Larry “Meat” Mondello, proprietor of the Meats Meat food truck and a brand new, brick-and-mortar shop in Mattituck, is by all accounts having a banner year, two years, really. Through hard work, a bit of good luck and a wealth of talent, the 41-year-old Mattituck resident took his business full-time, expanded his food truck operation and put plans in motion to open his own shop, Meats Meat BBQ — all while the COVID pandemic was laying waste to many less fortunate businesses.
The timing was, of course, no coincidence, as the pandemic proved to be a boon for food trucks, which were allowed to operate while sit-down restaurants were forced to close. But Mondello has earned his good fortune in spades, and the Meats Meat BBQ shop is already a hit, and that has nothing to do with a virus, shutdowns or anything else but quality food and a great reputation gained through serving hungry guests at festivals, private gatherings, breweries and other regional events since 2016.
Located in the former home of North Fork Doughnut Co. at 13175 Main Road in Mattituck, Meats Meat BBQ looks exactly how fans of the food truck might imagine. The 1,800-square-foot counter service-only shop, which offers some seating, has Mondello’s signature black and white (with a hint of red) graphics over brick walls, a brushed metal counter set atop a stacked firewood motif and, of course, Meat himself — the stocky, bushy-bearded and tattoo-sleeved pitmaster dressed in black, with rubber gloves, sunglasses and baseball cap to match — the dude whose face is on those wall graphics and all the merch.
His nickname and his appearance could be intimidating to some, but Mondello is an easygoing guy who’s clearly proud of what he’s accomplished, and happy to talk about his thriving business.
“The last few days have been crazy,” he says shortly after opening last week, sharing his amazement over the incredible response. “By-the-pound has been our biggest seller. I was very surprised, usually I run the food truck with sandwiches and mac and cheese, but it totally flipped. We’re selling brisket like crazy by the pound,” he continues, explaining that the shop was born out of a need for a bigger kitchen to supply his trucks as the business flourished, but it’s already outperforming his expectations.
“We were kind of running out of room. Where do we keep all this food when we serve 2,000 people, you know?” Mondello asked at the time. “It was like, do we just rent kitchen space from somebody or, f— it, do we get a place?”
He had three real estate agents combing the North Fork for a space, and things weren’t looking promising at first. “There was nothing out there relatively close that they didn’t want $100,000-plus for key money,” he recalls. “I don’t want to buy anyone else’s business. Luckily, North Fork Doughnut had moved to Love Lane, so this spot opened up. It was the first available space, so we jumped on it right away, and here we are.”
Mondello’s road to Meats Meat BBQ was circuitous, but all his talents and interests seemed to intersect with this food venture. A carpenter and fabricator who spent nearly two decades working on hotrods and slaughterhouses (not to mention the United Nations in NYC), his interest in barbecue and cooking began as a hobby. He put his skills to work, building a pig roaster and then his first smoker, slowly mastering both and creating his own recipes over years of experimentation.
“You start building stuff and seeing what works, and every (smoker) you make after that gets better and better and better,” Mondello says, describing barbecue as a science of sorts. “There are formulas out there to figure out your intake and your exhaust … you have to get it all correct. It’s a little trial and error, a little reading, a little talking to the pitmasters and trying to figure out what works the best for them,” he continues. “There’s a whole science behind the cooking and the wood: What kind of wood do you use? What temperature? How long has the wood been cut down for? Is it wet? Is it dry? It all matters.”
He also points to his great team as part of the recipe for success. Among those who help make Meats Meat what it is, Mondello says his younger brother Mike has been there from the start. “He’s a big, big asset and part of the company,” he adds, describing his brother’s essential role on weekends and throughout the summer, when he’s not working as a teacher.
Meats Meat is known for lots of tasty eats, such as pulled pork and pulled chicken sandwiches, smoked brisket, ribs, sausage, wings, sliders, hot dogs, pork belly and some killer sides, like bacon and jalapeño mac and cheese, brisket baked beans, hush puppies, cornbread and more. As part of his methods to create just the right flavor, Mondello will only use his homemade smokers and fill them with locally sourced cherry and hickory wood, as well as locally grown produce, such as onions and peppers, whenever possible.
“Cherry is a really sweet, light smoke, and hickory is still sweet, but it’s a little stronger in flavor so it picks up these other notes which are good for beef,” he says, pointing out that the shop also sells desserts, including chocolate chip cookies, banana cream pie, whoopie pies and other goodies from The Treatery, a Setauket-based sweets food truck that Mondello built for its owner Christina Padrazo.
If all this wasn’t enough, Meats Meat has also produced barbecue sauce, dry rub and hot sauce for retail, the latter using Asian peri-peri hot peppers, which are currently being grown specially for Mondello by Larry Kaiser at 1760 Homestead Farm in Riverhead. “We dry them out and we’ll make all those hot sauces for the year,” he says, noting the peppers are about 3/4-inch long and pack a punch of flavor and heat at 175,000 Scovilles. One pepper goes in each bottle of sauce.
Meats Meat BBQ is well on the way to cementing its place among the North Fork’s most beloved food purveyors, and each new venture improves upon the last. Mondello is working with an app creator to set up GrubHub-like orders at better prices, he’s building a new permanent smoker for his shop, and he hopes to one day open a sit-down restaurant.
And for anyone who wants to know, he got the “Meat” nickname well before he started in the barbecue biz, but that’s a story you’ll have to ask him.
Learn more at meatsmeat.com