New York is a city of mysteries, where great things are hidden in plain sight.
Like speakeasies. Or a secret BBQ joint in a church.
Only open weekends, Holy Ground is a pop-up BBQ joint that shares a yard with a church.
It's something you’ll want to make room for as soon as possible, and we talked to the pitmaster about how it came to be.
Franco V (6 images)
InsideHook: What’s the deal with Holy Ground?
Franco V: For now, Holy Ground is a pop-up. We’re in a yard that’s part of a church on North 15th between Nassau and Norman in Williamsburg. We’re only open on weekends: Saturday and Sunday from 1 pm until we sell out. We may add Friday nights as well. It’s actually funny, the name Holy Ground is what we were planning on calling the restaurant way before this pop-up was even an idea. The area of Tribeca where we’ll be opening the brick ‘n’ mortar restaurant in the fall was once land owned by the Trinity Church, but at one point in the 1700s it was overrun by casinos and brothels and as a tongue-in-cheek thing people called it the Holy Ground. So when the possibility of doing a pop-up in a church came about, it just made too much sense.
IH: Brick ‘n’ mortar?
FV: Yep. It will be the inversion of what we’re doing now, in the way that this is kind of traditional backyard BBQ. The restaurant is going to be a totally different vibe. Being born and raised in New York City, I’m not really tied to any of the traditional regional roots of BBQ, so my partners (Nathan Lithgow and Matt Abramcyk) and I want to put a NY spin on it. It’s to be an old-school NY steakhouse/speakeasy atmosphere, but for serving smoked proteins. We almost don’t even want to call it barbecue cause we feel like that pigeonholes us. This isn’t going to be a place that you walk up to a counter and meat is dropped onto your tray.
IH: How’d you get in this game?
FV: As a born and raised New Yorker, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that I would become a pitmaster, but a little over 10 years ago my parents got a house Upstate and my older brother bought a smoker. I became obsessed with it. I immediately started developing my own dry rub and sauce. The recipes have been modified many hundreds of times over the years, but what I started back then is the basis for what I use now. I love the process, I love the community element, I love the outdoor element, I love the pride people take in it. It's an art form, it's fun and it's something you can do with friends — and it tastes so good!”
IH: Aside from your own, the best damn BBQ in the city is ...
FV: Hmmm … Probably Hometown.
IH: The one BBQ tool you couldn't live without ...
IH: The one spice you couldn't live without ...
FV: Chili powder, I pretty much use it in everything.
IH: What's something most people jack up when they’re making BBQ?
FV: Every piece of meat is different, even if it’s the same cut. Therefore, you can’t rely on time. One 8-lb. pork shoulder can take 10 hours, another 8-lb. pork shoulder that looks identical can take 12 hours.”
IH: Five pro-tips for getting the job done right.
FV: Keep a consistent temperature on the smoker. Spritz the meat with something like apple cider vinegar every 30 or 45 minutes, it keeps the bark from getting too hard and inedible. Constantly monitor the temperature of the meat. Save the drippings from fattier cuts like brisket and pork shoulder. I put a tray underneath the meat with a little water so the drippings don’t burn and then you can use them to rest the meat in, make a dressing or do any number of fun things with. And always let the meat rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Find them in the churchyard at North 15th between Nassau and Norman in Williamsburg.
photos courtesy of Steven Rojas