In many corners of the country, barbecue is religion—it draws the masses, converts doubters and leaves finger-licking followers believing in the higher powers of a dry rub. Barbecue (like religion) also has its closely held dogmas, which vary from regional sect to regional sect: dry rub vs. sauces, sweet vs. spicy, pork vs. beef. In these places, mixing regional styles on the same menu is grounds for excommunication.
Long Island is not one of these places. For all its excellence in cuisine, our barrier island is not a barbecue capital. The silver lining is that it allows chef Michael Meehan the freedom to bring the best of the barbecue world to Huntington’s Radio Radio. “I’m not trying to be a purist where we have a pit master from a certain region of the country,” Meehan said. “But if I was going to pick a region [it’d be] Memphis, where they tend to lean toward dry rubs, particularly the ribs that we do are influenced by Memphis. But we even have a little bit of south Texas-style in that we do tacos with our barbecue meats.”
Barbecue is a difficult cuisine to perfect for the uninitiated, but Meehan—who also co-owns and is executive chef at Vauxhall next door—is uniquely qualified. “I already had a lot of the Southern influence,” he said. “One part was from [previously] having a restaurant called Tupelo Honey [in Sea Cliff], which emphasized that kind of cuisine. A lot of it is just traveling. I’ve gone to Nashville once a year for a lot of years.”
The final ingredient was learning to use the ultimate tool of the trade: a smoker. “I was working at golf clubs in the Hamptons and every weekend we would do barbecue. I would do smoked ribs, brisket and pulled pork in the same smoker I have now. I learned dry rubs and cooking times and really wrapped my head around that.”
With all this knowledge, Meehan just needed an opportunity. “From day one [Vauxhall’s owners] realized we wanted to stay together as a team and do other projects.” When the space next to Vauxhall became available, it was the perfect time to strike. Enter Radio Radio, named after the Elvis Costello song of the same name (all the owners are musicians). “We decided that instead of seeing someone else come into the space, we would do a different concept.”
The concept allows Meehan—who has worked his way from dishwasher to line cook to executive chef—to show off his culinary chops away from the smoker. “Half our menu is Southern bistro. We have shrimp and grits, catfish with mustard greens and a tomato bourbon Tabasco glaze. We do the Nashville-style fried chicken breast, just like they would do down there with creamy slaw, white bread and pickles.”
With two successful restaurants under his belt, what’s next? How about a couple more? “We definitely feel we have two strong concepts. And now that we have a strong presence in Huntington, we would like to look elsewhere and replicate.”
Radio Radio is making sweet Southern music in the form of delectable barbecue. Share your favorite dishes from the popular Huntington hangout by tagging #lipulse on Instagram. Follow @longislandpulse on Instagram for in-the-kitchen looks at local restaurants.