The Pig & Queen
201 Sunrise Highway, Rockville Centre
SERVICE Attentive and friendly
AMBIENCE A neighborhood pit-smoked barbecue spot that also serves Southern comfort food in an open dining room wrapped in wood planks and industrial metal
ESSENTIALS Open 5 to 10 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 5 p.m. to midnight Thursday and Friday, noon to midnight Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Major credit cards accepted, takeout orders, full bar, street parking
All barbecue joints have a tell. Usually, it’s an innocuous element that speaks to how traditional your experience will be: the size of the menu. Truth is, traditional Southern barbecue is all about brevity; a few meats by the pound, some sandwiches, and a smattering of sides, maybe some pecan pie. The newspaper-like menu at The Pig & Queen is 12 pages long. This isn’t a traditional barbecue joint — and that suits me just fine.
All the signs inside this Rockville Centre corner spot, which opened last November in the former home of Ayhan’s Shish Kebab, point to the current trend in country-urban chic. The dining room’s open floor plan shares the space with the bar and is covered with the warm tones of wood plank walls set against a shiny pressed-metal ceiling, and oxidized corrugated steel alongside glossy, industrial black pipe and modern light fixtures. Barbecue platters are served on half sheet pans lined with pink butcher paper.
This is the fourth venture from partners Peter Mangouranes and Paul Olive, owners of the Massapequa Park establishments The Good Life (English-style pub), Jam (breakfast and lunch) and Massapequa Perk (coffee house).
Mangouranes designed The Pig & Queen’s menu to be a mix of traditional, smoked barbecue with other classic Southern comfort dishes and a few lighter options. So expect things to range from pulled pork to grilled cheese to a quinoa salad dotted with feta. Under executive chef Brian Colon, the cabinet-style smoker roars to life every morning at 5 with either oak or cherry logs for the evening’s barbecue.
The best appetizer is a staff meal favorite developed in the kitchen from leftovers: a blend of sweet potato tots tossed in a Cheddar sauce, topped with a Cajun-spiced ranch dressing and a mound of pulled pork. It’s sweet, creamy, mildly spiced, with a familiar, indulgent texture. A similar ranch sauce accompanies the shatteringly crisp beer batter onion rings, and while the pork belly is also crusty, the pool of beans it’s served with is mushy.
The barbecue pit smoked meat, offered by the pound or as part of a platter, has a few issues. The subtlety of the wood smoke is lost on the pulled pork, which is sabotaged by an overly sweet sauce. On one visit, the brisket was dry, though it was redeemed — or at least camouflaged — on a second try as part of the Reuben sandwich, kept moist with sauerkraut, cheese and Russian dressing. The best of the pit is the turkey breast. A trio of moist slabs, basted in butter, with just a touch of smoke that leaves behind real turkey flavor. The Cajun sausage delivered well on the spice with a perfectly snappy, mahogany skin. The baby back ribs are more tender than the St. Louis style, but still too lean. The mac-and-cheese side nailed a creamy texture, in large part because of the mascarpone, but needed more salt. Better were the Brussels sprouts, which have a quick and ferocious meeting with the deep fryer that develops a sweet, almost roasted flavor that is finished with smoke from bacon and acidity from cider vinegar.
More fryer magic yields the deep-fried baked potato. Because it is cut Hasselback style (thinly sliced almost through the spud to form a stumpy fan), when fried it develops a massive amount of crispy surface area that is covered with cheese sauce, sour cream, and bacon bits.
The entrees make up the Southern-classics section of the menu. The medium-sized, plump shrimp provide the texture under the rich, spicy brown gravy in the shrimp and grits dish. The grits themselves were creamy but didn’t deliver on the promised jalapeño flavor.
With a bit more experience The Pig & Queen should turn out some solid, traditional barbecue. Until then, stick to Southern comfort touches and turn to the sides, like small plates, and order a bunch for the table.