In the South, you often find the best barbecue in places deemed “unexpected” by Northerners. Gas stations come to mind. In annexes of bait-and-tackle shops. Astride shacks selling odds and ends.
In Leonardo, a section of Middletown in the Bayshore of New Jersey, you can now find barbecue on Route 36 in a summery slip of a structure that also serves as headquarters for a miniature golf course.
TST BBQ is its name, and it’s owned and operated by Charles Mule (pronounced moo-LAY). TST BBQ opened June 14, taking over a spot once home to a pizza joint, Mule says.
“When I bought this place, I bought the pizza boxes, too,” Mule says. “So when we send out barbecue delivery, we send it out in pizza boxes.”
There is picnic table seating under a covered portico, long counter-top seating inside and a casual attitude everywhere. When I asked Mule what kind of barbecue he served, meaning Carolina-style or Kansas City-style or Tennessee-style or whatever, he replied: “It’s Texas-style barbecue with a New Jersey attitude—and that means a ‘me’ attitude.”
TST—which stands for Top Shelf Tailgate, a business owned by Mule—headlines platters and sandwiches of Texas-style brisket, smoked BBQ pulled pork, TST wings with dry rub or sauce and St. Louis-style ribs. There also are burgers (check out the BBQ Burger, topped with candied bacon and pulled pork); TST originals such as bacon-wrapped onion rings and pizza topped with brisket and crumbled bacon; and sides aplenty, including “gooey mac-and-cheese,” fire-and-ice pickles, and sweet potato mash topped with toasted pecans.
I’m thinking we just might get some Southerners up here who say, “Finally, you Northerners get barbecue right.”
TST BBQ, 910 Route 36, Leonardo section of Middletown (it’s en route to Sandy Hook). Summer hours: Tuesday from 4 to 9 pm, Wednesday through Saturday from 11 am to 9 pm, Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm, and closed Mondays. 732-335-8877. topshelftailgate.com.
Free Range, 701 Boulevard, Seaside Heights, is the new restaurant of beloved Ocean County restaurateur Rick Lee. Lee has piloted Xina, a multi-faced Asian restaurant in Toms River, for years. Free Range is a farm-to-table restaurant serving breakfast and lunch daily from 7 am to 3 pm. It seats 80. 732-250-8788; freerange.net.
26 West on the Navesink, 26 West Front Street, Red Bank, has opened in the space once home to 10th Avenue Burrito. 26 West is owned by Vince Gifford and Gregory Milano; the executive chef is Meg LaManna. The menu features what LaManna likes to call “coastal cuisine.” There’s also a rum-and-tiki-inspired bar, views of the Navesink River and, not incidentally, yacht club-themed decor. Dinner, Monday through Friday; brunch and dinner, weekends. 732-383-5664; 26westonthenavesink.com.
In the works:
Red White & Que Smokehouse, an offshoot of the already-in-operation barbecue eateries in Little Ferry, Scotch Plains, Randolph and Kearny, will open in the space formerly occupied by Shore Fire Grill at 34 Main Street in Barnegat. (The owners say they hope to open Fourth of July weekend.) And, soon after, RW&Q will open in the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township and Little Egg Harbor. The expanding chain is owned by Katie and Dan Misuraca. 609-994-2650; redwhiteandquesmokehouse.com.
It’s as yet unnamed, but the folks from Talula’s in Asbury Park, Shanti and Steve Mignona, are opening a second restaurant at the site of the now-shuttered Fish Urban Dining space at 601 Mattison Avenue in Asbury. Low-county cookery from Georgia and South Carolina will be the focus.
Please e-mail news of restaurant openings to Andrea Clurfeld at [email protected].Click here to leave a comment