A serving of brisket at Village BBQ in North Merrick.

A serving of brisket at Village BBQ in North Merrick. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

Village BBQ in North Merrick may be a sliver of an eatery but, for Randy Brown, it’s the Big Time. This is the third location he’s occupied in three years — but it’s the first one that isn’t inside a gas station.

There may only be two tables and an open kitchen, but the menu ranges all over the barbecue and soul-food repertoires. Frankly, he had me at brisket. Jigglingly tender, with a coal-black bark, it can be ordered by the pound ($31.99), as a platter ($17.99) or in a sandwich ($16.79). Also from the pit: Beef plate ribs (the tenderest section of the short ribs), St. Louis ribs, rib tips, chopped BBQ (pork shoulder), chicken (barbecued and jerk) and turkey wings. Brown also roasts pernil (Latin American pork shoulder), bakes chicken, and fries chicken, shrimp and whiting. And he makes Philly-style cheese steaks. Give him a day’s notice if you’d like braised oxtails.

The list of sides is comparably lengthy, with usual suspects (baked beans, mac-and-cheese, French fries) mixing it up with black-eyed peas, fried sweet plantains, candied yams and more. Almost all the 17 sides are $4.50. Sandwiches range from $7 to $17, platters from $8.99 to $17.99).

For now, Brown is a one-man show, and it’s quite a departure from his former career as a health care executive. When he retired in 2020, he decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of opening his own restaurant. “I didn’t know what kind,” he recalled, “but I had begun to lean into barbecue, like a lot of guys.”

Randy Brown is the chef-owner of Village BBQ in North...

Randy Brown is the chef-owner of Village BBQ in North Merrick. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

A pal who ran a soul-food spot, Butler’s Cafe (since closed), inside a Hempstead gas station, invited Brown to give the barbecue a whirl. Brown had grown up in Hempstead and he called his venue “Village BBQ” to honor that town’s pre-Roosevelt Field incarnation, “when people would go ‘into the village’ — downtown to do their shopping.”

That was back in 2020. Brown started with brisket, chopped BBQ, spare ribs, turkey legs and pernil, but conceded that, “I was all over the place, I didn’t know how long things took, the fire would be too low or too high. I gave it away at first and got a good response — folks like your food if it’s free.”

But Brown got better, started to charge and folks still liked it. His offerings expanded and, a year later, he moved to another gas station on Route 110 in Amityville. Now the word started to get out. “People came from Yaphank, from Far Rockaway, telling me they never had barbecue this good.”

There was a downside to the location. “The visibility wasn’t great,” he said. “You’d have to get out of your car, come into the convenience store and then you’d see me.”

Earlier this year the owner of the gas station told him that a renovation was planned and that there would be no place for Village BBQ so he began to look for another home. It was a customer who saw that Black Pepper on the corner of Jerusalem and Park avenues had closed and the space was for rent. Brown opened his doors in September. 

Now he feels very visible. “If people are stopped for the light, they can see me seasoning meat. I can wave to them.”

Village BBQ, 2224 Jerusalem Ave., North Merrick, 516-727-2060. Open 1 to 9 p.m., closed Tuesday. 

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