As you circle the block for parking in Rockville Centre, The Smokin’ Rib is hard to miss, the restaurant’s name in giant red letters on a side awning with a graphic of a pig over flames.
It’s a sign of the meat madness inside. And while I immediately applied my attention to the porky platters, I quickly switched gears and dug into the beef.
Sounds like customers are favoring it, too. A special board announced the back-by-demand beef ribs as well as the unorthodox, smoked corned beef, a sandwich the restaurant introduced as a St. Patrick’s Day special and hasn’t been able to take off the menu since.
Inside The Smokin’ Rib, it’s Steve Miller on the playlist, with attentive bartenders who can’t help but finish a “Space Cowboy” verse on occasion. They’re working a no-frills cozy L-shaped bar, with ambience courtesy of neon beer signs and Edison bulbs around the dining room. Order a beer from a list of 40 or so on tap.
You won’t see it from your seat, but you’ll certainly smell the Southern Pride smoker. Behind the kitchen’s double doors, you’ll find Ron Drummond, a lean, fastidious pitmaster who occasionally comes out to fill up a quart container with seltzer. He has teamed up with head chef Jennifer Camacho, who butchers the meat and runs the kitchen aside from Drummond’s smoking duties. Drummond was lured here from a popular Brooklyn barbecue spot, where he had been a pitmaster commuting from the Bronx.
Drummond’s Texas-style brisket is co-owner Michael Delray’s favorite, dry-rubbed and thin-sliced. Should you order it, the anticipation will be palpable as a server beelines to the table, delivering it with a hearty square of cornbread that’s a bit sticky and sweet. But that meat, with its blackened edges and rose-hued grain, is quite succulent, served with sauces, sweet and sweeter. It doesn’t need them.
The pork ribs, on the other hand, are a tad dry, a half-rack that requires strong teeth. Me, I prefer it falling off the bone. A side of collards is too big with flavor, smoked turkey domineering cider vinegar and greens. The sweet potato casserole isn’t for the meek either, spiked with brown sugar and butter, wearing a vest of melted marshmallows.
I do recommend the golden onion lassos, like giant bracelets encircled by an extra crisp beer batter. Served with horseradish and barbecue sauce, it’s a challenge not to polish off the plate.
Other options include jumbo wings that arrive three or six to an order, a smoky change-up from traditional Buffalo wings. Another type of “wing,” hog wings are fashioned from pork shank, extra juicy with skin more crisp than chicken’s.
Sure, the menu lists an enticing array of smoked meats sold by the pound, or — in the case of chicken and ribs — halves and wholes, each served with a side or two. But I like the sandwiches best. For those who like vinegary ’cue, I’d recommend the pulled pork shoulder on brioche with a creamy slaw. But my favorites are New York-centric: a thin-cut, peppery pastrami on rye with a handful of garlic pickles. I also like the juicier, thicker-cut corned beef.
It’s not a bad idea to order both.