Roll down your car window and catch the scent of wood-smoked meat as it wafts out of Long Island's four newest barbecue spots. Even before you set foot inside South Shore BBQ Company in Patchogue, North Fork Bacon & Smokehouse in Wading River, Buenos Diaz Cafe in Woodbury or Maple Tree BBQ in Riverhead, your stomach will be growling for slow-cooked, spice-rubbed ribs, chicken and brisket -- maybe even some pastrami.
These debutantes are adding spark to an already smoking Long Island barbecue scene. For years, the arena has been dominated by classic restaurants such as Swingbellys Beachside BBQ in Long Beach, Smokin' Al's Famous BBQ Joint in Massapequa Park, Tennessee Jed's in Wantagh, Townline BBQ in Sagaponack and Bobbique in Patchogue.
Long Islanders can be passionate about barbecue. Indeed, in some circles, pitmasters can have celebrity chef status. Which is why fans are celebrating the return of Will Breakstone, pitmaster at the new South Shore BBQ. Breakstone, who manned the smokers at Lily Flanagan's in Islip and owned the former Willie B's in Bay Shore, didn't come out of a culinary school but, rather, off the competition barbecue circuit.
Interestingly, three of the four barbecue newcomers share a connection to that burgeoning scene. "There are more and larger events on Long Island and, every year, a more sophisticated view of barbecue," said Eric Devlin, editor of Smoke Signals, the online magazine of the BBQ Brethren, a worldwide association of enthusiasts that hosts a Long Island competition every summer in Manorville.
To best judge the quality and authenticity of the barbecue you're eating, Devlin says, first look for the narrow pinkish ring around the edge of a piece of barbecued meat that tells you it's been smoked, not baked. You also want to request any sauce on the side. All too often, meat is heavily sauced -- before and after being reheated on a grill -- so what you're tasting is usually a thick, sweet Kansas City-style sauce that obscures all else, he says. Here's what's smokin' at the new places:
SOUTH SHORE BBQ COMPANY, 388 Medford Ave., Patchogue, 631-654-2269
At this capacious new barbecue house, where the Western decor is both rustic and polished, pitmaster Will Breakstone's menu is super-simple, focusing on brisket, ribs, pulled pork and chicken, as well as house-made hot links, or spicy sausage. Breakstone has it down to a science -- and an art. The meat, coated with an unusual dry rub of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and allspice, takes on a haunting flavor when slow-smoked. Before serving, Breakstone uses a trick he learned in Memphis. The ribs are taken from a warming cabinet, where they're held at about 145 degrees, and very lightly glazed with sauce before more dry rub is sprinkled on. Then, he says, they're "just kissed" on the grill, coming out redolent of dry-rub, not the least bit saucy. Bronzed and juicy chicken gets the same treatment. Breakstone also turns out smoky and moist brisket and pulled pork. Accompaniments from chef Deborah Scherer include creamy, cheesy mac and cheese, nuanced pit-smoked beans, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, moist cornbread and grilled corn on a stick.
MAPLE TREE BBQ, 820 W. Main St., Riverhead, 631-727-2819
What used to be called Maple Tree Deli & Market recently transformed itself into a small but attractively rough-hewn barbecue house with table service, as well as beer, wine and hard cider. Owner-pitmaster Kevin Judge is assisted by his two sons, Luke and Sean. They serve up lightly smoky, moist ribs and chicken, often reheated in a convection oven and finished on a grill. Brisket, while moist, sometimes lacks deep smokiness. But house-smoked pastrami -- dry-rubbed with coriander, paprika, brown sugar, garlic and mustard seed -- is something you'll dream about. Forget the flavorless mac and cheese and get the smoky baked beans instead. Finish with homey pineapple upside-down cake.
NORTH FORK BACON & SMOKEHOUSE, 1 Sound Rd., Wading River, 631-886-2220
Hours are limited to weekends (Friday to Sunday only) at this Wading River storefront, where disposable dinnerware and tight seating matter less than the high quality of the 'cue. A dedicated team headed by competition barbecue veteran Patrick Gaeta keeps it coming, and when the kitchen runs out of something, you'll have to come back another day. Food is kept moist, smoky and temperature- controlled in a warming cabinet. A brontosaurian beef rib topped with pickled red onion has great depth and smokiness. So, too, do baby back ribs and brisket. Sides are made to order -- even the hand-cut fries and mac and cheese laced with house- smoked bacon. "We don't sauce any of our meat and just put a little bit of vinegar sauce on a pulled pork sandwich," Gaeta said. These guys are as serious as they are adventurous, so if you hit it right, you may even find exotica such as duck or beef tongue.
BUENOS DIAZ CAFE, 108 Woodbury Rd., Woodbury, 516-224-4830
In a converted bagel store (where you can still get bagels), pitmaster-owner Mike Diaz serves up a repertoire that focuses on barbecue but also includes Latin specialties, sandwiches and salads. Diaz, who took first place in ribs in the 2012 Battle of the BBQ Brethren, is still struggling to make the transition from competition to restaurant 'cue, with all its demands. Usually, he says, he times the smoking close to dinner; ribs are then held in a glass warmer before being cut and served. Some of the time, you'll get them moist, smoky and flavorsome. Order at the wrong hour, though, and they may go from refrigerator to grill, coming out pretty dry. Chicken can be inconsistent, as well -- dry in some parts, moist in others. Pulled pork and brisket usually fare better. You also can get empanadas stuffed with smoked meat. Bypass the bland mac and cheese for the fried sweet plantains, which are nothing short of terrific.
There's 'cue, too, on these menus
Slow-smoked barbecue is so hot that it's turning up at restaurants that don't define themselves as barbecue houses. Here are four smoker-equipped newcomers where the 'cue is only part of a larger culinary agenda. All have opened within the past year:
JOE'S GARAGE AND GRILL, 40 Peconic Ave. (fronting the Riverhead municipal parking lot), Riverhead, 631-591-3330
Slow-smoked barbecue appears all over the menu of this snazzy new race car-themed spot. A section called Pit Row lists pulled pork, beef brisket and St. Louis ribs, but you'll also find smoked pork belly in the Tokyo Drift sliders and smoked turkey in the turkey potpie. Chicken wings are first smoked, then fried; burnt brisket ends show up in the chili. Much of the time, chef Brian Burner's daily specials involve something smoked.
MARA'S TOO, 3261 Merrick Rd., Wantagh, 516-785-5300
Like the original Mara's Homemade in Syosset, this smaller and more casual spinoff offers a menu that's split between Southern and Cajun classics and a repertoire of dry-rubbed smoked meats. You can get smoked chicken, St. Louis and baby back ribs, brisket and pulled pork, as well as beef ribs and smoked sausage. Sandwiches are Arkansas-style, served on a bun with shredded cabbage. A full range of traditional sides are available, as well.
STORYVILLE AMERICAN TABLE (at Finley's), 43 Green St., Huntington, 631-351-3446
This New Orleans-style restaurant, which focuses on jambalaya, etouffe and muffuletta, also has a smoker used for dry-rubbed baby back ribs, pulled pork and house-made smoked sausage. Occasionally, co-owner and executive chef Brian Finn smokes mussels, tomato, bluefish and even fennel.
OLDE PUB BAR & GRILL, 216 Pettit Ave., Bellmore, 516-785-5500
Augmenting the Irish-American menu at this spacious pub is an on-site smoker turning out pulled pork, brisket, ribs and smoked turkey. The meats also appear in sliders and sandwiches.