I’m halfway into my first mouthful of Hometown Bar-B-Cue’s brisket when pitmaster Billy Durney says he would never serve that to a customer.
He grimaced. The brisket had come right out of the holding oven, where it had been wrapped but still needed 30 minutes to rest. Instead he’d hastily (by his standards) sliced it into quarter-inch slabs, torn off a tender morsel with his gloved hands, stacked shaved white onions and a single pickle atop a perfect bite and told me, “Eat that.”
I did. It was the best brisket I’d ever tasted this side of Austin.
That was true until three weeks later when I made several quiet visits to Hometown, the first spinoff of Durney’s Red Hook, Brooklyn barbecue spot, which has been called one of the best in the country.
Durney, a Brooklyn native, turned away from a stressful life as a bodyguard to the stars, a job that took him around the world but away from his young family. He turned toward the weekend backyard activity that gave him repose — smoking and barbecue — and turned it into his new career after studying under some of central Texas’ best pit masters. He has continued to learn, cribbing what he loved about barbecue styles from North Carolina to Texas to create what he called “Brooklyn-style,” reflecting the flavors of the neighborhood, from Jewish to Korean.
Call what he’s doing here “Miami style,” an extension of his philosophy — taking beef and pork barbecue staples and carefully adding South Florida flavors (chimichurri, Scotch bonnet, jerk seasonings) as the restaurant takes root in its new soil.
He has chosen to do this in Allapattah, one of Miami’s most diverse neighborhoods, where black Miami is still strong, and Spanish is spoken with Dominican, Honduran, Nicaraguan and Cuban accents. He has trusted one of his longtime friends to run the pit (actually, three massive indirect-heat smokers), Canadian chef Alex Smith, a former chef at Jean-George’s ABC Kitchen and Manhattan’s Mighty Quinn’s.
Yet looking east from Northwest 22nd Street in front of the restaurant, you can see Allapattah’s future. A glass tower rises in Wynwood. The Rubell Family Collection, whose galleries helped brand Wynwood as an artist enclave, has started to move its massive collection from that neighborhood to a corner across the street.
Already, Hometown has displaced Brothers Produce on the corner of what will be a massive eight-acre redevelopment of this warehouse district. That may ultimately change this neighborhood as much as when these markets sprang up to house the produce flown into Miami International Airport.
But that’s an existential crisis for another day. Today, Homegrown in Allapattah means we Miamians get something New Yorkers can only dream of: a table.
In Brooklyn diners wait hours for this barbecue. Here you can walk up to the counter and order lunch with hardly a wait. And for dinner, you can make reservations (something Brooklyn diners can’t do) and often on the same day.
That may soon change when word gets out about this place.
The beef people
Texas barbecue was Durney’s inspiration, and Texas’ inspiration is beef.
Brisket is the first item listed on the menu. More than a predilection for beef, Hometown’s is a devotion. The restaurant sources its black Angus from Arkansas’ Creekstone Farms and never uses anything less than the USDA’s rated Prime or what’s called upper two-thirds choice beef, meaning the marbling of the meat is higher than you’d find at the local grocery store.
That makes all the difference with this brisket, served in half-pound portions. Seasoned only with salt and pepper and smoked for 12 to 16 hours, a dark seasoned crust forms over the meat. Inside, an auspicious pink smoke ring denotes the long, careful cook time where the Texas post oak smoke worked its way into the meat. And the marbled fat renders throughout every satisfying bite.
You’ll find a bottle of Hometown’s tasty, tangy, sweet sauce on every table. Avoid it. Drop the fork, grab a piece of brisket with your hands, stack it with a sliver of mild white onion, a dill pickle chip and do what Durney told me that first time: Eat that.
You’ll want to bring a friend to Hometown, partly because barbecue is communal. The wide-open warehouse space that leads from open kitchen to dining room to bar makes it feel unpretentious, despite a parking lot full of luxury cars and early adopters in power blue business suits. (At lunch, you’ll seat yourself and pour yourself water out of a Yeti cooler.)
Mostly, you’ll want help eating the one-pound beef rib.
Seasoned like all the beef here, with only salt and pepper, the rib comes served atop its Apatosaurus-like bone. It’s for presentation only; the meat effortlessly slides off the rib with a stronger flavor, like meat that’s clearly been cooked over flames.
The other white meats
Telling someone to order chicken at a place that makes great brisket is hard. But that’s what I’m going to tell you to do.
The wood-fired Oaxacan chicken is one of the most complex dishes on the menu. The half chicken is brined for 24 hours, marinated for three days, grilled for a crispy skin and then roasted in a wood-fire oven blazing in the center of the kitchen before it’s finished on an open grill grate.
That careful choreography, ending with a salsa verde drizzle and picked red onions, yields the kind of cooking that makes you rethink what is possible for chicken, for barbecue, for a transplant restaurant that fits so effortlessly into Miami.
Start with a half dozen of the smoked chicken wings, dusted in mole and served with a charred poblano crema. You come back for them on football Sundays.
The hearty portions of pork spare ribs are another reason to bring a friend.
Hometown butchers the ribs to leave on the end meat, which helps to impart a richer flavor after they smoke for six hours and are mopped finally with sweet-spicy sauce. The meat never loses its texture when it comes off the bone in a tangy-smoky bite that will ruin the spare ribs at your favorite Chinese restaurant.
Even the sandwiches are shareable.
The lamb banh mi started off as a mistake. Durney left the lamb cooking too long and came back to realize the lamb belly and breast meat had confit, cooked in its own fat. That “mistake” plays like accidental brilliance, and the rich lamb is balanced by a vinegary-sweet crunchy slaw with a cilantro punch.
A word on sides and wine
All of the side dishes but the baked beans are vegetarian, in case someone got wrangled into your carnivorous lunch group by mistake.
Fire roasted wild mushrooms and broccoli cooked on a plancha (again served with that poblano crema) are both worthy mains. The green-averse will be more than pleased with a creamy mac and cheese topped with a buttery, crunchy panko seasoned with chili-lime powder.
The baked beans are more like a campfire stew, the pinto beans cooked in a broth made from smoked pigs feet and topped with pulled pork from a small farm in Minnesota. It’s not for everyone, especially if you like sweet beans.
A better option than a gelatinous corn pudding is a double order of sweet corn bread you’ll find yourself alternating between bites of brisket.
A list of natural wines (no pesticides or herbicides and using native yeasts) from small growers might seem like an odd pairing here. But those layers, like the thoughtfulness of the cooking, shows what raises Hometown from barbecue joint to one of Miami’s best restaurants.
Friends will be bringing friends here soon, partly because Allapattah is what’s new, what’s next — and change in Miami is as inevitable as the tide.
But mainly because the barbecue at Hometown is unlike anything else in town.
Miami Herald critics dine unannounced and at the newspaper’s expense.
Editor’s note: Miami Herald dining reviews no longer include star ratings. We believe a restaurant should be judged on its merits and the nuance of the dining experience, not simply on a grade. — Carlos Frías, Miami Herald food editor
Address: 1200 NW 22nd St., #100, Allapattah
Info: 305-396-4551; Hometownbbqmiami.com/
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday. Open until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Price range: $7-$15 barbecue by the half pound; beef ribs $32 for a one-pound order. Sandwiches $14. Wood-fire dishes, $9-$34. Sides $6.
FYI: Street parking available along Northwest 22nd Street and behind the restaurant, inside the produce market. Accessible entry through the back of the restaurant. Walk-up counter service only through lunch. Reservations through Resy recommended for dinner.