I usually follow the motto, “Think globally, eat locally,” although I tend to do a lot more of the latter than the former. But in my most recent, 12-day stay in Paris I branched out to try barbecue at The Beast. My European barbecue expectations had risen since eating at the outstanding Pendergast in Amsterdam, and my pre-trip research indicated that The Beast is the best of the handful of what purport to be barbecue places in Paris. No less an authority than Jim Shahin had told me that The Beast was “the real deal” of Texas barbecue.
And indeed it is. The Beast would fit among Texas barbecue places — at least the new urban ones — and it has a couple of standout dishes. The restaurant itself has a rough-hewn feel with décor that hints rather than shouts Texas: no hats.
And the bar has a full selection of bourbons. After a few weeks in scotch-ridden Europe it was good just to see that big red wax cap. The Beast also has beer, of course, including a special Beast beer by Deck and Donohue, a Paris area brewery established by a Franco-Virginian alliance, which turned out well at Yorktown. And, this being France, there’s a good a selection of wines.
We arrived at the 7:00 p.m. opening to be sure of a table, and it quickly filled with convivial groups of Parisians. The tables for two are pushed together so that you may be sharing a table of six or eight, in effect. I like to sit with strangers, although it broke my heart to see the woman next to us eat all of her brisket except for the char. Quelle horreur!
I arranged for a sampler with half-portions of brisket, pork, pork ribs, jalapeño garlic sausage, and a biscuit topped with cheese.
First, the biscuit. It was terrific –- a genuine Southern biscuit with a cap of toasted cheese. From DC, I’d have to go to Flo’s in Wilson, North Carolina, to get a better biscuit. Home run, Beast.
And the pork ribs were good. Nancy preferred them to those at Pendergast because they were leaner. I didn’t necessarily see leaner as a plus, but they were good ribs, if not as good as those at Pendergast
The pork was moist and had some of the modest smoke flavor that you get with oak, which is what The Beast uses. In Texas barbecue places, pork is a stepchild. Offset and box smokers that are almost essential for brisket don’t allow the pork fat (which is to beef fat as Hyperion is to a satyr) drip onto the low-and-slow coals and create smoke that adds a wonderful layer of flavor to the pork. But slow-cooked pork always tastes good in competent hands and it tastes good at The Beast.
The sausage tasted French, which is a good thing. France is a wonderful place for sausages of all sorts. I could taste the jalapeño, but it was a subtext to the garlic and distinctively French spicing. It was really very good -– successful fusion cuisine.
The brisket was cut from the moist end, and it was indeed moist and tender, but a touch light on the smoke flavor. And, after Pendergast, the char was a big letdown. I had asked for fatty brisket -– lean in the brisket context is a synonym for dry –- but was surprised at the broad streak of fat running through it. Normally you can just incorporate almost all of the edging fat on a brisket in a bite of the meat, but this was a bridge too far, even for me. The brisket came with thinly sliced onions that seem to have been blanched. I prefer the bite of raw onions (and, for that matter, pickles and jalapeño slices) as counterpoints to the richness of the brisket, but others may disagree.
Nancy opted for the chicken.
The Beast roasts rather than smokes chicken, and that’s almost always a good policy. Smoked chicken, particularly the breast, dries out before it can take full advantage of the smoking. Smoking works best on turkey, where the much larger size of the turkey probably makes the difference. And then a properly roasted chicken, especially in France, can be a wonderful thing. The Beast serves a properly roasted chicken breast. It was moist and had that good flavor that American chickens, alas, lack.
We did not try their point of pride, a beef rib, on religious grounds. I cannot imagine why anyone would serve beef ribs other than rare or medium rare. It’s just wrong, and the Texas practice is a blot on that state.
Nancy had some slaw (vinegar rather than mayonnaise), which she liked, and we also got some greens and some macaroni and cheese. The greens were kale with caramelized onions that gave the greens an unusually sweet rather than savory/bitter flavor. They were cooked without pork. Fail. The macaroni and cheese was made with rigatoni over which a cheese sauce was poured. The sauce was good and the spring onion pieces on top were a plus. It was much lighter than an American church supper macaroni and cheese, and that lightness characterized the other sides. Whether that’s a plus or minus is up to you.
The Beast is good. The owner, Tom Abramowicz, knows Texas barbecue.
A native Parisian, he traveled to Texas to study barbecue while working under Wayne Mueller, among others. He clearly paid attention. He uses a big J & R smoker fueled by oak, as noted, (France has a lot of oak and no mesquite or hickory to speak of) which in Paris, requires a monster exhaust system.
And he uses it well. The Beast is a friendly place, with a good staff.
The Beast is a success in Paris and offers a change of pace after you’ve had a long run of French food. As Jim Shahin said, it’s the real deal, and it certainly would step up the barbecue scene in DC.