Our Man in Pyongyang

Bobby Egan’s barbecue diplomacy.

  • Editors' Pick
  1. Cubby’s, a barbecue restaurant in Hackensack, New Jersey, is on an undistinguished strip of discount stores and parking lots not far from Costco and the Bergen County Courthouse. It would be within sight of the Bergen County Jail, if the jail had better sight lines. Amid such surroundings, Cubby’s stands out. The parking lot is elaborately landscaped, with thick beds of pink and white impatiens, grassy banks, and well-placed evergreen shrubs, in the manner of a suburban funeral home. Inside, the place is half steak house, half burger joint, with reproduction Tiffany lamps suspended over Formica tables, and gilt-edged mirrors hanging near framed snapshots of sports celebrities and clippings from local newspapers lauding the ribs. On one wall, an enormous mural depicts the skyline of downtown Manhattan with the World Trade Center intact. Customers place orders at the front counter; behind it, on a board, is the menu, which ranges from hot dogs to twenty-seven-dollar T-bone steaks. A hand-painted sign showing a dyspeptic pig in a chef’s hat hangs next to a placard that reads “Where’s the pork?”

    At lunchtime, the place is full of regulars: local businessmen and lawyers from the courthouse, all of whom the proprietor, Robert Egan, greets with a clap on the back or a hearty “What’s up, bro?” Egan, who is forty-nine and is known as Bobby, is of Irish descent on his father’s side and Italian on his mother’s. He is more than six feet tall and burly, with a shock of black hair. He ha...