6.15.17 / Williamsburg / Brooklyn

Holy Ground Is The Best New BBQ In Brooklyn This Summer

Joining The Lot Radio to make the coolest block in Williamsburg every weekend

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The thought of tackling a cherished tradition as deeply rooted in American culture as barbecue would give pause to most. But for Franco V, it’s an opportunity to add a new perspective to the culture. “I’m a New York city kid, trying to do barbecue in a New York city way,” he says about his latest barbecue restaurant Holy Ground. With partners Nathan Lithgow and restaurateur Matt Abramcyk (who hired Franco for the Beatrice Inn during its heyday), Holy Ground is slated to open in Tribeca this fall. But with a new summer weekend pop-up, Franco has found a way to preview the menu while adding to one of the best hangout spots in Brooklyn.

Named for an area in Tribeca that was owned by the church, Franco was drawn to the tongue-in-cheek origins. “That area of the 1700s was owned by Trinity Church, and at a certain point it was overrun by brothels and became the grittiest, nastiest part of New York where it was hookers and gambling halls. Because it was still owned by the church, people called it the ‘holy ground.'” Representing the city was important to Franco; as a born-and-raised New Yorker, he wanted to imbue his first restaurant with the spirit of it rather than replicate Southern barbecue style. “It sets the vibe…taking a lot from New York history and old school staple New York restaurants like 21 Club and Keen’s, and mixing that with barbecue.”

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[Franco V]

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Holy Ground is Franco’s second foray into barbecue following Fort Gansevoort BBQ, a seasonal addition to the Fort Gansevoort gallery that operated for two summers. It was during the second season that Franco began to work with college friend Lithgow, having reconnected after a chance social media interaction. “Nate commented on [an Instagram post] and said ‘when are we going to do a place together?’ It was something we had always talked about over the course of our friendship. I thought that’s actually logical because he has so much experience in the industry and it’s something I want to do.” Lithgow proved to be a valuable addition, using his extensive restaurant background—he was a cook and pastry chef before going to sommelier school and working with restaurants like Lafayette, Café Altro Paradiso, and Abramcyk’s other restaurants—to help run the pop-up while Franco smoked the meat.

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Pulled pork and chicken sandwiches were the highlights of Fort Gansevoort, but with Holy Ground Franco is shifting his focus. “We’ll probably add sandwiches at some point in the summer, but I wanted to really work on getting brisket down before the restaurant opens. Getting it as good as I can get it, before we actually start serving it.” Though brisket and ribs are the focus, vegetarian options like smoked mushroom help establish the direction of the brand. “The whole concept of the restaurant is to marry barbecue with modern cuisine. Healthy things like fish, incorporating the barbecue flavor in that, but also vegetable forward sides,healthy salads, stuff you wouldn’t normally associate with barbecue. And we’re able to do all that because we’re not tied to any roots.”

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Location has also been a boon to the Holy Ground pop-up, which, incidentally, is set in the San Damiano Mission Church yard. “Meatpacking was kind of hidden. We couldn’t really do weekends there because there was a restaurant on either side of us that had food and alcohol for brunch; we couldn’t compete. We couldn’t sell alcohol.” And they still can’t sell alcohol, but that’s abated by their neighbor and one of the biggest draws of the pop-up: The Lot Radio. Holy Ground is directly across the street; in addition to getting hungry music-fans, diners get a soundtrack from some of the best DJs and musicians in town (Sampha happened to be DJing on Holy Ground’s opening day). “They don’t serve food and we don’t serve alcohol, so it’s a perfect marriage.”

Despite the early buzz and the fun atmosphere of the pop-up, Franco is serious about developing his menu. “The sauce that we use now and the rub that we use now is something I started working on 10 or 12 years ago. It’s literally gone through hundreds of changes over the years.” People here are serious about barbecue, and Franco’s lack of roots was the motivation to do something distinguished. But it’s the shared passion for that culture that has driven his excitement for Holy Ground. “It’s not just some New York kids opening a barbecue restaurant…we want people to know that we have an understanding of barbecue and where it comes from and how it’s properly done, and then we’re going to flip the whole concept and spin it in a New York way.”

Holy Ground is open on Saturdays & Sundays at 85 N 15th, Willaimsburg, from 1pm 

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[Nathan Lithgow, Franco V]

[Photos courtesy of Steven Rojas]

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