Some things are slightly unconventional, like putting scotch in an Old Fashioned, or sleeping with your socks on. But others don’t seem to fit into any mold at all - like the movie The Room, or you, according to your mother. Or Holy Ground. Come here to have an unusual dining experience - but just know that some of its surprises are less enjoyable than others.
The best part about Holy Ground is the setting. It’s in a very cool underground space in Tribeca with red leather booths, low ceilings, and vintage speakers playing instrumental jazz. But while plenty of steakhouses in the city feel like spots where F. Scott Fitzgerald could be at the next table drinking gin and casually lighting other people’s cigarettes, Holy Ground isn’t quite like any of those. Mainly because it isn’t actually a steakhouse.
Holy Ground focuses on slow-smoked meats, serving the types of cuts you typically find at counter-service BBQ places: pork shoulder, brisket, and racks of spare ribs, along with sides like collard greens and mac and cheese. But this is also not a typical BBQ spot. There are red cloth napkins instead of paper ones, $16 cocktails instead of canned beer, and the brisket is wagyu. Plus, the primary flavors in most dishes here come from sauces rather than the meat, bark, or smoke.
Besides going in with the understanding that Holy Ground is neither a steakhouse nor a typical BBQ joint, it’s also important to order correctly. Stay away from the tough slab of pork shoulder, and don’t blow your tax refund on the chewy prime rib (which costs $120). Instead, go with the rich beef rib and the sweet and smoky chicken. Most importantly, get one or four orders of the crispy potatoes, which are served over a pool of mustard aioli - this side dish is the best thing here.
Other parts of the experience are less enjoyable. In a Tribeca spot where you’re paying twice as much as usual for most of the cuts of meat on the menu, you’d at least expect the staff to be helpful, if not particularly friendly. Instead, the hosts remind us a little of apathetic antagonists from ‘90s teen movies, and servers disappear for long stretches of time and don’t have much to offer when asked about the wine and food. Rather than making this place feel trendy or exclusive, it all just comes off as unwelcoming and disorganized.
Inconsistent service and menu misses aside, if you order correctly and go in with the right expectations, it’s still easy to have a good night at Holy Ground. Walk down the steps into a space that feels a century old, drink a sazerac at the bar while reminding yourself that you should get more into jazz, and fill the table in front of your red leather booth with cuts of meat you’ve only ever eaten off wax paper. It’s not a flawless eating experience - but it’s unique. Even your mother would give it points for that.
Sure, you may be hesitant to get a pork belly starter before eating large plates of pork shoulder and pork ribs, but power through and order this. The meat has a thick skin covered in a fermented chili sauce that tastes like the love child of buffalo sauce and vodka sauce. It’s all topped with chicharon, which adds texture and goes well with the rest of the dish. This is the best starter here.
This is a good example of where going outside the norm feels totally unnecessary. The dominant flavor in this dish is the sauce, which has a lot of sugary and spicy flavors that overwhelm the meat. That would generally be OK (because we actually like the sauce), but this is wagyu brisket, so it costs twice as much as it should.
These aren’t for people who like ribs that fall off the bone, or people who tend to request extra bottles of BBQ sauce on the side. These ribs have a sticky, sugary crust and a smokiness about as intense as the cloud that rises after you pour water on a campfire. If that sounds good to you, then get the half rack and treat it as a starter.
Don’t overlook the smoked chicken here. The leg, thigh, and breast are all tender, and served over a sweet sauce that tastes a bit like the sauce on sesame chicken. The skin has a light, flaky texture, and for $29, the big portion feels reasonably priced.
This pork shoulder is another example of where going outside the norm doesn’t work out. Rather than being cooked to the point where it can be pulled apart by forks, spoons, or anything with opposable thumbs, this is served as one big slab that’s too smoky and pretty dry.
This is the best large plate here. The beef rib is sliced and served alongside the bone, which looks like it could have belonged to a medium-sized dinosaur. The meat itself has a good amount of fat, and while it’s also served over sauce, the very rich beef is the focus of the dish.
Prime rib is a great cut of meat, and if anything, the slow smoking here only makes it worse by masking the flavors that are already there. This comes out chewy and a little stringy, and while it’s a very big portion, you should definitely save the $120 and get another couple entrees or bottles of wine instead.
Mac and cheese is always one of our go-to BBQ sides, but this version is overly smoky and feels more like a cheese noodle soup than traditional mac. It’s pretty tough to make mac and cheese unappealing, but know that we’d recommend most other sides here instead.
If people at your table suggest not wasting room on potatoes when you’re ordering all this meat, just tell them to trust you, then get multiple orders of these. They’re served over a mustard aioli that you’ll want to reverse engineer and use every time you eat fries in the future.
If you’re looking for a light, refreshing salad to balance out the abundance of animal on your table, you won’t find it here. The vegetable sides - like collard greens with smoked ham stock and charred broccoli over a puree that tastes like broccoli-cheese dip - are all pretty heavy. But they’re good, and you should have them on your table.