The pulled pork platter (with cornbread and mac and cheese)...

The pulled pork platter (with cornbread and mac and cheese) at Struggletown BBQ in Mount Sinai. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

For John Leonard, barbecue was “a backyard hobby gone crazy.” Now, 10 years after he started competing on the barbecue circuit, the hobby has blossomed into a full-blown restaurant, Struggletown BBQ in Mount Sinai, a partnership with his son, Jake Leonard. 

John conceded that the eatery’s name was enigmatic. Turns out that, back when he and his brothers-in-law formed a barbecue team and needed a name, one of his nephews had a teacher who would warn students that “if you guys don’t study, you’re going to wind up in Struggletown.” Everyone liked the name; no one figured it would wind up emblazoned on a storefront.

John has a law degree but said he was “never meant to be a lawyer.” While enrolled in law school, he owned the Kozy Kettle takeout shop in Huntington. He worked legal-related jobs after graduation but didn’t practice. Once he had some competition barbecue wins under his belt, he transitioned from the law to the smoke pit. A catering operation morphed into a Struggletown truck that launched in 2022. Its success gave him and Jake the confidence to open the eatery in the former home of Rocco’s Amici Express pizzeria.

Struggletown’s menu starts with the classics: Brisket, burnt ends, St. Louis ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken and pastrami. Platters, served with two sides, are $16 to $21; meat by the pound ranges from $28 to $36. There are  “mac bowls” (smoked meat on a bed of three-cheese-sauced shells, $14 to $16) and a rotating chili-of-the-week ($10-12), either red (brisket and beans), green (smoked pork with tomatillos) or an inventive white (smoked chicken and white beans in a creamy stock). 

Then there are the sandwiches ($15 to $20). On the truck, John said, they had a half-dozen regular offerings plus daily specials. In the restaurant, they are pressing all the specials into service for a roster that runs to about a dozen. Each of the Leonard men has his own: Papa Leonard's Big John is an unwieldy pileup of brisket, pulled pork and pulled chicken, topped with coleslaw and an onion ring and covered with Struggletown Original and Carolina Gold BBQ sauces.

For the Jake, grilled skirt steak is heaped onto a brioche roll with melted Cheddar-Jack cheese, onion rings and chipotle aioli. Even though John’s other sons don’t work at the restaurant, they got their own sandwiches too: Aloha Justin honors the middle son’s Hawaiian sojourn with pulled pork, coleslaw, grilled pineapple and the teriyaki-style Huli Huli sauce that is popular there. The youngest Leonard boy, John Jr. or, more familiarly, Little John, is name-checked in LJ’s Buff Melt: pulled chicken, melted Cheddar-Jack cheese and pickles with Buffalo-ranch sauce.

Struggletown BBQ, 1028 Rt. 25A, Mount Sinai, 631-598-1188, Open Tuesday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed Monday.

John and Jake Leonard, father-and-son owners of Struggletown BBQ in...

John and Jake Leonard, father-and-son owners of Struggletown BBQ in Mount Sinai, Dec. 7, 2023. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

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