At first glance, it was easy to misread the chalkboard menu at Austin Kitchen: Plenty of salads and bowls, as with many fast-casual places these days. In the mood for something healthy, I ordered a lemongrass chicken bowl and a kale Caesar.
I struck up a conversation with the owner while paying and quickly learned of my ordering misfires. “See that flag over there,” said co-owner Jason Barje, pointing to an American flag on the wall. Behind it, he said, was a list of meats — ribs, chicken — that his partner, chef Jeffrey Grossman, smokes in the back. “But we can’t do enough to keep up with demand until we get more equipment,” he added. For now, the only way to try the baby back ribs, for instance, which are electric-smoked with mesquite and pecan wood, are on a bowl or in a sandwich.
A quick order correction later, I was tucking into a “classic” baby back rib sandwich, of tender as all get out smoked baby-back (boneless) ribs with a sheath of melted white Cheddar on a toasted panini.
Austin Kitchen opened in August, an unassuming (from the outside) little spot of 12 seats, a counter, and a menu that segues from burgers to chunky salads, crispy egg rolls to fried chicken sandwiches (there are three, including a Nashville hot), grain and rice bowls (there are five of those, including one with those ribs with grilled pineapple and slaw) and sandwiches.
Barje and Grossman, who are both from Long Island, first met in 1993, at the Island Mermaid on Fire Island, and have worked together at various restaurants since. They opened Riptides in Long Beach in 2016 and, more recently, worked on Alabama's busy Gulf Coast, where they picked up smoking know-how from colleagues from all over the country. Those, they have brought back to Island Park.
Later this year, Barje anticipates they will be able to offer barbecue to go. For now, their repertoire includes chicken shawarma sandwiches on lavash; crispy egg rolls filled with smoked chicken and artichoke and havarti; panzanella, Cobb and Cotija-topped Mexican Caesar salads; and a $10.95 house burger (one of four) with two freshly ground, smashed patties, American cheese and house sauce. (They also grind their own smoked chicken for a chicken-and-provolone burger). Most dishes clock in between $4 and $20.
Of the eclectic menu, Barje said he and his partner took many of the dishes both of them liked from their restaurant careers and blended them together. “It’s a cross-country road trip,” he said. They both already have an eye toward expansion, likely to a second, larger location with a dining room and bar.
Austin Kitchen is open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 4385 Austin Blvd., Island Park. 516-544-6744, eataustinkitchen.com