Tennessee Jed's BBQ Grille
3357 Merrick Rd. Wantagh, NY 516-308-3355
With a window-front decorated with neon beer company logos and a bright-red awning, at first glance this appears to be a sports bar--but instead, this Wantagh venue is less beverage and more a bevy of smoked meats. The appetizers invoke Southern cuisine,with Texas red chili, barbecue shrimp and corn dogs, but these bites are only the beginning with packed plates of pork, beef, ribs and chicken--all smoked with a blend of hickory and applewood. However, should you seek greener fare, there is a selection of full-meal salads as well.Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. Ambience: Fair Service: Very Good Credit cards: Accepted Accessibility: Small step at entry.
Nobody named Jed is affiliated with Tennessee Jed's in Wantagh. Nor anyone from Tennessee. Owner-pitmaster Francisco Gonzalez was born on the island of Jamaica and grew up in Kew Gardens. "The name of the restaurant comes from an old Grateful Dead song," said Gonzalez, whose wife, Julie, and daughter Christine (and sometimes, a friend of hers) welcome and serve customers.
The Gonzalez family brings to the barbecue joint an authenticity it lacked in its previous incarnation. They've added a smoker box at the front of the restaurant that puts out an enticing array of meats - brisket, ribs, chicken and pork. In larger measure, though, the real allure of the place comes from the earnest friendliness of the people who run it.
A haunting smokiness informs the full-bodied Texas red chili, a rousing way to begin a meal. The plump crab-intense Maryland crab cake exceeds expectations. It's loose-textured within, crisp on the outside and paired with a lively red pepper tartar sauce.
I'm pleased with the smoky pulled pork sandwich piled high with shreds of meat bound with (but not drowning in) barbecue sauce.
Four of us share a "combo feast" (pig-out would be a more apt description) piled with virtually every type of smoked meat the place offers. There's a brontosaurian beef rib from which hangs a thick slab of tender meat. We cut it into four pieces and revel in its lush, smoky goodness. St. Louis ribs come off as much better than I remember from an earlier visit, thanks to a highly spiced rub that, this time, penetrates the meat. Baby backs are meaty and tender, imbued with hickory and apple wood from the smoke box. The flavor of wood smoke also pervades the meat of a well-burnished chicken.
I like that the mac and cheese side dish features al dente pasta that's tossed with cheese sauce at the last moment. And house-fried potato chips are thin, crunchy and salty enough to keep me coming back for more. Grilled vegetables turn out crisp-tender and appealing; coleslaw has a refreshing crunch and isn't too mayonnaisey. I'm drawn to the creamed spinach, a green vegetable that's too rich to be healthy. Who goes to a barbecue joint for health food, anyway?
Although desserts are from an outside baker, both the moist red velvet cake and gooey pecan pie are respectable finales.
There's no blue ribbon for the greasy " Oklahoma State Fair corn dog," cold at the center and served with chipotle mayo rather than all-American mustard. And while some people at my table are won over by the "tornado tots" (Tater Tots topped with melted Cheddar, bacon, scallions and pickled jalapeños), I find the dish curiously dull. And there's no excuse for baked beans that are so sweet, they're virtually bean candy.
This friendly little no-frills place has much to recommend it. On Long Islands ever-changing barbecue scene, I'm rooting for it to flourish. --Joan Reminick, 10/22/08.