Percy Street Barbecue Review: Translating Texas

The owners of lauded Zahav try their hand at barbecue

The first commandment of Texas barbecue forbids brining — a reliable method wherein meat spends time in a salty water bath. Erin O’Shea, executive chef/partner at the new Texas-themed eatery Percy Street, wanted to obey, but after some trial and error, she decided to abandon tradition. And her brined brisket delivers a succulent bite that carries a river of smoky flavor over your tongue. The moist brisket, cut from the fatty side of the meat, does retain a stubborn center of solid fat, so opt for the remarkably juicy lean cut. The method may offend Texas natives (“I would get beat up for that,” says O’Shea, who lived in the state for a decade), but there’s no arguing with these results.  

[sidebar]Brining is less successful when applied to the chicken and especially the pork belly, both of which have a somewhat mushy consistency. This isn’t hard to overlook when you apply a blanket of O’Shea’s sweet, tomato-rich barbecue sauce, which is on each table. This kind of messy comfort food — served with white bread, pickles and raw onions — -accommodates more errors than other cuisines.  

There are other felicitous violations of the barbecue code. O’Shea’s mac-and-cheese is pretentious compared to the Velveeta version usually found in Texas, but dramatically tastier. Sausage is house-made from a mix of brisket trimmings, pork shoulder and coarsely chopped fat. According to O’Shea, these links taste better than the so-called “Elgin hot guts” of the Texas Hill Country on which they’re modeled, a claim that’s not hard to believe.

The setting, slick and upscale with its dim faux-industrial lights, is certainly more stylish than the unvarnished warehouses where you find this food in its native environment. But it’s not too fancy for families, whose kids color on placemats with Percy-provided crayons. The drink list, complete with craft beers and cocktails like a smooth and balanced Texas Manhattan, could hardly be more urbane. Percy Street evokes just enough Texas to make the barbecue credible, with plenty of Northern tweaks that make it more fun. We would never have swallowed it any other way.