By Katie McFadden
Smoke and Barrel is officially open. Taking over for former barbecue joint, RBQ, Smoke and Barrel will continue to bring barbecue to Rockaway Beach, but it offers a brand-new food and drink menu and experience to the boulevard.
As a certified barbecue pitmaster, Smoke and Barrel co-owner and Rockaway resident Brian Baldwin knows what makes for a great smoked meat. And Smoke and Barrel will have it all, from St. Louis ribs to beef brisket, pulled pork and chicken, and even a sampler of all four—the “barrel of bones,” for those who just can’t choose, served with house BBQ sauce, red beans and slaw on the side.
But there’s a little something for everyone, even those who might not be craving barbecue. Maybe start your Smoke and Barrel experience off with some appetizers—wings, corn fritters, gulf shrimp cocktail or maybe Nashville deviled eggs, a deep-fried deviled egg, which Baldwin says, “You’ve never had a deviled egg like this deviled egg.” A salad menu offering chipotle Caesar to a southwest salad to even a melon option which is available for a lighter bite. Instead of smoked meat, maybe opt for the 16 oz. cowboy steak, the S&B burger or the pickle-brined crispy chicken sandwich, all made with the best cuts. “High quality meat will give us that differentiation,” Baldwin said. “We want to be recognized as a place that offers a good meal at a good value, with really tasty food.”
Any dish can be paired with a specialty side like cornbread, mac and three cheeses, warm potato salad, fries or collard greens. If you have room, top all that off with dessert like a key lime, banana cream or Mississippi mud pie.
Plus, there’s a full, unique drink menu to wash it all down. “The cocktails are off the charts,” Baldwin said. Maybe pair your barbecue with a little extra smoke by ordering the smokey old fashion, which is literally served smoking. A Texas lemonade with a grilled lemon garnish is expected to be a big favorite. Plus, there’s a selection of bourbons, three different frozen options including the occasional frozen Shirley Temple, a wide variety of beer by the bottle or on tap, which customers can take home in a crowler if they like it, and even Prosecco on tap, perfect straight or as part of a cocktail.
In addition to knowing barbecue, Baldwin brings with him roughly 30 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, starting with bartending at Pier 92 to handling food and beverage procurements for large events like the U.S. Open, handling food and beverage purchasing for airports, getting into the franchise business working with Friendly’s, and most recently, serving as Director of Safety and Quality Assurance for The Halal Guys. Baldwin understands what goes on behind the scenes in the food and beverage world. So when RBQ owner John Moroney was ready to sell his business, Baldwin knew he was ready to enter the next chapter. “People tell me I’m crazy because this is what I’m doing for retirement, but I’m a social person and this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “The opportunity came up in March and I jumped on it.”
While Baldwin knows the recipe for a good barbecue and beverage menu, his partner in life, and now in business, Susan Baldwin, has sprinkled her design expertise across Smoke and Barrel. While the bones are the same, the new restaurant has a different look from RBQ, from the inside out. From the outside façade to the inside ceilings, Smoke and Barrel brings a lighter look with a new coat of paint. Old Rockaway postcards decorate the walls, paying homage to pieces of Rockaway Beach’s past like Playland. The neon signs are gone but as soon as you walk in, your eyes are drawn to a lit BBQ sign on a back wall, and of course, barrels are part of the décor, including a personalized barrel top above the bar. “It’s all my wife. She’s a children’s wear designer, so she had the vision for what it takes to make things look good. I told her she was vice president of experience,” Baldwin said, and from the looks of it, Susan nailed her new role in the Smoke and Barrel design.
As far as staff goes, Baldwin says much of the RBQ staff have joined the new crew, but also joining is Chef Joseph Cacace, a renowned barbecue chef who has worked at high-end places like The Boathouse and River Café. “He knows his stuff. He’s classically trained in France and also trained with celebrity chefs Tom Colicchio and Bobby Flay. The food will be elevated,” Baldwin said.
Additionally, the Baldwins have had some local help as they take on this new adventure as restaurant owners in Rockaway, from some of the best in the business. Having worked for Big Dan Tubridy since he came to Rockaway from Ireland in 1986, Baldwin is friendly with the family that owns multiple restaurants, and says they’ve been a big help. “Guys like Danny, Dee and Terence have been so open and friendly about this whole process,” Baldwin said. “Tommy at Callie’s has been wonderful. Erik McManus from Jameson’s has been a big help. Michael Dalton at Happy Jack’s said whatever I need, he’ll help. Whit and I will be buying wood from the same guy. Everyone has been wonderful with connecting me with vendors or advice. We’re all in this together,” he said. Plus, the Baldwins have even had some assistance from their own kids, Connor, 23 and Emma, 21, who work in hospitality. “They have been a great help with their extensive knowledge with front of house operations,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin says it’s all about doing what’s best for Rockaway. “This community has given me everything I need. I had a great career in the city, but I got my start in Rockaway, coming here from Ireland. I got sand between my toes, I met my wife here at Pier 92, raised our kids here. and I’ll never leave,” he said. “This is about giving back what the community has given me, and I can’t wait. We’re open and ready to see people happy and leaving satisfied.”
On Tuesday, July 17, Smoke and Barrel officially opened their doors with just the full bar in operation. But this grand opening weekend, guests will get to experience cocktails pouring, a soft menu starting Friday, July 21 and live music and entertainment on tap. Big Night Out will perform July 21 from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday night will be a barrel of fun with a mechanical bull inside while DJs@Work spin tunes from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., and on Sunday, Gerald Bair is on the guitar from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. while you wind down and dine.
Smoke and Barrel is located at 97-20 Rockaway Beach Blvd. They’re open seven days a week, from 11:30 a.m. with the kitchen open until 10:30 p.m. For menus and more info, check out: www.smokeandbarrelny.com and be sure to follow @smokeandbarrelny on Instagram.