Fette Sau

1208 Frankford Avenue, Fishtown
(at W. Thompson Street)
(215) 391-4888

SignI’ve arrived at barbecue restaurants in Washington D.C., New York, Nashville, Montego Bay and San Francisco, and would have likened them to smokey dens of iniquity. The entrées come at you heavily flavored with dry rubs and sauces that are anywhere from ecstatically ethereal to “swordidly” unswallowable. The latter pierce the bottom of your stomach in a storm of smoking pointed failure. Fette Sau is quite different, somewhat disappointing, and certainly not yet a fête accompli. Allow me to explain.

One enters through a cinderblock alleyway of walls below the “Fette Sau” (“Fat Pig”) neon sign, lined to your left with split logs ready for eventual blazing use. Picnic tables abound nearby on your way into the establishment, and are omnipresent, already, at opening, beginning to fill with patrons and their families. This eatery is enormous, almost a block long, with huge rooms garnering all sorts and sizes of picnic tables. No two chairs or benches around most of the tables seem to be the same type. Looking up, one views higher than two-story’s ceilings, all festooned with wooden and metal bracing beams, giving “open –air” light every opportunity to brighten your day.

  WoodPile Bar

TableThe floors are concrete and indelibly smeared by age and seemingly eternal industrial use, with streaks of orange and brown. Closer looks at the tables show them as scarred, clumsily repaired, shellacked thick wooden items perhaps last used in bar room scenes from the movie “Josey Wales,” after having endured many gun fights’ furious flurries. But they’re long, wide and comfy, and set the bare-bones tone of frilless lack of frivolity and/or adornment. A long silver-topped whiskey bar is far off to the right, lit by hanging fluorescent lamps. One can only begin to imagine the enormous crowds that appear here every day through to 2:00 a.m., imbibing specialty whiskeys, et al. boundlessly from 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and from noon on weekends.

Some of the inside walls are painted with red and black outlines of myriad named cuts of beef, if not every cut imaginable to mankind since Neanderthal times. But first, you approach the “order-your-meal” area in front of a glassed-in beef-holding counter, behind which stand a few carver-servers. A sign behind them holds the first clue to what’s about to occur. It reads, in part:


Black Angus Beef Brisket

lb. 18.00

Berkshire Pulled Pork

lb. 16.00

Black Angus Boneless Beef Shortribs

lb. 23.00

Durol St. Louis Ribs

lb. 22.00

Berkshire Pork Belly

lb. 18.00

Nicolosi Hot Italian Sausage

link 4.00

“All Meats Are Naturally Raised, Hormone, Anti Biotic, & Steroid Free”

(There are then listed “SIDES” of Roasted mushrooms, Cora’s Broccoli salad, Dante’s German potato salad, Guss’ Half sour pickles, Guss’ Sauerkraut, Burnt end baked beans, Utz potato chips, Cole slaw, etc., at anywhere from $2.50-$5-$7.50 a serving.)

PlatterThis is an “order-to-take-to-your-picnic-table” encounter; modified take-out, to take-in. So, I order four ½ pound portions of brisket, pulled pork, Durol Ribs, pork belly and one sausage (about the size of a hot dog), some soft drinks and an order of sauerkraut for me and my guests. I pick a table upon which I place my jacket and return. What is presented to me is a foot-long plastic tray upon which is spread a layer of butcher paper, upon which are randomly placed the plain cuts of meats, all spread about in oily piles, a Martin’s potato-roll, my drinks and an oval paper-cupped batch of sauerkraut to carry separately. I’m told that paper plates and utensils are available along the wall. This is the least kind of service I’ve experienced in a “restaurant.” It ranks about ten giant steps below “Diners-Drive-In’s and Dives,” sans any chef’s thoughts of juicy sandwiches, ingeniously planned platters, potentially presentable presentations. Nothing incredibly unique in the ingredients. I was expecting much, much more from this BBQ confab between Brooklyn’s Joe Carol and Philly’s astonishingly inventive and talented Stephen Starr. Not even napkins here, just paper towels pulled in strips like mutiny from the Bounty.

EntranceThe brisket was stringy but juicy gray; the ribs, dry and very black-rimmed- charred; the pulled pork, wet and resembling a Harpo Marx’ hairpiece; the pork belly, glistening fatty patties of translucent pinkness; and the sausage as mahogany swollen saucy perfection. I missed the redolence of garlic (or any other herbaceous colleagues) throughout. The Sau sauces (poured in well-used plastic containers: marked in cursive: “sweet,” “hot” and “vinegar,” were useful. The pulled pork would have been all but tasteless without the vinegar, warned the carver-server. Every picnic table also has a lonesome Horn & Hardart’s type glass salt shaker, which remained unused.

Five-String Banjo music and country ballads make do. There is a side entrance that is possible to use. It is configured to mimic a front porch of a shapely quaint shack. It adds color and comfort. And you may wish to sit upon its painted iron patio chairs and take from the bar Fette Sau’s Whiskey Flights, with tastes and touches of brands that are languishing lipids to lips.



Copyright 2013 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back