ELIJAH CHURCHILL’S ALL-AMERICAN BARBECUE HOUSE
1031 Fort Salonga Rd., Northport
AMBIENCE: Roadside tavern with a roadhouse flair
SERVICE: Laid back, helpful and friendly
ESSENTIALS: Tuesday to Thursday 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday 3 to 11 p.m.; Saturday noon to 11 p.m.; Sunday noon to 9 p.m. Music Thursday through Saturday.
On the surface, Elijah Churchill’s is what it has always been — a trusty watering hole where happy hour, local bands and a fireplace keep the cozy roadhouse hopping.
On a recent Thursday, diners joined as an acoustic band crooned a bluegrassy cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” On her way out, a customer was so taken by the band, she broke into a dance that for a brief moment made her the dining room darling.
But an overhaul was much needed. After nearly two decades of cooking pub fare at this tavern, named for the decorated Revolutionary War sergeant who served in battle on Long Island, general manager Cory Hendrickson and co-owner Douglas Jaffe decided that smoked meats and Southern fare were sorely lacking in the Nortport area.
Soon they hired Tom Fazio, who helms a nearby catering hall, as a chef and consultant, ripped up the menu (the lone holdover is the reliable, no-frills burger), revamped the kitchen and used the opportunity to make some subtle cosmetic changes to the dining room. In September, Elijah Churchill’s Public House gave way to Elijah Churchill’s All- American Barbecue House, joining Long Island’s rush to barbecue.
Fazio’s menu is not for the diet conscious, with a premium on fat, sweet and fried. He’s a self-proclaimed fan of sugary glazes, and they touch just about everything on the menu with varying degrees of success.
A fork-tender half-roast chicken, the highlight of the menu, is served with an apricot and chili glaze that gives the skin a candy-like coating and a bronze tint. The bird comes nestled on a crisp, homemade waffle, though one time it came soggy.
A maple glaze adds a touch of sweetness to crunchy, potato-chip-like Brussels sprouts. Mixed with peppercorn, the glaze does little to help duck legs that have been cooked to a golden crisp, but at the cost of meat that is tough and dry.
Maple is the finishing touch on a casserole of sweet potato tots layered in bacon and roasted tomato, with cream sauce. The first bites are the best. As the casserole rests, the weight of its parts quickly turns this oddly enjoyable play on loaded potatoes into mush.
The fried chicken comes with a thick buttermilk coat, a layer of maple syrup reduction and is sprinkled with spicy sriracha powder. Large hunks of honey-dipped cornbread are moist but overly sweet. Mac and cheese made an appearance in a soupy four-cheese sauce one night. During a second visit, it’s cooked well, but overly salted.
It’s the smoker where the menu really struggles. Barbecue may sound like its easy, but slow cooking over smoke is a difficult art form. The brisket (dry and light on flavor) is outsourced. The rest of the meat from the smoker is made in house.
A half-rack of ribs is leaden and cold. Even when warm on another visit, it lacks the shred-in-your-mouth texture needed for standout baby back. Pulled pork is mushy and weighed down by a heavy dose of mustard glaze. Smoked and shredded chicken suffers the same fate with apple barbecue sauce. Salads, too, are overdressed. A shredded mix of winter vegetables — kale, golden beets, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, carrots and red cabbage — and raisins is heavy on the sweet vinaigrette.
Desserts can be equally unpredictable. Deep-fried Twinkies taste as if they have been fried in old oil, but the carrot cake is fluffy and a rare instance where the sweetness is subdued.
Better to focus on high-end whiskeys and tequilas, and a revamped cocktail menu to complement the Long Island- heavy beer list that includes excellent taps from nearby Sand City Brewing Co. Try the Purple Heart, Elijah’s play on an a Manhattan, or the Pollywog, a bourbon-laced take on the Moscow Mule.
At Elijah’s, the kitchen won’t win any barbecue competitions, but it’s hard not to have a lively evening when a local band is in the house and the bar is well stocked.