal tables, order at the counter, no reservations etc. But the staff are extremely friendly – helping us to work out what we wanted, when we had no idea (what does a pound of pulled pork actually look like?). Once selected, the barbecue is heaped onto a tray lined with greaseproof paper, piled up with sides, and away you go to find a spot at one of the tables. We ended up facing the incredible ‘beef chart’ mural – one entire wall listing the near-limitless possibilities of the cow.
The whiskey list is hugely impressive, as is the beer – ten taps line the back wall of the bar, the handle of each an implement of the trade (knives, cleavers, a meat tenderiser). I went for the Sixpoint Vienna Pale, brewed exclusively for Fette Sau by the south Brooklyn brewery. It worked with the rich barbecue perfectly, helping to offset all of the sweet, sticky flavours of the pulled pork and brisket. The beers arrive in mason jars – something we found more than once in Williamsburg, with pitchers being served in glass carboys.
Fette Sau does have those kind of touches that some would find a bit twee – but they all work together really well. Barbecue lends itself to fun, communal, dining after all. The food was fantastic – hand pulled Berkshire pork shoulder the best I’ve ever tasted, potato salad and burnt end baked beans a revelation. There are a couple of British bars I’ve been to that have very similar touches to Fette Sau, and whether deliberately or not, I can see why – it would be a place I’d head to, even if I wasn’t eating.