Monday, April 23, 2007
I am from North Carolina. There is much to love about the Tar Heel State: UNC VS Duke; NASCAR; relatively low property taxes, etc. One thing that is not easy to love is the food. This is an especially ironic thing since I have noticed that there are is a strong trend toward romanticizing southern cooking. This trend is difficult for me to understand since so little of what one might call southern food is really very good. A typical, traditional southern meal is heavily fried, lacking in flavor and consists of vulgar portions. The most memorable southern cuisine is like twenty four carat junk: Hush puppies, grits and fried peanut butter sandwiches and the like don't have any real equivalent in any other part of the country. It is hard to figure a west coast equivalent to hush puppies (usually fried corn meal) for example (although some rich Mexican cuisine might be close). Again, despite these deficits, southern cuisine retains a mystique that is hard to understand, and in my mind pretty much unjustified. I suppose that the idea of southern food, lifestyles and even personalities has an undeniably exotic appeal to a Northerner. This might account for the head scratching popularity of "food celebrities" like Paula Dean whose emasculating cheerfulness and bulldozing approach to cooking (and apparently life) is a stereotype (and pretty much an accurate one) of a southern matriarch.
Which brings us to the idea of a barbeque restaraunt north of the Mason Dixon line. An idea that is so curious and perplexing that it seems on the surface to be foolish or even wrong. When I lived in NC there was an influx of Northerners (especially New Yorkers) who were charmed by the relatively low cost of living, the year round access to golf and the plentiful parking. The result of this influx was that it "sophisticated" the Wilmington NC area in many ways. Suddenly you could get the NY times on a regular basis, wine lists in restaraunts improved and honest to God bagel stores began popping up.
So, in the spirit of things coming full circle, Red Smoke has come to the Hamlet of Brookhaven where I the southerner have come to live. The restaraunt is a barbeque "joint" in the best sense of the word. Too many barbeque restaraunts miss this aspect of the barbeque dining experience-Bobeque in Patchogue has much too like about it, but it is far too slick with its computer designed graphics and top drawer liquors to tranmit the true experience of a southern style barbeque place-Red Smoke's decor, on the other hand, has many of the earmarks of a southern style barbeque place including the TV murmuring in the background (though for real authenticity the TV should be a 1982 model and work about half the time). There is also the cooler full of soda, the bulletin board with community announcements and/or business cards for realtors and tradespeople and the bottles of hot sauce standing at attention at each of the tables. The restaraunt also has sandwhich boards and rustic looking cutouts of a pig as part of there signage which are all very nice touches.
But what of the food? Well, it is really very good. Too many barbeque places in the Northeast overwhelm their pork with too much sauce and/or too heavy a sauce (which is usually associated with "Texas style" barbeque). The best North Carolina barbeque is flavored much more delicately with vinegar based mixes that lightens the tast of the pork and gives it a crisper taste. Red Smoke has nailed this method beautifully. They also make great collard greens which are often harder to make than good barbeque. The flavoring on these is equally memorable, indeed, southern collard greens are often prepared (or unprepared) so as to be lacking in any flavor or even bitter tasting. Ironically, Red Smoke has improved on this tradition without losing the spirit of the thing.
Our favorite thing in the restaraunt by far is the Chicken Tender Salad (no. 14 on the menu) which has the heap of proletarian iceberg lettuce, plentious fried chicken and great blue cheese dressing. This delicious belly buster of a salad is also in the southern spirit of making what should be a light meal into a hefty treat. Lest you forget that you are on Long Island, there are items available that help you remember: It is unlikely that you would walk into a barbeque restaraunt in say New Bern, NC and see a Rueben on the menu, but there is one at RS as well as some Mexican food offerings.
Finally, the service is unparalleled and warm, which is yet another key to the southern style of doing things-Southerners worship warmth and familiarity over almost everything else (Northerners worship speed and crisp efficiency-The opposites of these southern values) and the warm and friendly group at this Brookhaven "joint" have this down as well-
S. Mark Rhodes
Red Smoke is located at 2554 Montauk Highway-Brookhaven NY (look for the pink pig sign!)
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Links of note from M & L...
- I (Mark) have written for The Christian Science Monitor, Clear Magazine, Picture Magazine, Film Score Monthly, Dan's Papers, Rue Morgue, In Flight USA and a lot more publications that I can't remember.... My wife Lynn was a model with the Ford Agency and her photography has been featured in most of the publications I have written for...