Longhorns Saloon and Barbeque is one of many restaurants and bars that line Park Avenue, just off Merrick Road in Rockville Centre. The joint is more of a long bar with tables than a restaurant with a bar. Although fairly new, Longhorns has a lived-in look and is a comfortable spot to watch sports on the projection TV. The giant front window that resembles a garage door made of glass is removable during the warmer months, offering an open air bistro feel. There's also seasonal outdoor seating in a private patio at the rear of the restaurant.
Longhorns occupies the same space previously held by B-B-Q Inc. Whether it is a new restaurant entirely under new ownsership or merely a PR facelift for B-B-Q Inc. is not clear, but my gut feeling tells me it's the latter.
The appetizer-heavy menu started out as identical to B-B-Q Inc's, leaning toward bar food options, including a Texas link (grilled Andouille sausage), burnt ends, hot wings (not smoked), corn bread with jalapeño marmalade, onion rings, chili, potato skins, nachos, "28 spice" fries and sweet potato fries.
For barbecue there are two types of ribs (babybacks and St Louis cut), brisket, pulled pork, barbecued chicken and pulled chicken. The Rib Sampler platter includes a half rack of both rib types; the Pig Out sampler includes a half rack of babybacks, a Texas link and a choice of one other barbecue meat. The chicken, pork and brisket are also available as sandwiches and all on the same sandwich in "The Bubba." You can also get mac and cheese on a brisket sandwich and on a burger, which is also available with chili or with bacon, cheese and"frizzled" onions.
I visited Longhorns on a Sunday afternoon, joined by two Long Island barbecue competition cooks, including one who previously owned and operated a barbecue restaurant.
We started with the burnt ends sliders and 20 chicken wings, taking full advantage of a 25-cent wing special with a 20-wing minimum.
The burnt ends sliders arrived with a little bit of sauce on top of each of the three soft, fresh mini rolls. Inside were well-sauced seared bits of chopped brisket, with scallion rings offering a nice complement. The meat had a strong beef flavor but no evidence of smoke, and the texture was very pot roasty, with edges nicely browned but well short of crisp.
Wings weren't billed as smoked, but we were all wing fans so we took the plunge anyway. The basket featured some of the most mammoth wings I've encountered. These were ever so lightly battered, sort of in the style of General Tso but with maybe one-third the batter, to give them a unique texture. If you're a purist you might not like that, but I welcomed the interesting approach. I would have liked them a little warmer and I would have liked the chipotle sauce to taste more like chipotle, but the sauce did present some good flavor that deftly mixed heat with sweet.
We surveyed the mainstream barbecue meats via the Pig Out platter ($19.95 with cole slaw and the 28 spice fries originally offered at B-B-Q Inc.) plus a pulled pork sandwich ($9.95 with cole slaw and more fries).
The ribs on the Pig Out platter were good sized St louis cut spares (we were allowed to trade for these since babybacks and St Louis ribs are priced identically). There was a nice basted-in crust, some very moist meat with much excess fat that hadn't quite rendered. The pale meat didn't present any discernable rub or smoke flavor, but the ribs were enjoyable from a texture standpoint.
Rather than slices, the brisket assumed a large pile of chopped chunks of fork tender beef. Sauce was a little heavy here, with the unsauced meat far beneath it still moist on its own merit but even more pot roasty than the burnt ends. Aside from the beefiness and the contribution from the sauce, there wasn't much flavor here, again with no detectable rub or smoke in the profile.
The Andouille sausage supplied the most intense flavor, combining some tingling heat with an overwhelming grill taste (too much char). Moisture was compromised somewhat by the fact that it was split lengthwise before cooking, but this was still the highlight of the meal.
The pulled pork sandwich was quite abundant in an avalanche of meat that spilled out onto the plate in large chunks. The meat itself was pale, with no pink coloring and no bark. If we weren't told that this was pork, we'd suspect it was chicken or turkey. On the plus side, it was extremey moist. I could talk about the rub and smoke levels, but you can probably guess by now.
Table sauces were an upgrade from what I remembered at B-B-Q Inc. Although a little ketchupy, there was some complexity this time, with faint hints of heat.
The cole slaw had the same style and flavor as storebought. The "28 Spice Fries" had some seasoning that kicked them up a little, though compared to the spiced fries a little further west at Smoke Joint in Brooklyn, these tasted like they were at least 20 spices short.
Service was extremely friendly and helpful. Portions were outrageously generous. One of my dining companions ventured into the kitchen and did a little research, learning that there is no smoker but rather a Garland convection oven.
The bottom line: Just as with its predecessor B-B-Q Inc., this certainly isn't destination barbecue, and if I lived in the area I probably still wouldn't drop in for it. But the overall experience and the vibe of the place, especially as a sports bar, make it a joint I might visit for a drink or a (non-BBQ) snack.