When this Bywater barbecue restaurant switched addresses in February, the job of transporting its giant smoker entailed a rented trailer, a gathering of friends and onlookers and an ersatz marching band of local musicians. The smoker got its own second line, and it seems an appropriate recipient for the honor.
About the size of a hot tub and blackened by smoke, it looks like a relic of the Industrial Revolution but is in fact the heart and soul of what has been the city's best barbecue restaurant practically since proprietors Jenny and Pete Breen opened The Joint in 2004.
New Orleans had its share of barbecue spots then, though what remained elusive was really smoky barbecue cooked in the low-and-slow style. More places have emerged since (see notable pop-ups NOLA Smokehouse and McClure's Barbecue), but The Joint set the standard.
Before your first bite you can smell the difference the smoker approach makes, and you can even see it. A pink smoke ring, testimony of a long, slow smoking process, paints the meats here, and it's the unifying factor for a menu that borrows widely from different regional barbecue traditions.
Pork spare ribs are done St. Louis-style, and in their cross section you can see the variegations of smoke emanating down to the bone from the crackling, sticky, almost candied exterior. Thin slices of Texas-style brisket, topped with a tight band of fat, tear apart easily in geometric patterns. The pulled pork, prepared Carolina style, seems more blasted than pulled, with soft mounds strewn with blackened bits of salty crust. The smoke ring beautifully traces chaurice, a spicy, Creole-style sausage The Joint sources from the legendary Poche's Market in Breaux Bridge, La. And if an order of chicken sounds plain compared to the glory of multicolored ribs, think again. The Joint's bird comes out smoky as a campfire but juicy as chicken from a rotisserie.
The menu is short and traditional, with meats served on platters or sandwiches and abetted by squeeze bottles of thin, peppery, vinegar-based sauces. While sides like baked macaroni, potato salad and beans are all fine, I wish they weren't so traditional if only to see what this crew could come up with using more fresh produce and imagination.
The new Joint is substantially larger than the original, and it's much better equipped. There's a bar with cocktails and even a wine list (unthinkable amenities at the original location), and the room glows with honey-colored cypress and beadboard. The jukebox is so local there must be a residency requirement for musicians on its playlist, and the clientele includes every walk of Bywater life. The smoker resides out back, under an enlarged carport, puffing away as always, scenting the air, the meats and customers with aromatic gusts.