Restaurant review: Decker Barbecue vs. Red Eye Smokehouse

Two new joints to get your American barbecue fix

1. Decker Barbecue
1. Decker Barbecue
29 Dec 2015

1. Decker Barbecue

#01-17 THE QUAYSIDE, 60 ROBERTSON QUAY, S238252. OPEN DAILY EXCEPT MON. TUE-SUN 6PM-10PM, OR TILL SOLD OUT. LAST ORDERS AT CLOSING.

It wasn’t so long ago that we lamented about the dearth of authentic American barbecue joints in Singapore. Where tough cuts of meat like brisket and ribs are painstakingly cooked over low heat for hours in a wood-fuelled smoker till fall-apart tender, juicy and smoke-kissed. It’s a humble culinary art so laborious and tricky to get right, it can only be found in the States, especially in the barbecue belt (eg. Texas), where it was popularised. But that changed with the arrival of Meat Smith earlier this year, that awesome purveyor of mighty fine ’cue under American “pit master” Andrew Baldus.

And now, we have another American helming a new barbecue establishment: Elliott Decker’s two-month-old Robertson Quay restaurant called… Decker. The man is from Alaska, but he has lived in barbecue hotspot, Austin, Texas. He is also the co-owner and former chef of the Smokehouse BBQ restaurant in Bali. This casual Singaporean joint is co-owned by bubbly restaurateur Min Chan of Club Street Social.

The look: Don’t expect anything remotely hipster chic here. The al fresco eatery occupies a corridor at The Quayside. No-frills wooden tables, a corrugated iron-clad bar, and a hulking custom-built manual smoker pass off as decor. “We cook with wood as our only heat source, no gas or electricity. Tending the fire is as important as the meat itself in barbecue,” shares Elliott. Walk up to the counter, order your grub, pay, and the meats will be carved up for you by the amiable servers. It gets humid here, so cool down with a beer or two.

Decker Barbecue: The Meats
Decker Barbecue: The Meats
29 Dec 2015

Decker Barbecue: The Meats

The menu is fairly tight with six meats, a bunch of sides and sarnies. Since there are two of us, we get the 3 Meats Platter with 2 Sides (above: $76, feeds two). We choose brisket, pulled pork and ribs. First, the Brisket ($16 for 100g a la carte). Elliott says he simply rubs it in salt and pepper and smokes it for 12 to 16 hours daily (he only goes home in the wee hours of the morning so he can feed more logs to the smouldering lychee wood). The result is a slab of meat that’s pleasantly soft and slightly warm. It’s moist enough but not exceedingly succulent, perhaps because the USDA Choice Black Angus used isn’t quite fatty enough. There’s only a faint trace of the coveted pink smoke ring and just a mildly smoky edge to the flesh. When we give our feedback, chef insists Texan 'cue isn’t meant to be “that pronounced in smoke”. He also says the lychee wood from Vietnam doesn't smoulder as much, but he wants to use something closer to home to “reduce carbon footprint and not fly wood from across the world”.

The Pulled Pork ($9 for 100g a la carte) is slightly more tender and juicy, but hold the barbecue sauce that’s served on the side — it’s too heavy on the cumin. Meanwhile, the Spare Ribs ($9 for 100g a la carte) massaged in a dry rub are not bad: punchy, salty and slightly smoky. Oh, definitely order the house-made Cornbread. It’s delightfully crusty on the outside, moist and fluffy on the inside with bits of jalapeño and cheese. 

Decker Barbecue: The Desserts
Decker Barbecue: The Desserts
29 Dec 2015

Decker Barbecue: The Desserts

Surprisingly yum. The Banana Pudding (above, $8) served in a paper cup looks sloppy. But it’s good, like an American version of kueh pisang with creamy pudding, sweet bananas, and lovely chunks of vanilla wafer. The fragrant Apple Cobbler (above, $9) is better looking but tastes more like a warm muffin with ice cream.

Verdict: The barbecue here is more than decent, but it has some way to go before it becomes terrific. That being said, the art of ’cue is often a work in progress, and we did visit this eatery in its early days.
 

2. Red Eye Smokehouse
2. Red Eye Smokehouse
29 Dec 2015

2. Red Eye Smokehouse

1 CAVAN RD, S209842. TEL: 6291-0218. OPEN WED-FRI 5PM-11PM; SAT NOON-11PM; SUN NOON-8PM. LAST ORDERS 30 MINS BEFORE CLOSING.

This American barbecue eatery in Jalan Besar is described in its press release as “reminiscent of a mid-century American workers’ dining hall”. Maybe if those workers were hipsters. The place is sleek: high ceiling, wood-and-steel furnishing, white tiled wall and cement floor. It’s all very stylish and comfortable, and that’s a good thing. The local folks behind it also own brunch spot Riders Café in Bukit Timah.
 

Red Eye Smokehouse: The Meats
Red Eye Smokehouse: The Meats
29 Dec 2015

Red Eye Smokehouse: The Meats

It’s quiet tonight. We walk up to the self-service counter where several cuts of meat are displayed in a glass case, wilting beneath a lamp. We point at the rather forlorn-looking hunk of US Angus Beef Brisket ($15 per 100g) and say: “Is this juicy? It doesn't look very moist”. The lady behind the counter immediately bristles. “Do you have the fatty point end of the brisket?” we add. “Yes, yes, of course,” she replies defensively.

We later learn she’s the pit master and boss Jan Yeo (she started loving smoked meats while studying in Kansas City). Oops. The brisket is cloaked in a “secret blend dry rub” before being smoked for up to 10 hours overnight in a wood pellet-fuelled electric smoker, which explains its Red Eye moniker. Alas, our fears are confirmed. The beef is dry and lacklustre with barely any hint of smoke. The rather tough Beef Short Rib ($10 per 100g) isn’t much better either. But we rather enjoy the Chopped Pork ($12 per 100g), mainly because it’s slathered in an additively tangy barbecue sauce. The best thing here? The awesome Barbecue Beans with Burnt Ends ($8). It’s doused in more of that moreish sauce and a magic ingredient: charred bits of brisket.

Verdict: The side dishes here fare better than the smoked meats. A cool-looking hangout if you’re not fussy about your barbecue.
 

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