For Eater, I profiled Fort Reno Provisions, a new BBQ and destination cocktail bar opening up in Brooklyn. Before doing this article I didn’t know how a razorback was made. Partner Jacques Gautier enlightened me, saying, it’s “when a boar breaks into a pen and steals some women.” The resulting cross-breed has “the gaminess of a boar, with leaner, full flavor, but then it has the fattiness and tenderness of the pig.” But you don’t need to know anything about animal husbandry to understand how tasty the resulting smoked meat is, I had the brisket and some pulled pork and they were super tasty.
I submitted 1037 words and it got edited down to 330, so here’s the “whole hog”:A chalkboard on the wall behind the ordering counter announces your choices at Fort Reno Provisions. Depending on what’s in the 150lb-capacity smoker, that’s going to be whole hog pulled pork, briskets, or ribs, as well as other smoked pork specialities. Most of the pigs will come from Heritage Foods, which acts a broker between small farms and restaurants. Fort Reno says it will be serving up breeds of pig that would otherwise be in danger of dying off if it weren’t for the smaller firms breeding them and restaurants serving them. “It’s like the opposite of an endangered animal,” said partner Jacques Gautier. One of the animals he’s excited about serving up is the razorback, a cross between a wild boar and a pig. It happens, “when a boar breaks into a pen and steals some women,” he joked. “It’s got the gaminess of a boar, with leaner, full flavor, but then it has the fattiness and tenderness of the pig. It’s the perfect mix.” Another breed is the Red Wattle, which has a distinct flavor but is “tougher,” said Jacques. “It’s better when it’s brazed or stewed.” Prices will be by the pound and will be comparable to the going city rate. Pare with simple sides like collard greens, biscuits, cole-slaw or macaroni and cheese. Just like at the latin Palo Santo across the street, which Jacques also owns and masterminded, the menu’s magic doesn’t come from unexpected combinations of ingredients. Rather, it’s the super-local, fresh, organic, sustainably-grown ingredients prepared simply but expertly. Fort Reno has all the requisite buzzwords: fresh, local, organic, sustainably-grown, but what if all you care about is taste? No problem. “It’s a more flavorful, more loved ingredient,” says chef Lea Forman. “Bottom line.”
The 20-seater nook is decorated in architectural salvage to create a murky and chill vibe. A bed of wall slates forms the overhanging ceiling. From it large incandescents dangle, housed inside over-sized Bell jars, or peeking out upside-down colanders. They barely illuminate the walls of white tile, but one wall composed of bits of mirror, some donated by locals, brightens and opens up the space. Seating is communal at a series of two tops, but the prime spot is the 6-person table tucked around the back left of the bar. That way all you have to do is turn around and get the mustachioed bartender’s attention to get another drink. As for getting your food, you go up to the ordering bar in front of the kitchen window, place your order, and get a chit with your number on it. The order-taker belts out your order when it’s ready and you come and pick it up yourself. “There’s no service,” says Jacques, with a hint of pride. “We’re not trying to gussy up bar-b-que.”
Fort Reno has the potential to be the leading outpost of what could be a new BBQ mecca at the corner of 4th and Union. A block away down into the post-industrial hinterland of Gowanus, a several hundred seater Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has applied for a liquor license. Fort Reno is quick to both distance and downplay their potential, and well-funded, competitor. Billionaire George Soros’s investment firm owns a 70% stake in Dino. “People want different kinds of experiences. If you want that, you go there. If you want something different, you come here,” said partner Anthony Laudato. “We’re small. They’re big.” And just on the other side of the wall from Fort Reno, Wild Whiskey Warthog is trying to get in their own whiskey and BBQ joint. Fort Reno got there first, and when you’re a place that cares, and caters to those care, about authenticity and originality, that matters. And with its quality cocktail bar serving up tweaks on the prohibition era and forgotten classics trend, it’s another milestone as the 4th avenue stretch transforms from a wide lane of auto-body repair and sad apartment buildings to a hip boulevard with new bars, cafes and condos. Even with all that transformation, the place sticks a stake in the ground to create a hangout where the neighborhood locals, the ones who are there right now, the media folk, the artists, the cool moms and dads, feel cozy. It doesn’t aspire to serve a vision of what the area might become, but just exactly what it is right now. A crossroads between the affluence and brownstones of the Slope and the anything-could crop up here post-industrial breeding ground of Gowanus, that happens to be by a really good subway stop.
It’s not just that the food is from local farms, or the interior is designed with local architectural salvage. Or that the peppers in the hot sauce on grown on the garden roof of one of the owners. But its that roof is across the street, and one of the owners lives under it. Unlike Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which will serve both its cult following and people going to see games at the Nets stadium being built a few blocks away, Fort Reno aims to be super-neighborhood driven. Which, according to the owners is severely lacking in quality BBQ offerings. One of the partners said that while his wife was pregnant she had a craving for pulled pork. And there was none to be had in the Park Slope area. He was “fulminating” with high school friend Jacques Gautier about the lack of available smoked meat in the area, and “many drinks later, a plan was hatched.” That was the impetus for Fort Reno. Like many, they scribbled on reams of napkins, describing exactly how the ceiling should look. But unlike many others, they actually brought their vision to life. When you think “BBQ,” it conjures up all kinds of images, many of which aren’t related to the actual food itself. “People forget that all BBQ is is a means of cooking, slow, with smoke,” said Jacques. “We’re taking that technique and putting it in a more refined setting.” And so they have carved jewel box clubhouse to do exactly that. “Park Slope has enough special occasion places,” said Jacques, “I wanted to create a space where the regulars will feel comfortable coming multiple times per week.”