Joe's Garage and Grill review

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Joe's Garage and Grill, a car-themed dining destination

40 Peconic Ave. Riverhead, NY 11901

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Joe's Garage and Grill description Car-themed restaurant and bar serving barbecue food. ... More »

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At Joe's Garage and Grill in Riverhead, salads are called "eco-fuel" and entrees "the main drag." A mini racetrack runs above the bar, a rising car-lift serves as a stage, and overhead garage doors open onto a patio. It all adds up to one reverberating automotive-themed scene. But a culinary destination?

Shockingly, yes -- thanks to chef Brian Burner, who cooks from scratch and slow-smokes on premises.

It all starts with a basket of irresistible jalapeƱo-Cheddar biscuits and cornbread. Go easy so you can fully appreciate the appetizers. Grilled shrimp are three big head-on prawns, subtly smoky, plated over plush apple-wood bacon grits with coffee-fueled red-eye gravy. Tokyo Drift sliders are actually steamed Asian buns enfolding rich, smoked pork belly that plays well against the piquancy of kimchee and cucumber salsa. Expertly fried Blue Point oysters are put back into their shells, cushioned by jicama slaw. A simple but delectable special of heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella and pesto tops a chiffonade of romaine.

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From the wood smoker come meaty and tender dry-rubbed St. Louis ribs -- serious 'cue, for sure. In the same class are tender slices of brisket rimmed with sea salt and cracked black pepper. A pulled pork sandwich on Pullman-style wheat bread doesn't even need the accompanying barbecue sauces. Still they're excellent, especially the mustard-based South Carolina-style variety.

On the side: house-made pickles, slaw, watermelon, deeply smoky beans and excellent fries -- potato slices baked then deep-fried, bronze and redolent of campfire.

The same fries are paired with a first-rate burger, done precisely to spec. You may or may not like the sweet bun on which it's served. A grilled chicken breast comes out moist, plated with a fierce salsa verde. A shame the accompanying vegetable tamale has a filling resembling mortar. Making up for that gaffe is a homey smoked turkey potpie topped with a biscuit crust.

Finish with a s'mores chocolate mousse layered with house-made marshmallow cream, layered and topped with graham crackers. Better still, Burner's flaky-crusted wild berry pie with black cherry-vanilla ice cream.

Lunch or dinner, a no-reservations policy for small parties probably means a wait. Plan accordingly -- and start your engines.

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