By B.A. Nilsson, published in The Metroland
The barbecue revolution continues. We of the innocent Northeast grew up believing that barbecue was a verb, an activity that took place over a grill fired by fluid-impregnated charcoal briquettes (developed by Henry Ford as a byproduct of Model T production). Alongside the endless parade of burgers and wieners appeared chicken parts, slathered in sweet sauces, and ribs of pork or beef. With the proper know-how, you can grill chicken and ribs into excellent meatstuffs. But it’s not, applying the word as a noun now, barbecue.
Sample the pulled pork at Capital Q Smokehouse for a taste of the real thing. This is meat as tender as it can get, yanked off the pork shoulder (in butcher’s parlance, the butt), served with or without some manner of sauce. Its tenderness comes from many lingering hours over not-too-hot wood smoke, enough time to require day-in-advance preparation. When your local barbecue joint confesses that it’s out of this or that meat, it’s another sign that they’re making the real thing.
Such was not a problem the day we visited Capital Q Smokehouse, the little eatery in the Ontario Street space once occupied by Emil Meister’s Market. There were ribs, there was brisket, there was pulled pork. And there was a parade of tasty side dishes to round out the meal, all of it fulfilling a dream of chef-owner Sean Custer.
“I love cooking fine French food,” he says, referring to the years he spent in New York and other cities purveying fine dining, “but barbecue is more fun.”
Capital Q quietly opened in September, and word quickly spread among aficionados. I was stymied a couple of times because I couldn’t get it through my head that the place was closed on Tuesdays—but that has changed now (nothing to do with me), and the place operates every day but Sunday.
You can see the small-market legacy in the eatery’s railroad-flat layout. A service counter dominates the front room, where a very few seats sit by the picture window. Have a look at your side dishes, sweating over steam behind a display glass. Mashed potatoes, collard greens, sweet potatoes candied with maple glaze, rice and beans, macaroni and cheese and fried okra are among those offerings; rich cole slaw, French fries (regular spuds or sweet potatoes), hush puppies and cornbread also are offered.
Buy your meal by the plate (which in this case means a large Styrofoam container) and you’ll get cornbread, cole slaw and your choice of another side thrown in, and you can add yet another for just a buck.
Pricing on those plates makes it easy to do so. A pulled pork platter ($7.75) presents more meat than you should consume at one sitting, or so I told myself and then disobeyed. Because of the lengthy cooking time, the meat can’t be coated with anything that will burn, so it’s a dry rub of aromatic spices that enhances the delicious smokiness.
The default presentation puts a tangy vinegar-based sauce alongside the meat, North Carolina style, and there’s also another Carolinian sauce that incorporates mustard into the brew. Custer is an Oklahoman, and salutes that state with a ketchup-and-molasses-flavored sauce, the kind of sauce with which we’re most familiar.
I wish I could name a favorite. I wish I could find within myself the food-critic fussiness to pass so particular a judgment. But I’m such a fan of variety, and the sauces are so well seasoned, that I can only recommend you try each one and delight in the differences.
The palate is proving to be a more complicated flavor gatherer than was once thought, and the recently acknowledged fifth sensation, umami, only supports the need for a good sauce to be kinetic. As it rolls along the tongue, it hits every one of those receptors, hits it with a snap and takes over your mouth for a good, long time.
There’s less of a dance from the meat alone, but the slow process of smoking spreads the fat content, and fat on the palate provokes a wonderful prolongation of flavor. Although it’s leaner than pulled pork, the richness of Texas-style brisket ($7.75 on a platter, $6.50 on a bun) will linger, so try it first without the sauce.
Most of the meat is available by the platter ($8 or so), as a sandwich (about $7) or by the pound. There’s chicken, of course, available in different sizes; St. Louis-cut ribs (the brisket bone is removed); moderately spicy chili; chicken-fried steak; and even cornmeal-breaded catfish. And be sure to try the house-made garlic pickle.
Custer lucked into a space with its own built-in smoker back behind the kitchen, a to-die-for assembly that allows him to prepare many, many pounds of meat at a time—so chances are you’ll find whatever it is you’re craving whenever you stop by. There’s an easygoing charm to the place exemplified by the laid-back owner, who finished a chat with me by declaring, with a laugh, “But it’s not life or death here. It’s just smoked meat.”
BEST OF WINNER
Metroland readers poll
From “The Continuing Adventures of Alex and Cati”
Holy mamma, this place is all about the food. The food is ridiculously good.
I mean, when you try it, you will actually chuckle and think, “This is so good, it’s absurd.” You will look for someone nearby, and you will point to your food and say, “Can you believe how good this is? It’s ridiculous!” There is no sense in trying to explain the virtues of good BBQ; one shouldn’t have to. That’s like explaining the majesty of the Grand Canyon or why the Beatles were so great. We all know already.
Anyway, just go to the Capital Q Smokehouse on Ontario St. and try it.
From “The Best Of...”, Metroland 2009 Readers Poll.
Best Barbecue: Capital Q Smokehouse - 329 Ontario St., Albany
What’s the recipe for best barbecue? You can do it Troy style, and throw $2.2 million in tax breaks at an incoming barbecue joint, or just follow Sean Custer’s lead and fire up the smoker and put out the area’s best brisket and ribs and pulled pork. Don’t forget the great array of side dishes!
Don’t just take the critics words for it...
Here is what the people are saying about The Q!
Yelp review from
Valentin, Portland OR
An amazing place!! Loved ordering from this place. Great BBQ and staff. I love the consistency and attention to detail. You can tell they barbecue with passion.
Fresh homemade food=Delicious.
Yelp review from
Graham, Wynatskill NY
I have heard about the Q from so many people finally went and had it, I had a pulled pork sandwich, It was AMAZING! I also got sides of macaroni and cheese which was great, and I had these things called "Crockers" (deep fried mashed potato balls, filled with cheese and bacon) a heart attack never less, but amazing!
...The Q is truly a great BBQ place and the food is great.
Yelp review from
Paul, Lancaster NY
Through an coincidental set of circumstances, I've found myself in the Albany area a number of times over the past year, and every time I'm here I try and stop at Capital Q.
I think this place is phenomenal. I've had the pulled pork, the burnt ends plate, and most recently the ribs plate.
I got the ribs KC style (with sauce) along with a side of double-smoked bacon mac and cheese. It was all phenomenal. My wife had the burnt end plate with a side of collards. The two plates, with sides, cornbread and coleslaw came to just under 25 dollars. We found it to be a great value for some seriously good BBQ.
If someone were to ask me if they should try Dinosaur BBQ or Capital Q, I would without reservation send them to Capital Q. Not because I dislike Dino (I like it as well) but over the course of a few visits to each I've enjoyed Capital Q better.
Yelp review from
Ser, Schenectady NY
So good, that i dream about eating their pulled pork. Have yet to try any of their other meats cause I"m too hooked on the pulled pork okie style, with those yummy little pickles they put on it!! ...Out of this world!!! Jalapeño mac and cheese is pretty awesome too...
The also have a truck out on the plaza during the summer, which i have been visiting a little too often ;)
Yelp review from
Reuben, Manhattan NY
This place was superb! Ordered online and when I called to confirm that the order was made the guy who answered the phone said my food was ready for pickup. The food was hot, fresh and most importantly delicious. The portions were pretty big, I'm lucky enough to have a little leftover for tomorrow...I'm gonna have to come back and try the different ribs!!
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