Step into The Millers BBQ, a take-out joint in East Hampton, and you’re immediately transported out of the Northeast and into the Deep South. And the journey is mouthwatering.
Let me start by regaling you all (ya’ll, if you will) with my first real experience of “barbecue” as a noun. Growing up here in Yankee territory, “barbecue” was always a verb – as in: “Do you want me to barbecue some hamburgers and hot dogs for dinner?” “Absolutely!” In fact – please forgive my New York state of mind – I had no idea that barbecue-as-a-noun existed until my freshman year at college in North Carolina. Long story short, I was told that Lexington, N.C., had the area’s best barbecue, and I drove out there with some friends expecting to taste the greatest hamburger of my life. It was a deliciously confusing experience, and I’ve been hooked on barbecue ever since.
So, I walked into Miller’s BBQ with high expectations – I was immediately impressed with the scope of the menu, which includes all of the Southern staples and fixins.’ Of course I had to try everything. Owner Eric Miller immediately offered me a Hushpuppy. In general, I find hushpuppies, which are deep-fried cornmeal, too bland, but Miller’s version is anything but, as he serves his with chicken gravy. The combination really makes all the difference.
Next, it was on to the big-ticket items – the brisket, pulled pork and ribs. All three are available fresh daily, after being cooked in a smoker with oak and cherry wood. Prior to opening Millers BBQ, Eric went on a Southern tour, spending time with pit masters in Alabama and North Carolina.
“I wanted to get down to rural, all-American food,” he says. “I’ve been cooking my entire life – but barbecuing as a chef is a lifestyle choice.”
Miller told me that the most popular order is the Texan BBQ Brisket. Time is an essential element in making true barbecue, and Miller slow-cooks his brisket for 14 hours. The result is a melt-in-your-mouth experience. Miller typically serves his barbecue with a combination of his sweet and savory and vinegar sauces – the foundation of the two most popular barbecue styles. I definitely recommend getting a little bit of both, but feel free to request just one.
Like the brisket, the North Carolina Pulled Pork topped with slaw and dill pickle did not disappoint. The slaw and pickle added a nice crisp crunch to the sandwich. However, a surprise favorite was the buttermilk-fried chicken. Miller adds a little chili powder. The whole batch was crispy.
The Millers BBQ also offers an assortment of side items. The baked beans could be a meal of their own, as they’re slow cooked with smoked pork shoulder. I also really enjoyed the pickled vegetables, which will change with the season, and fresh corn and tomato salad – to me, the lighter fare was the perfect complement to the heartier main courses.
And on that note, The Millers BBQ serves quite a few cleaner and neater dishes, including rotisserie Long Island duck and chicken. The organic chickens are stuffed with lemon, thyme and rosemary. Kids and Hamptonites looking to add some veggies to their barbecue experience will enjoy the made-to-order quesadillas. I took home one with pulled duck, caramelized onions, grilled tomatoes and goat cheese, and quite enjoyed it for lunch the next day.
Insiders tip: The key to enjoying Southern fare is napkins, napkins, napkins! I plan on stocking my car with a bunch, picking up a pulled pork sandwich and some hushpuppies, and heading out to Montauk to enjoy my bounty on the beach.
The Millers BBQ, 283 Pantigo Road, East Hampton. 631-329-1000, http://themillersbbq.net.