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Call him the "Comeback Kid." Two years after closing his original Bay Shore house of 'cue, pitmaster Al Horwitz is smokin' at a whole new level in Massapequa Park. The 7-year-old Nassau offshoot of Smokin' Al's may be bigger than the original, but it has the same vibe: swing music on the sound system and whimsical pigs-on-the-town adorning the brick walls. Yet, it's the food coming out of both the smokers and the kitchen that commands attention.
The best way to evaluate BBQ, a genre that can be highly variable, is to order it without sauce, wearing only its dry rub spices. At lunch one day, brisket, a cut that all too often comes out dry, declares itself at first bite a juicy, smoky triumph. The same holds true of tender, succulent baby back ribs. On the side: al dente macaroni and cheese, the kind that's impossible to stop eating, and smoky-sweet baked beans.
A subsequent dinner gets going with pork belly "ends," cubes of lightly sauced smoked meat crisped on the grill and plated over "haystack" fried onion wisps. Wings -- no sauce -- have a lovely smokiness. So, too, do St. Louis-style ribs. But "monster" beef rib bones, while smoky, are a bit underseasoned and actually benefit from a few dabs of house-made BBQ sauce. On the other hand, pit-smoked chicken, burnished and savory, needs nothing at all. Nor does the fine, fat smoked sausage.
Here, outsize creations, like the Al's Famous Bow Wow, loom large. The bulging half-pound hot dog is piled with chili, baked beans, coleslaw and melted cheese, topped with a thatch of fried onions. Not only does this excess work, but it's beautifully plated, with the wiener nestled into a bed of hand-cut fries. These are long and squared at the edges, deliciously toasty. Things get a bit too baroque, though, with a 12-ounce mile-high burger, piled with cheese, mushrooms, onion and bacon. Truth is, such a burger -- smoky, mineral-rich -- doesn't need any accoutrements.
And you probably won't need any dessert. A wedge of Key lime pie, brought in from an outside baker, beats out the house-made bread pudding. Still, you don't go to Smokin' Al's for sweets but, rather, to eat so well that the thought of one bite more simply isn't an option.