I’m ordering the “Baby Box” combo of brisket, pulled pork, ribs, plus a choice of a side at TST BBQ in Leonardo (a section of sprawling Middletown located on the Bayshore), when I ask the counterman what he thinks folks should order at this newcomer that adjoins a miniature golf course.
He considers, then turns the query over to a fellow out back, who decides an answer to my question is a job for someone higher up on the food chain.
Owner Charles Mule wastes no time telling me to “get the Nachos in a Box.” A pizza box, that is. “They just went up on the board today. First day we’ve had them. Brand new.”
Sold, I say, and I’m glad I took the main man’s advice. Long story short: TST was home to a pizza joint and, when Mule bought the place, he inherited a few tons of pizza boxes, which now parlay BBQ from pit to table for diners. The nacho box is crammed full of tortilla chips that are topped with gobs of juicy pulled pork, olives, jalapenos, fat squiggles of melted cheese and skinny squiggles of sour cream. Somebody’s playing with the squirt bottles.
It’s all for the cause of great taste, I must say, because these are truly fun and delicious Tex-Mex-y nachos. I eat a pizza-pie-slice’s worth, lick my chops like a drooling Bulldog, and call my friend Marie.
“You have three kids,” I shout into her voicemail. “And I still have to eat the brisket, ribs and pulled pork. I’m bringing you the rest of my pulled pork nachos.”
I have to tell you, if the pulled pork was down-right juice-dripping good, the brisket was Memphis-in-May worthy and the ribs Center Ring, Blue Ribbon Champs. Where did a guy who scribbles “At what age is it appropriate to tell your dog he is adopted,” and “If you aren’t supposed to eat at night, why is there a lightbulb in the fridge?’ on blackboards in his low-key dining room learn how to cook like a Southerner born to the barbecue circuit?
Mule, to be true, uses only natural wood and cooks the low-slow way in his custom pits. That all-natural smoke, combined with time, might as well be a recipe pulled from Mother Nature’s own cookbook.
I down a slice of smoky, succulent brisket that comes wrapped in butcher paper along with ribs that are the most tender—the most tender—I ever have eaten. My friend Amy bought a place in Texas Hill Country so she could have a local home for her routine ‘cue jaunts. Save the plane fare, I want to tell her. Leonardo is only a Parkway shuffle away.
These are serious meats here at TST. So are the sides. The candied Brussels sprouts, charred and crunchy, are the early favorite of TST’s acolytes. But the charter members of the TST Fan Club also rave, rightly so, about the bacon-wrapped onion rings (huge and smoky in multiple ways) as well as the sweet potato “mash” spliced with toasted pecans. Eat ’em while you sing “Georgia on My Mind.”
I’d also give a nod to the sweet-‘n’-heat marinated pickles (“marinated for a week,” the folks here say) and the coleslaw made of shredded red cabbage and carrots that come splashed, not drowned, with tangy-tart dressing.
TST also has sandwiches (“Gospel-rubbed Breaded Chicken”), burgers, wings and various sauces to tempt (a couple are made with cherry moonshine). You can also get T-shirts with snappy slogans, such as “I Like Pig Butts and I Cannot Lie.” Take that, all you “Life is Good” folks.
I’ll take a Pig Butt T-shirt with my standing order of ribs, brisket and pulled pork. Thank heaven TST is staying open for the off-season. This spot never, ever could be only my summer love.
TST BBQ, 910 Route 36 East, Leonardo section of Middletown. Open daily, except Mondays. 732-335-8877. tstbbq.com. (If you’re curious, TST stands for Top Shelf Tailgate, owner Mule’s parent company.)Click here to leave a comment