Where there’s smoke, there’s…jackfruit?
The phrase will catch on, just give it time. Evolution, as a concept, moves slowly, its changes typically not apparent while occurring. But stand on the corner of 1st Street and Front in Greenport, and you can not only see change in progress, you can actually smell it. And taste it. At Green Hill Kitchen & Que under the watchful gaze of chef Matty Boudreau, there is indeed an evolution taking place. This is not revolution, but evolution, and evolution takes time.
So does real authentic barbecue. The smoker going round the clock is working Boudreau’s magic on the ribs, pork, seafood and beef that are headlining the new menu, and the creative juices are flowing no less often as Boudreau and Green Hill Hospitality Group owners Christoph and Robin Mueller continue to work the idea of creating a place that is both destination dining and everyday local at once, quality and comfort and a cool, easy vibe every day of the year.
“It’s a missing component to an area where people like to come and be comfortable,” Boudreau says, seated in a cozy booth while the late January sky over Greenport Harbor melts into a red-orange splash that will shortly give way to sunset. “That’s why we have so many second-home owners, people relocating here—because it’s such a comfortable place. You have the water right here. A beautiful view—it’s an idyllic, picturesque place to live. There should be a place here where you can just come in and enjoy yourself, and it’s priced right with great food. We wanted to create a feeling that when you walk in the door, you feel like you belong. There’s nothing worse than walking into a restaurant and feeling out of place.
“I’ve done the really high end, and I love it all,” he continues. “But the idea that good food has to be expensive is a farce. Some of the best things you’re ever going to eat are going to be somebody’s grandmother’s recipe, where she slaved over a stove for 12 hours and you eat porridge. Look at Bolognese—that was originally peasant food. Look at our brisket.”
Yes, let’s look at that brisket. Although you won’t be able to merely look for very long before that fall-apart tender beef is on the fork and headed toward its final destination. If you want to say Boudreau has a signature dish, here is it.
“The smoked brisket story that I’ve been able to put together, the roots of it, is a lot of Germans had emigrated to Texas, and they were butchers, so what they did was they took the off-cuts and ground it to make sausages, and they took this cut—which is actually the pectoral muscle of the cow—and made brisket.”
Picture an artist describing how the vision for a particular work came to be, or a scientist explaining the inner workings of some discovery. There’s something beatific about the light around Boudreau when he starts talking about smoking and barbecue, and the mix of art and science, and passion and dry rub it takes to render it worthy of adoration. “This muscle is quite fatty, but it’s also quite tough—there’s a lot going on in there. And when you would use the method of smoking, which is low heat, they would basically keep it locked in for as long as they needed to make that meat ingestible.”
He laughs at his own word choice, a nod toward how far the practice of smoking has come. “Now, we’ve gone for the edible deliciousness here, but that’s how smoking came along, where brisket came from—it was poor man’s food. It’s quite fancy now, it’s not peasant food anymore, but it’s meant to be comfort food for everybody.”
Key in on that word: everybody.
“The menu is designed to have things everyone recognizes as comfort food. It is barbecue-centric, but the owners here are Swiss-German, so we have hints of some of that comfort food from the Alps”—think wiener schnitzel and spätzle mac and cheese—“and with my history growing up in New England, we have the hot buttered lobster roll.” They share billing with the tasty likes of a wedge salad and fried local calamari, hot and sweet wings and a house blend burger, burnt end chili and a grilled skirt steak. “You don’t have to use Google to try to figure out the menu.”
You would, however, be forgiven at this moment for admitting that you’ve been trying to figure out that jackfruit thing. We have, after all, been chatting with a man who only moments ago referenced the book The Manifesto of Meat with almost spiritual reverence.
“We wanted to make sure that barbecue is not just for the carnivores,” he says. “There are a lot more plant-based diets, a lot more vegans, and just people who simple want to be able to eat that way, even if it’s not all the time. Jackfruit—this is the fibrous cut of the core of that tree, not the fruit—is almost like a heart of palm. It has a tanginess to it. It looks like chunks of pork. We smoke it just like we do everything else here, we have a dry rub just for that, and we said, Let’s treat it just like we do our pulled pork.
“So we took our meat claws and ripped it apart, put on our Harbor Sauce—that’s my own hot sauce, tomato-based—and we treated it like a Carolina-style barbecue. Once we had a tasty protein that’s also high in fiber, we also wanted to make it all vegan, so we went with a different slaw, a jalapeño-radish-cabbage slaw that we do with a vinegar base, and that goes on a grilled bun. Simple, easy, it’s spicy and tangy and it’s filling. Sometimes I’ll eat a dish that’s vegetarian or vegan, and when I’m done it’s like, Okay, what’s for dinner? We didn’t want that here.”
Although Green Hill Kitchen & Que is the focus at this moment, the group’s trilogy of Greenport restaurants are collectively undergoing changes, all offering an experience with and understanding of the diverse dining crowd and seasonal shifts that are the East End. “There are different crowds, different things that people expect at different times of year, and you always want to address that and be able to change while also being consistent,” says Boudreau, fondly recalling have learned this from his days at such locales as Vine Street Café and his own venture Locavore on Shelter Island, Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor and most recently at Riverhead’s Preston House & Hotel, where he was Executive Chef for the restaurant’s first two years.
A new menu is in the works at Anker as well as for Industry Standard, which will be “more Mediterranean,” Boudreau notes, “but we’re still going to have a burger that kicks ass. Being a tavern will still be a big part of it, with a great happy hour where you can get a burger and fries and a draft beer for eight bucks—again, it’s all about being part of the community, offering quality and a price point where people will come often and have a good time.” The concept of a good time at Green Hill Kitchen & Que goes beyond the menu to the overall feel when you walk in the door, the bright room and welcoming bar, the old guitars adorning the walls all around. In a few hours, the upstairs space will come alive in another aspect of its new identity, one that the North Fork has long sought.
“Every single night we’re open, there’s a form of live music upstairs,” Boudreau says. “Even on a cold winter night in the middle of the week, when you could lie down in the street and not get run over, whoever is here can come in, have a really good meal and drinks at a good price, and have a good time. For our open mic, we’ve had people from the North Fork, the Hamptons, even Nassau County come here. We’ve had 14-year-olds go up there and play, and people in their late ’70s. It’s for musicians and people who love music. On the East End of Long Island, we’re always looking for something to do. We are dedicated to making sure there’s always something to do.”
In addition to the music, Green Hill Kitchen & Que will host a comedy night once a month starting in May, “and we’re working on some other fun ideas,” he promises. But it will all come back to Boudreau’s barbecue passion and the opportunity to expose people to its depth and character…not to mention, characters.
As a member of the Salty Rinse BBQ team, Boudreau leaves the East End each spring to compete in the famous Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, an experience that has allowed him to meet and build friendships with genuine masters of the craft. To that end, the Green Hill Kitchen & Que Pit Masters series will kick off the last weekend in March with two days of food and festivities—including an event dubbed Hog-a-Palooza—and there are plans for about six such installments throughout the year where Boudreau will invite chefs he has met and competed with from all around the country. Speaking of competition, he is fired up for another appearance in July at the annual Dan’s GrillHampton, where he has taken home a trophy each of the past three years and is already planning the path he hopes will lead to a four-peat.
“Barbecue is a labor of love. Barbecue is something you do only when you’re patient. You’re dealing with one of the natural elements—air, earth, water, fire—something you have to be patient with, you’re dealing with a more complex cut that you have to understand. The only way you can do it is through patience and a real affection for it. And I love what we are producing here, and how it will continue to evolve.”
Greenhill Kitchen & Que is located at 48 Front Street in Greenport. Call 631-477-4900 and visit greenhillny.com.