The East End's Best Barbecue Joints
by michael braverman
Here in the Hamptons, we embrace the abundance of fresh fish and seasonal produce. So it might come as a surprise that the new trend is about soulful Southern food, rather than fresh vegetables from the vine. This summer has seen the introduction of The Millers’ BBQ and the newly named but something-familiar-about-the-menu Smokin’ Wolf BBQ & More, which join already established favorite Townline BBQ. At each establishment, chefs talk readily about parts of the animal, varieties of wood, characteristics of the smoker or roaster, and regionally influenced sauces, and at moments it was easy to picture ourselves someplace way, way beyond the Shinnecock Canal.
To make sense of these different regions and types of barbecue, we turned to East Hampton resident James Villas, author of Pig: King of the Southern Table, which won the James Beard Foundation award in 2011 for the best American-cooking cookbook published in 2010. Villas told us, “Sauces, from spicy, vinegar-clear emulsions to thicker, more tomato-y and mustard-y [versions] to sweeter ones (as you move geographically west), along with the type of firewood, distinguish one style of Southern barbecue from the next.”
If you don’t currently have your own opinion on this, you’ll have a good opportunity to form one this summer with three dedicated barbecue stops, as well as eateries like B.Smith’s Restaurant in Sag Harbor that include barbecue on their menus.
Mark Smith, a partner at six-year-old Townline BBQ, is a also a partner at Nick & Toni’s, Rowdy Hall, and La Fondita; Smith and Joseph Realmuto (a partner at Townline and the chef at Nick & Toni’s) found inspiration in the barbecue mecca of central Texas. The cooking focus there is on the meat itself, with sauce served on the side. And while cattle-doting Texans instinctively favor beef, Townline expanded the concept to pork and chicken. The restaurant even operates in a friendly, informal Texas style: Carry your own tray from the serving counter to your table and slather on as much or as little of Townline’s sauces with different heat levels as you like. And make sure you have plenty of napkins handy. Townline is also adding a new innovation: summerlong lunchtime delivery to Main Beach.
North Carolina cookery excited the imagination of Erik Miller, a longtime chef and caterer, and after studying the arts of smoking and grilling with an old-time barbecue master there, he recently opened The Millers’ BBQ in East Hampton. It’s a takeout shop with some tree-shaded tables on the side and a serious approach to food. Miller is a perfectionist about his rubs and sauces, as proved by his versions of honey-glazed pulled pork or Sweet & Sticky St. Louis Ribs. The food, along with Millers’ high-spirited personal greetings to every customer walking in, seems destined to put Millers’ on target for families picking up dinner on the way back from the beach.
When Stanley and Nancy Singer decided to close Turtle Crossing, their longtime chef, Arthur Wolf, leased the premises and took the opportunity to start his own restaurant, Smokin’ Wolf BBQ & More. The menu in some ways is a revival of those early and well-remembered years at Turtle Crossing with Wolf in the kitchen. The lodestar for Wolf is Oklahoma. Barbecue mavens will understand the finer points of, say, thicker and sweeter sauces; the rest of us will just relish the brisket and ribs. And Wolf is planning for diners with tastes other than meat. Seafood, salad (from Satur Farms on the North Fork), and sandwiches emphasizing local and organic ingredients are also on the menu. Wolf retains a kitchen staff that has years of experience with him, something that will be essential when he, as the owner, spends time in the front of the house meeting and greeting.
photography by Gordon M. Grant (roast chicken); courtesy townline bbq (picnic taBLES , BRISKETSANDWICH ); frank rocanova (smokin’ wolf)