When David Tunney was growing up in Setauket, his first job was at The Dining Car 1890, a longtime spot near the corner of Nichols Road and Route 25A (now the Velvet Lounge). Tunney washed dishes for approximately three days before becoming a bartender.
Decades later, the one-time dishwasher is a partner in several restaurants across Long Island — including a few with his brother, John — and for his latest has come home, in a way, opening Old Fields Barbecue on his home turf in a building that has its own long history of servicing customers. "The building has been here for a hundred years, and it was once a bordello," said Tunney, before it became a string of restaurants — most recently Raga.
Now 130 Old Town Road (cue Lil Nas X) is a rambling, 90-seat barbecue spot, a sister to the first Old Fields Barbecue, which Tunney and partner Rory Van Nostrand opened in Huntington about three years ago. Unlike the vaguely industrial ambience of that spot ("a combination between Texas and Brooklyn,” said Tunney at the time), the East Setauket edition has a more roadhouse vibe, with a cozy beamed bar and meandering dining area with long tables and black wooden booths. The partners built the bar and booths themselves, Tunney said, and as is their way, added plenty of repurposed details, such as poultry feed sifters as lights and taps from old plumbing pipes.
Before opening their first place together, Tunney, Van Nostrand and pitmaster Israel Castro sampled barbecue across the South and Texas, returning home to construct a straightforward menu of smoked meats as well as traditional sides and sauces. As is standard, diners make their choices at a front counter and take a seat; their 'cue is brought to them tableside.
Castro is again manning the smoker for dry-rubbed meats such as brisket, St. Louis-style pork ribs, smoked chicken, pulled pork (as well as pulled ribs) and housemade sausage. These start at $5 for sausage and top out at $13 or a half-rack of ribs. A few sauces, such as peach-habanero and bourbon, are on each table, and mac-and-cheese, collards, pickled vegetables and a luxe, gargantuan slab of cornbread are among the sides. (A smoked-Gouda topped burger and fried chicken are among the non-barbecue plates). Come spring, the restaurant will open a back patio and operate lunch and dessert trucks a few times a week, Tunney said, and he also has plans to convert a shipping container into a putting green. (Old Fields is worth a visit just to see that in action).
A few weeks after opening, the bar at Old Fields seems like its own ecosystem, with a full house for pints of Shiner Bock and both classic (Sazerac, manhattan) and inventive (sloe gin, blackberry and lemon) cocktails.
Old Fields Barbecue opens at 4 p.m. daily at 130 Old Town Rd., East Setauket, 631- 675-1313. ofsetauket.com