Three Pulled Pork Sandwiches

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The original title of this post was: “The Best Pulled Pork Sandwich In New York is at The Gramercy Tavern” but I didn’t want to give it all away in the title; so now I just gave it all away in the first sentence. Yes, that picture you see above is the pulled pork sandwich from the front room of The Gramercy Tavern and it’s not only the best pulled pork sandwich I’ve eaten in New York, but it may very well be (dramatic pause) the best pulled pork sandwich I’ve ever eaten in MY LIFE. (Giant gasp.) I know! But I’m serious. I can’t imagine a pulled pork sandwich being better. First, though, let’s look at two other pulled pork sandwiches I ate recently and then go back to Gramercy for the gold.

The bronze definitely goes to the pulled pork sandwich I ate at The Smoke Joint in Fort Green last week:

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My producer, director and I had just come from a photo shoot with Bobby Flay and we were hungry. So we stumbled into The Smoke Joint and I wasn’t sure but I thought I’d heard that The Smoke Joint had one of the best hot dogs in New York.

“Ok,” said my director. “I’ll order a hot dog for all of us to share, and then we can all get our own food.”

So that’s what we did. I ordered the pulled pork sandwich you see in the picture above, Matthew ordered ribs and Rachael ordered a catfish sandwich. The verdict? The ribs and pulled pork were “eh”; my pork was way too dry and the sauce didn’t really help. I think Rachael liked her catfish. But we all agreed that the hot dog was dyn-o-mite:

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Alas, it was New York Magazine that crowned it The Best Hot Dog of 2008. According to them, it’s an all-beef brand of dog called Hatfield and the casing is all-natural; the dog is grilled and it’s loaded into a top-loading bun. It’s definitely worth a trip for the dog, but we’re here to talk about pulled pork sandwiches and in that regard, I’m sorry to say The Smoke Joint places third.

Placing in second isn’t a restaurant, but a friend. Well two friends. And a baby. Meet Josh, Krisse and Mason:

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This happy young family (who you may remember from our trip to Cape Cod two years ago (geesh, time flies–Mason was growing inside Krisse on that trip)) invited Craig and I to dinner last Sunday and we gladly said “yes!”

On the menu was–you guessed it–pulled pork sandwiches, fried pickles, coleslaw, and twice-baked potatoes. (It’s good to have friends like these.)

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I’ve gotta say it–and you may not believe me, because these are friends–but this sandwich was pretty righteous. I mean, I’ve tasted many pulled pork sandwiches in my day (especially having lived in Atlanta) and this one rates very, very high. Josh grilled the pork shoulder on a charcoal grill for three hours until it was fork-tender and then he coated the cooked meat in BBQ sauce. All of us eating it were instantly smitten; this was pulled pork at its best, and even though it gets the silver medal, it stands closer to the gold than The Smoke Joint stands to the silver:

Even baby Mason agrees:

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On a side note, I thoroughly enjoyed Josh and Krisse’s appetizer: skewers with watermelon, feta (or ricotta salata?), and mint. You should try it:

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It’s instant refreshment on a hot summer’s day.

And now, let us come back to Gramercy.

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First, let it be said, that The Gramercy Tavern–which won the James Beard Award this year for best overall restaurant–is kicking some serious ass right now. I’ve gone twice in the last two weeks; the first time with my friend Lauren, who ordered the sandwich we’re touting in this post, and then again this past Friday with my parents and my dad declared the meal to be one of the best of his life. That’s serious praise and well deserved: the food, under the leadership of Chef Michael Anthony (who came out to talk to us that first night) is flawless. Look at some of the dishes Lauren and I ate that first night there…

Grilled Octopus:

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Roasted Cauliflower:

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House-made kielbasa:

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A chocolate tart with BACON for dessert!

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Any restaurant that puts bacon on its chocolate tart deserves high praise in my book, and such is the case with Gramercy Tavern, a mature restaurant with an adventurous spirit. And now, at last, let’s talk about their pulled pork sandwich:

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According to Chef Anthony, two things make it great: (1) the pigs, and (2) the bread. The pigs are farm-raised Ossabaw pigs which you can read all about here on Serious Eats. Essentially, Ossabaw pigs have been here at least 400 years, they have exceptional amounts of body fat (fat = flavor!), and are acclaimed for their distinct taste. Combine that with (2), Balthazar bakery’s potato bread grilled and coated in a luscious BBQ sauce and you have the best pulled pork sandwich of your life.

Yes, it’s a bit daring to crown a New York City pulled pork sandwich the best around, but I dare you to eat at Gramercy and not, at least, smack your lips in delight, declaring to your tablemate: “I hate to admit it, but this sandwich here is the real deal.” Go try it for yourself and report back–who knows how much longer it’ll be on the menu! [Note: we’re talking the front room of Gramercy, which is more casual and doesn’t require a reservation; the back room is formal, requires a reservation, and probably won’t serve you a sandwich of any sort.]

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