Do not allow the surge of interest in the Honest Man Group’s most recent restaurant, Coche Comedor, distract you from one fundamental truth: Townline BBQ serves delicious, approachable barbecue all year long.
If you’re wondering how the men and women behind one of the Hamptons’ most essential restaurant groups streamlines their approach to food, partner Christy Cober recently described it to me in layman’s terms. The group, she said, aims to get to the heart of the culinary matter, asking themselves to distill whatever cuisine they’re producing into its component parts. “What really is barbecue?” she said, posing a question the group has, no doubt, asked itself on more than one occasion.
So what, according to Townline BBQ, is barbecue, really? I would argue that the richly conceived foods of this restaurant point to a series of blended culinary traditions. Even its carefully-crafted mission statement, publicly available on its website, points to a certain ideology. We can agree on some things even while we disagree over others. Barbecue should be smoked (check), dry-rubbed (double-check), and cooked low and slow to its desired level of doneness. Sauces must be homemade for true authenticity. It’s likely that no one will ever agree on which sides appropriately amplify the meat portion of barbecue, or on which style of sauce best complements a pork rib, but it’s likely that everyone can get behind a 70-whiskey selection.
Whether your preference for barbecue originated in Memphis, Kansas City, St. Louis, or Texas hill country, it’s likely that you have one — and allegiances are strong when it comes to the types of food that we have allowed ourselves to fall in love with. The nice thing about making barbecue outside of any one place dedicated to the stuff is that there is still great creative latitude. In the northeast, removed from tradition, we can create restaurants that highlight the best of everything.
For Townline, that means St. Louis-style ribs (a sparerib cut with no breastbone) next to South Carolinian hush puppies next to California chili. The result? A menu that feels both cohesive and expansive, that neatly incorporates competing regional foods and urges them to agree with one another.
In one broad sense, Townline BBQ feels completely at home in the Honest Man oeuvre: It appeals to a year-round crowd, and is a restaurant dedicated to providing thoughtful and, yes, honest food to the local population. Certainly, that trend of catering to those of us who wake up east of the Canal 365 days a year has grown with time — and with the persuasion of a larger full-time crowd. Still, Honest Man made a go of it decades ago with Nick & Toni’s, and the standard they set remains. Locals are important to a flourishing economy, each one of their restaurants states emphatically. You are valued. We value you here.
That value feels true enough on any given evening when the happy hour specials are in effect, or when the live music (5 to 7 PM on Fridays) is playing. And while the question posed by Christy Cober may flicker inside of us eternally (I can no more define barbecue than I can the color blue), Townline makes a compelling argument for this version of the stuff, a hybridization of style that just really tastes good.
In a world where the approach to eating often verges on the cerebral, it’s refreshing to eat somewhere that simply is what it is. Driving past the reclaimed wood house in Sagaponack, where the billowing clouds from the wood smoker out back casts an enticing aroma, you’re more likely to stop than you are to keep driving. And that’s exactly the point.