Damian Brugger first gained notoriety for his barbecue during a pop-up stint at Barrel Proof. But the Texas native’s barbecue roots are firmly planted in the southeastern and central areas of his home state, where his low and slow education began at the side of his father and other family members during whatever occasion justified firing up the pit. After graduating high school and serving four years in the Marine Corps, Brugger moved to New Orleans. He eventually grew his hobby into a small business, and the success of his tenure at Barrel Proof was the catalyst for opening his own brick and mortar shop this past fall.
True to his Texan roots, Brugger’s best work is tasted in the slow-smoked brisket, which displays a penetrating smoke ring encased in a crust bark aggressively seasoned with black pepper. The Cowboy from Hell combines slices of brisket, raw onion and pickled jalapeños (aptly named Wicked Pickles) all on Bunny Bread Texas toast. Brisket is available by the pound, as is the tender pulled pork, otherwise paired with cole slaw in sandwich form in the Old Dixie. St. Louis-style pork ribs are served either dry with rub or wet with a basting of pork fat. Flintstone-sized beef ribs, rarely seen on menus in the city, are a complete meal on a single bone. All meats and sandwiches are served with a side of the house Black Label Barrel Sauce, a tomato and vinegar elixir flecked with black pepper that packs a sweet and spicy kick.
Complementing the standard barbecue fare is a short list of barbecue-influenced bar snacks, including smoked chicken wings and When Pigs Fly Fries tossed in smoked Himalayan salt and black pepper. Crack Poppers are strips of jalapeño smeared with cream cheese, wrapped in candied bacon and smoked.
Black Label Icehouse is situated at the corner of Dryades Street and Seventh Street in a low-slung building that’s long been a watering hole for its surrounding Central City neighborhood. The main room is anchored by a 30-foot bar with more than a dozen taps pouring Louisiana, Mississippi and (of course) Texas craft beers.
In true pitmaster form, Brugger personally oversees all aspects of the barbecue, with a full menu served only Thursday through Sunday. Other nights feature pop-up dinners and specials such as Frito pies made with brisket chili and the weekly rib-eye special every Wednesday. Just three blocks from the Uptown parade route, expect the curbside pit to be smoking non-stop during Carnival season. Even a Texan knows that it’s easy to catch beads in one hand while holding a rib in the other.
3000 Dryades Street; (504) 875-2876; Mon–Fri: 4p-’til, Sat-Sun: 11a-’til; blacklabelbbq.com