The Island is smoking. Barbecue fever has struck the nation, and Nassau and Suffolk are firmly in its grip.
Driven both by Long Island’s army of backyard amateur smokers and by the seemingly endless parade of barbecue shows on television, the pace of new barbecue openings has accelerated. In 2016, The Pig & Queen in Rockville Centre and Smoke Shack Blues in Port Jefferson joined the ranks of a dozen or so established venues. This year, three new places already have opened, two of them only blocks apart in Huntington village and one in Locust Valley. A fourth, Maple Tree BBQ Smokehouse in Riverhead, changed hands recently and upped its game to become a favorite for ’cue on the North Fork.
Without a style to call their own, Long Island pitmasters pick and choose among smoking styles that not only waft north from Texas, the Carolinas, but east from Kansas City and Memphis, and the new guard of barbecue restaurants in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.
Here’s the smoky scoop on LI’s newest barbecue joints.
Stuey’s Smokehouse BBQ
Stuey’s Smokehouse BBQ (50 Birch Hill Rd., Locust Valley): Locust Valley probably has more antiques stores per square mile than any other town on Long Island (although Cold Spring Harbor could give it a run for its money). So, it was a change of pace when House Antiques closed shop last year and made room for Stuey’s Smokehouse BBQ. Owners Carrie and Terry Morabito opened their first restaurant, Friend of a Farmer in Gramercy Park, in 1986. (There’s also a location in Brooklyn Heights.) The smoking idea had been percolating since their grown children were enrolled at Locust Valley’s Friends Academy, and Terry, an enthusiastic backyard barbecuer, would cater the annual fair with 200 racks of ribs, 80 pounds of brisket and 80 pounds of pulled pork. In February, the Morabitos finally found a spot to install their smoker. “We wanted a very simple place,” Terry said, “short menu, no seats, takeout only.” And that’s what they built. Stuey’s, named for Carrie’s late brother, has a country chic befitting Locust Valley, with a vaulted ceiling and exposed beams, subway tile counters and a lot of stainless steel. Pitmaster John Zervoulakos, formerly of John Brown Smokehouse and The Strand Smokehouse (both in Queens), puts out a classic menu of baby back ribs ($29 a rack), brisket ($26 a pound), smoked salmon ($30 a pound), and pulled pork and smoked sausage (both $24 a pound). Sandwiches with pork, brisket or salmon are $12 to $15. Ali McNish, a longtime Morabito employee, handles the juicy roast (not smoked) chickens ($18) and all the sides: ranch pit beans (three-bean mix in barbecue sauce), fresh string beans, sweet potatoes and cornbread. More info: 516-277-2202, friendofafarmer.com/stueys-smokehouse-bbq
Brisket is served with fresh string beans and sweet potatoes at Stuey’s Smokehouse BBQ in Locust Valley.
Pitmaster John Zervoulakos helms the kitchen at Stuey’s Smokehouse BBQ in Locust Valley.
Old Fields Barbecue
Old Fields Barbecue (15 New St., Huntington): Choose your meat, choose your sides. Thwop they go onto a tray, which you cart to a table and slather with sauce from a sticky bottle, mopping up the entire mess with a slice of white bread. This time-tested ritual was the guiding inspiration for the team behind Old Fields Barbecue, which opened on New Street in Huntington in mid-May 2017, even as they swapped out the rugged vibe of a traditional barbecue spot with a modern-rustic space, plastic trays with stylish metal ones, and slices of Wonder bread with sweet Hawaiian rolls. Owner David Tunney (also co-owner of Old Fields in Greenlawn), manager Rory Van Nostrand and chef Israel Castro form a tight trio, having worked together for years at the other restaurants. They crisscrossed the country to sample barbecue before forging their own particular style of dry rubs, meats smoked overnight on a Southern Pride smoker and techniques that borrow from all over the country. Diners wait on line to order meat at a back counter, where it’s loaded, juices and all, onto a paper-lined tray. Ribs ($12 a half rack) are served St. Louis-style in a rectangular slab with a crackling, blackened crust that shimmers with fat. Brisket ($12 a half pound) is cut in thick ribbons, its bark charred and its innards velvety. Pulled pork ($7 a half pound) and a scored, grilled chorizo sausage ($4) prickle with heat. The sides ($3-$5) here take in the usual: cornbread, coleslaw, collards, tomato-rich baked beans laced with burnt ends, and a mac-and-cheese bathed in molten Cheddar and fontina. About the only quasi-healthy thing on the menu is a cubed watermelon-feta salad, prettied up with frills of kale. You can eat it all in the wood-beamed inner sanctum of the place, at a table lifted from an old schoolhouse or at a high booth in the front bar, letting the sunshine and air from the street cool you as you work through a pile of fatty flesh. Shiner Bock is always on draft, and the heavily stocked bar serves up crafty drinks such as a citrusy Dragoon punch. More info: 631-923-1515, ofbarbecue.com
St. Louis-style pork ribs, brisket, house-made sausage, cornbread and watermelon-feta salad are served at Old Fields Barbecue in Huntington.
The dining area at Old Fields Barbecue in Huntington.
Radio Radio (24 Clinton Ave., Huntington): In a weird twist of fate in May 2017, Huntington village went from zero barbecue spots to two in the space of about a week. The first of those to open was Radio Radio, a cozy spot adjacent to its sister restaurant, Vauxhall, that feels like a cross between a bistro and a nouveau pit stop. When chef Michael Meehan and his Vauxhall partners — Sal Mignano, Eric Finneran and Dan Valentino — began mulling a barbecue place, they thought they were filling a long-empty vacuum. “At the time, there was no one else doing barbecue in Huntington village,” said Meehan, who has played around with Southern-style food during his 25-year career, including at Tupelo Honey in Sea Cliff and as executive chef at the Noyac Golf Club, where he experimented with dry rubs, smoking times and various types of woods on an Alto Sham smoker. Another Alto Sham smoker anchors the kitchen at Radio Radio. Though the team works assiduously to source cruelty-free, antibiotic-free meat (brisket from Niman Ranch, for instance, and chicken from Murray’s Farm), when it comes to cooking, “we are not purists by any means,” Meehan said, though trips to Nashville have left their mark on his style. The chef’s dry rubs are laced with chili, cayenne and, for chicken and pork, brown sugar. Brisket ($14 a half pound) cooks low and slow for 11 hours over applewood, and bone-in pork shoulder comes close to that, yielding falling-apart pulled pork ($13 a half pound). Pork ribs ($16 for half a rack) smolder with hints of the chili-flecked rub. These, along with halves of smoked chicken ($15) and a rotating cast of sausages from Jake’s Handcrafted in Brooklyn, are listed daily on a roll of brown paper in the snug dining room. Diners can accessorize them with staple sides such as baked beans sticky with molasses, wilted greens and sweet-potato wedges — but they shouldn’t pass over the ephemeral cornbread that practically sweats butter. For vegans, Radio Radio serves up a butterless cornbread alongside pulled jackfruit whose sweetness is tempered with heat. Meat eaters and meat haters alike can swig Fernet Cherry Coke, customizable juleps or boozy pickleback shots. More info: 631-923-2622, radioradiohuntington.com
Mexican street corn is served at Radio Radio in Huntington.
The exterior of Radio Radio in Huntington.
Maple Tree BBQ Smokehouse
Maple Tree BBQ Smokehouse (820 W. Main St., Riverhead): When Dennis O’Leary took over Maple Tree in 2016, the 14-year-old store was three years into its transition from deli to barbecue restaurant. It is now complete and smokin’ away. O’Leary and his wife, Andrea Glick, set about retooling the kitchen, refurbishing the dining room and building a 60-seat outdoor seating area out back — in view of the smokers. Order at the counter, and your food will be delivered to you whether you’re in the dining room, out back or at one of the picnic tables across Route 25, with a fine view of the Peconic River. If Maple Tree adheres to any one barbecue style, it’s Texas. “Our hero is Aaron Franklin,” O’Leary said, referring to the founder of Austin, Texas’s Franklin Barbecue and author, with Jordan Mackay, of “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto” (Ten Speed Press, 2015). No surprise that O’Leary and his pitmaster, Phil Liguori, excel at brisket ($18 a pound), Texas’ signature ’cue, as well as its cousins pastrami (brisket that’s brined before smoking, $19 a pound) and burnt ends (the carbonized tips of the brisket, doused with sauce, $18 a pound). The brisket and pastrami also star in sandwiches such as the Texan (brisket, caramelized onions and Cheddar on grilled sourdough, $12) and the Maple Tree Reuben (pastrami, Swiss, Thousand-Island dressing and sauerkraut on rye, $12). Beyond beef, Maple Tree ably handles all the standards — St. Louis ribs, pulled pork, smoked chicken, smoked turkey — plus wings, pulled chicken and salmon. Everything is available by the pound, half pound or in platters with two sides. (Among the sides, don’t miss the “kallards,” kale that has been briefly — and profitably — braised in pork broth.) There are seven sandwiches ($9 to $12), and the pulled chicken, pork or smoked salmon can be had in soft-corn tacos (3 for $10) topped with salsa verde, queso fresco, pickled onions and cilantro. To drink: plenty of craft beers (tap and bottle) and wines, many of them local. More info: 631-727-2819, mapletreebbq.com
A family pack, with a whole smoked chicken and a full rack of ribs, is served with cornbread at Maple Tree BBQ Smokehouse in Riverhead.
The menu at Maple Tree BBQ Smokehouse in Riverhead.