When it comes to mastering southern barbecue, Old Fields Barbecue in Huntington Village is the real deal.
Owners Rory Van Nostrand and Dave Tunney have definitely made their mark in Huntington’s restaurant scene. Along with Old Fields Barbecue, they own the original Old Fields in Greenlawn, established in 1956, which serves steaks, fish and new American cusine, and its sister-restaurant—also called Old Fields—in Port Jefferson.
“We serve traditional barbecue here. It’s the real thing,” said Rory Van Nostrand. “Long Island has a long history of serving fake barbecue. People sometimes come in and say, ‘What? There’s no burgers? I thought it was barbecue?’ That’s not real barbecue,” Rory continued. “That’s Long Island barbecue. Our barbecue is authentic southern barbecue.”
So what exactly is real barbecue? Authentic barbecue is slow cooked and smoked, using wood as the primary ingredient. It is important to get good, local wood that is consistent. Old Fields Barbecue gets a cord of white oak delivered to the restaurant monthly. According to executive chef Israel Castro, making good barbecue also takes a lot of love.
“Everything has its time and its love,” Chef Israel explained. “It’s simple food with simple ingredients, and you have to put the love into it to make it taste this good.”
The smoking process is a long one. Brisket for example, can take anywhere from sixteen to twenty hours to cook. Since each piece of meat is different, there is no set time or temperature. When the meat is ready, it’s ready. If it’s not cooked perfectly, it isn’t served. If a protein is cooked too long it will dry out, if not enough it will be tough. It’s all about balancing. Pork can take about eighteen hours to cook, beef about ten hours, and ribs about six hours. Everything is smoked in-house seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Two smokers are used, and the only time the smokers are turned off is on Sunday nights when they turn them off for one hour to clean them.
“The food cooks and smokes simultaneously,” said Chef Israel. “The smoke has several effects on the chemistry. The smoke actually changes the flavor of the meat, of the protein, and the low temperature slowly renders out the fat. It works well on tough cuts of meats as well as pork butt, so it really takes a long time to break down the muscle to give it that soft, tender taste.”
What ultimately led Rory, Dave and Chef Israel to open a southern barbecue restaurant, was their own love of the food, and that it is truly American cuisine.
“We had been practicing cooking barbecue for several years,” said Chef Israel. “It started out as a side project, but then we decided to go head first and really commit to it.”
Rory, Dave, Chef Israel and chef de cuisine Scott Goldstein, spent their vacations traveling around the country to the Carolinas, Virginia, Nashville, New Orleans, Austin, Texas and other barbecue hot spots, to learn the art of cooking authentic southern barbecue. Rory said they would literally drive into the middle of nowhere and check out two to three barbecue places per trip. They told the chefs and the owners of the establishments what they were hoping to do, and they were more than willing to talk to them about technique and recipes. The four took what they learned and what they tasted back home with them, and they created their own southern barbecue incorporating a little bit of Brooklyn, and a little bit of the northeast to come up with their own style.
For the meat, it is important to get the best beef possible. The beef is supplied through Meyers Beef, and the cows are humanely raised and slaughtered. The meat is sustainable, hormone free, steroid free, and antibiotic free. As for produce, when available, vegetables come from local farmers markets.
The menu and atmosphere at Old Fields Barbecue is simple and fun. Each table and booth has a roll of paper towel instead of napkins, since things can get a little messy. The one page menu features a choice of six proteins and one special. Corn bread and pickles are listed as “essential” menu items, and there are ten sides to choose from including homemade coleslaw, mashed potatoes, kale salad, collard greens and mac and cheese. For drinks, they serve beer, wine and specialty cocktails. For dessert they have peach cobbler, which may change with the seasons. Four bottled sauces are on every table and are made in-house. There is a tangy sauce for pork, a smoky, traditional type sauce for beef, a spicy peach habanero sauce, and a bourbon based sauce. Old Fields created about two hundred variations of sauces until they came up with the four. None of the proteins are served with sauce on it, since the meats can completely stand out on their own.
All food is served on big metal trays with parchment, and sides come in cute cardboard containers. It is the perfect meal for sharing. One person may want brisket, and another ribs. Both come on the same tray with whatever sides are chosen. Smaller, individual trays are then handed out, and you help yourself from the large tray. Take out is very popular because there is no waiting time. The meat is always ready to go.
The most popular dish is the brisket, followed by the ribs. The feedback from the customers has been incredible, and Old Fields attracts a diverse crowd.
“We had a person in their seventies come in and say that they lived down south in 1947, and that they hadn’t had real barbecue since then—until now,” said Rory.
After hearing all about the smoking process, I was anxious to try everything. Before we got to the food, they started me off with three wonderful cocktails. The Corpse Reviver #2, is a 1930s-style cocktail featuring gin and Cointreau. It was light, elegant and smooth, and had a wonderful taste of citrus that was not overpowering. The Banana Bourbon Old Fashioned is truly unique. It is made with banana infused bourbon, Amarena cherries, demerara sugar, angostura bitters and a lemon twist. This refined cocktail had a slight bitter taste that played well against the faint taste and sweetness of banana. The Orange South Side was smooth and a bit sweeter and looked gorgeous in the glass. It is made with vodka, mint, orange simple syrup, muddled orange and a delightful candied orange peel that is perfect for nibbling. Their most popular cocktail is the mango jalapeno margarita made with tequila they infuse themselves.
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When the tray of food arrived, it was definitely a sight to be seen, and the amazing aroma of comforting smoke emanated from each piece of meat. I tried the smoked beef rib first, a weekend special, which was served on a huge bone. It was quite impressive, and the delicious, tender meat fell off the bone easily and was packed with flavor. The meat was encased in a beautiful, tasty crust that had a wonderful smoky flavor. I highly recommend ordering this when it’s available.
The baby back ribs were fabulous, and like the beef rib, it was tender and fell off the bone. The bourbon sauce paired beautifully with this. I tried the smoky and sticky peach habanero sauce with the brisket. What a great combo. I can see why the brisket is the most popular dish there.
As for the sides, the winner of the evening was the collard greens. They nailed it! This dish coupled with the barbecue meats most definitely makes you feel like you are eating somewhere down south. Despite collard greens being a simple ingredient, it is rarely cooked the way it should be. At Old Fields they slow cook it for six hours, add a little red chili flakes for spice, a touch of brown sugar, vinegar, small chunks of smoked pork and onions. It was absolutely perfect, and it is something I will order every time I go back. The mac and cheese is delightfully creamy and rich, and the kale salad, lightly dressed, is tossed with cranberries, candied pecans and thin sliced apple. This is a wonderful healthy alternative, especially if paired with juicy smoked chicken. The coleslaw is crisp and vibrant and is not weighed down by mayonnaise, and the corn bread is just as it should be—crunchy outside, moist inside with a little touch of sweet.
Old Fields Barbecue was a winner in my books. If you are looking for a totally different dining experience, definitely head on over. You won’t be disappointed.
Old Fields Barbecue is open Monday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Tuesday – Thursday 12 Noon to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 12 Noon to 11:00 p.m. and Sundays from 12 Noon to 9:00 p.m.