Southern (Bronx) BBQ

18 Jan

Before our venture to the South Bronx and Uncle Sal’s, our group had a date at an African restaurant in Harlem called La Marmite. As I vaguely recall, only two or three of us showed up for whatever reason and I never summarized our experience there. We made up for it when we all were in attendance at Uncle Sal’s Ribs and Brew. It was early summer and our dinner there became memorable for many reasons, but probably most of all because it was the only one , in the over two years we had been doing this, where we got to dine “al fresco.”

Uncle Sal’s: circa 2004

Uncle Sal’s Ribs and Brew

After our previous debacle, when only the devoted few got to experience the delectable offerings served at the Senegalese restaurant, La Marmite, the group was now more than ready to reconvene en masse. Even Charlie, who will be relocating to the hinterlands of Emmaus, Pennsylvania with his wife, and soon to be born first child, was present as we made our way to East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx for a taste of Uncle Sal’s Ribs and Brew (formerly known as Uncle Sal’s Ribs and Bibs). We were enticed to this barren stretch of the Bronx just off the Cross Bronx Expressway with the promise of barbecue ribs created by a Sicilian immigrant and his Puerto Rican in-laws. Who could imagine what the end result of that amalgamation of ethnicities would result in? But the possibilities were very promising and incentive enough to make the journey.

Eugene and Gerry, the first to arrive, were a bit concerned when they entered the storefront and only noticed a few small tables. Their worries quickly dissipated when the boisterous Uncle Sal greeted them and directed them to a “backyard” where there were two large picnic tables surrounded by assorted junk; boxes, rusting industrial equipment, and a badly damaged fig tree. Still, on this warm June evening, what could be better than dining “al fresco” on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx, the sounds of firecrackers in the air, and security cameras reassuringly eying the premises.

We were all present except Rick, who called Uncle Sal to say he was running very late. We did our best to accommodate our comrade by ordering an assortment of selected appetizers while we waited for him to arrive. Uncle Sal recommended the mozzarella sticks, fried ravioli, and chicken wings. None of these fast food offerings really excited us, but we couldn’t disappoint Uncle Sal.

We sat outside in the Bronx evening, sipping beers and listening to a boom box set up on a wobbly table outside waiting what seemed like an interminable time for the appetizers to arrive. When they finally did arrive, we quickly devoured the tasteless deep fried mozzarella, zucchini, and ravioli, and then estimating how long it took for the appetizers to arrive, decided we better get Sal going on main courses. The ribs, of course, were why we came here and we ordered a rack of both the “special cut” and the baby back ribs. The difference, explained Sal, was really just the size; the baby back being the smaller ribs. Besides the ribs, the menu here was vast including pizza, pasta, tacos, and Spanish food. Sal was pushing the shrimp scampi that was “not on the menu,” so we obliged him his Italian heritage and ordered it along with a philly cheesesteak sandwich, and, as a nod to his Latino in-laws, an order of fried pork chops with yellow rice and beans.



It was dark now and one bright bulb lit up the backyard. Sal had switched the radio station appropriately from hip hop to blues. Rick ambled in just in time to salvage a few remaining, now cold zucchini sticks. As the fried food sat heavily in our stomachs, the main courses arrived and despite the density of the appetizers, we had no problems picking apart Sal’s very good ribs, slathered in a not too sweet, subtly tangy sauce. The cheesesteak, cut into six pieces, was also a winner but the scampi, Sal’s praises notwithstanding, tasted like the kind of shrimp scampi you might get at a barbecue joint. Finally, we divvied up the pork chops, sampling some of the rice and beans and the “sides” like corn, cole slaw, and corn bread.

Once we finished, Sal came out, a cigar in his mouth, a rum and coke in his hand, and a satisfied smile on his face, to sit and regale us with stories about his life in Sicily—how he came to America when he was 16, and about his adventures in operating the restaurant. Eugene and Zio were a rapt audience, especially when it came to the stories concerning the health department and health code violations. Sal, unfortunately, does not deliver his ribs to Manhattan, but knowing they are attainable just off the Cross Bronx Expressway might make for a pleasant way to sit out a traffic jam on that cursed thoroughfare.

What’s left of Uncle Sal today.

I never did make it back to Uncle Sal’s before he closed. I recently drove to the still restaurant-remote area of East Tremont in the Bronx to see what had replaced Uncle Sal’s. In its place was a restaurant called Manny’s, specializing in Latin American “cuisine.” I went inside to see what else had changed. Instead of the deli-like interior, there was a full bar. I asked the bartender what happened to Uncle Sal’s. “He left a long time ago,” she said. “But he still own the building.” On the awning next to Manny’s, I noticed the Protective Security Service, Inc, and on the side of the awning “Uncle Sal’s Ribs and Brew, Inc.” I guess security services have much more appeal in the East Tremont section of the Bronx than do Uncle Sal’s ribs.

3 Responses to “Southern (Bronx) BBQ”

  1. James Lax January 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    Great read of another dining estatblishment that has come and gone… Why are New Yorkers so damn fickle when it comes to food ? What happened to the phrase “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere” ? I assumed most of the places you frequented had made it, and hence, were established… Apparently not… In any event, the menu provided looked good and the prices very reasonable… I should open a Fat Boys or Sonnys BarBQ up there… You know, the kind of place you keep coming back to year after year because ITS STILL THERE !!! Sams of Gedney Way in White Plains comes to mind… Now there, you could always get one great rack of ribs !!!


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