New eats: New York's 'barbecue king' opens in Manila

Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 12 2016 09:01 AM | Updated as of Dec 12 2016 11:10 AM

Pit master Hugh Mangum poses in his restaurant at SM Megamall, which opens on Monday. Photo by Eugene Constantino, The Hefty Foodie

MANILA -- Just four short years after opening his well-reviewed barbecue joint in New York’s East Village, American pit master Hugh Mangum is taking his “New York-style” barbecue to the Philippines with the opening of Mighty Quinn’s on Monday.

The Manila restaurant, which is located at SM Megamall’s Mega Fashion Hall, is only the second international branch of Mighty Quinn’s after Taipei, Taiwan.

Mangum debuted his distinct barbecue style, which blends slow-roast techniques from Texas and North Carolina, at Brooklyn’s food market Smorgasburg, with his meats selling out in 90 minutes. Not long after, Mangun, along with partners Micha Magid and Christos Gourmos, opened Mighty Quinn’s in December 2012 and has since grown to six locations in New York and New Jersey.

The US press has dubbed Mangum the “Barbecue King of New York” and the New York Times named Mighty Quinn’s among its 10 best restaurants in 2013.

Pulled Pork. Photo by Eugene Constantino, The Hefty Foodie

In an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News ahead of Monday’s opening, Mangum admitted that it has always been their dream to open in another country. “The three of us, I’d say, are dreamers and, using a baseball analogy, we’d like to swing for a home run and not for a single,” he said.

“Let’s think globally. Let’s take the American national dish and take it somewhere else.”

He clarified that there are still plans on opening in California – he was, after all, born in Los Angeles – and in other US locations “but this opportunity just came up first.”

“It wasn’t a matter of seeking out Asia before California,” he said. “It was more the opportunity was here and let’s do it.”

The opportunity to open in the Philippines came when he was approached by the Standard Hospitality Group, whose restaurant empire also includes Yabu and Ippudo. “We saw what they do for Ippudo and we know that they’re detail-oriented,” Mangum said of the Philippine company.

“We were comfortable even though it was very far away. We were close in heart even though we are far in distance. So it made sense. Even though we were far away, we partnered with a company here that is going to be true to what the brand is.”

Bread pudding is one of the few desserts available. Photo by Eugene Constantino, The Hefty Foodie

Mighty Quinn’s old-school approach to making barbecue is immediately suggested with rustic décor and furnishings throughout the restaurant. The short menu is focused on smoked beef and pork, which come in single servings or by the pound. There are also a few chicken options, like chicken wings.

“In methodology, it’s not different,” he said, when asked to compare his barbecue style with the ones in the US South. ‘It’s not identical because every pit master has a different way, but the primal parts and components -- the wood-smoked, the fire, the smoker, the meats, the seasonings -- are all very, very similar in terms of paying tribute to where it comes from. There are no shortcuts.”

Burnt Ends. Photo by Eugene Constantino, The Hefty Foodie
Brontosaurus Rib. Photo by Eugene Constantino, The Hefty Foodie

One of the recommended meats here is the Burnt Ends, which Mangum describes as the pulled pork version of beef with a sweet-salty interplay; and the favorite, the giant Brontosaurus Rib at P1,450.

Diners have a wide selection of sides to choose from, ranging from traditional Southern staples like baked beans and sweet potato casserole (a family recipe, Mangum said) to fries and “dirty rice,” which was created specifically for the Manila restaurant.

“The rice is special to Manila,” he said, noting that they collaborated with the corporate chef of Standard Hospitality to come up with it. “We don’t do that in the States.”

For Mangum, the sides help differentiate Mighty Quinn’s from the more traditional barbecue joints in Texas and Memphis.

All servings, like this brisket, come with pickled chilies, cucumber, celery and onions. Photo by Eugene Constantino, The Hefty Foodie

“When this brand was launched, every sandwich that I plated had meat whether it was pulled pork or brisket, accompanied by pickled chilies, cucumber, celery or pickled onions, and that’s coming from a different angle historically. Historically, it was meat on a tray with white bread, maybe a slice of dill pickles and raw onions,” he explained.

“I’m an acid fan, a pickle fan, a fermentation fan. Fatty smoked meat paired with bright pickled chilies is like a wonderful interplay. It dances more in your mouth that way,” he explained.

Mangum is aware that Filipinos may find his barbecue style different – the sauce, for instance, is a light glaze brush as opposed to drenched, he noted, and there’s no boiling involved. “Here you bite on the rib, you hold with your hands, and your bite marks show. It has more snap,” he said. “Technically speaking, that’s real barbecue.”

These ribs definitely have snap. Photo by Eugene Constantino, The Hefty Foodie

Referring to other restaurants that boast of very soft meat that fall off the bone, he said: “I’m not saying it’s bad because it’s good for what it is. But if you were to enter a barbecue competition in the United States, the judges will bite into the rib and if it falls off the bone, it’s disqualified.”

“When you bite into them, there should be some snap and soft with it. The bark should not be all one note,” he stressed.