Evan Randell, a serious chef with a bent for barbecue, is hoping his will be the ribs that stick in Farmingdale.
While an outdoor smoker burns hickory wood, an energetic crew burns calories chugging up and down the stairs of this challenging bi-level space near the railroad tracks. Everyone runs on positive attitude.
Since opening Estelle's (named for his grandmother), Randell has reworked the menu, editing out some dishes and improving others. One weekend night, a talented jazz pianist performs in the upstairs dining room. Incongruous but still very nice.
Brisket sliders are infinitely better now than when the place first opened; the meat is moist, hickory-tinged, the buns just thick enough. Big fat BBQ wings in a fiery habanero sauce leave my mouth tingling but wanting more.
I'm sold on the deeply smoky, moist free-range chicken. Baby back ribs ooze juices when bitten but adhere to the bone, as they should after being cooked in the slow smoker. A huge favorite is the big, smoky, juicy beef rib.
Add Estelle's Cuban sandwich to your list of those to seek out. Made with smoked pork loin, ham, Swiss, pickles and mustard, it puts an all-American spin on a Latin classic.
Side dishes are taken seriously. Hand-cut fries are irresistibly toasty. White beans are stewed with pancetta and fresh herbs, just yielding to the bite. Mac and cheese has creaminess, character. Also fine: roasted apple mashed sweet potatoes.
Dinner concludes with two first-rate desserts: plantain bread pudding, warm and rich, and a homey, wholesome hot apple crisp.
Spare ribs are tender in some places, tough and chewy in others. And a smoked pork chop is pale beige, dry, curiously devoid of flavor.
Two stars for the 'cue; extra credit for sides and desserts.