Willie B’s BBQ is a counter-service-only takeout joint on Fifth Avenue, in the first strip mall south of Sunrise Highway. It’s named after Will Breakstone, whose "I Like Smoke and Lightning" team was grand champion of Long Island’s 2003 Grill Kings barbecue competition and a high finisher in subsequent contests. The place is sparse; décor consists of barbecue competition awards and banners and a few (non-beer) neon signs. There is no seating and they don’t serve alcohol.
The menu is pretty impressive for a place this small. The house specialty is babyback ribs, but they also have St Louis ribs and beef ribs on weekends. Brisket is available sliced or chopped. Chicken comes grilled or pulled. Sandwiches include the usual brisket and pulled pork, plus sliced steak, po’ boys and burgers. A good selection of appetizers includes chili, mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, grilled wings and burnt ends of brisket. Combos are a little limited (mostly ribs and chicken), but the staff is pretty good about substitutions.
Two days before Christmas, the temperature on Long Island was a balmy 64, perfect for a 2-course tailgate lunch. I started with the burnt ends, which had a variety of textures: crispy here, chewy there, tender over there. These were served sauced, adding some moistness and another flavor dimension without dwarfing the meat. I really liked the sauce but wish there were just a little bit less of it. Overall, though, these were very good burnt ends, easily among the top handful of burnt ends I’ve tried at restaurants in the Northeast.
After almost single-handedly polishing off the order of burnt ends, I moved on to the main course, sampling a few different meats. Babyback ribs were just removed from the smoker when I arrived, so I had to try those. They were plump, meaty, very juicy and loaded with flavor. The babybacks were sauced, then drizzled with a handful of dry rub for extra oomph. Biting into one of these ribs produced a rapid-fire series of texture and flavor sensations: the crispness of the crust, the sweetness of the glaze, the grit of the finishing rub, the “give” of the meat, the burst of juices, the gentle smoky flavor of the meat and then the light heat from the rub. As I’ve said before, I’m not a babybacks guy, but these were absolutely delicious.
I tried two kinds of brisket: sliced and chopped. The slices were fairly tender and also fairly dry. The flavor was OK, but it was somewhat of a letdown after the burnt ends and the babybacks. The chopped brisket is closer to what many joints call burnt ends. Usually, chopped brisket is a sneaky way to take yesterday’s leftover dried out brisket and make it more palatable by chopping it up and adding sauce. At Willie B’s, the chopped brisket consists of large cubes cut from the fattier (juicier, tastier) section of the brisket. These pieces were very moist and had a very good flavor, with noticeable smoke.
Then there was Willie B’s giant beef rib, available for now on weekends only. Easily a foot long, this had about a pound of meat on it. The outer crust was nice and crisp, flavored by multiple bastings of sauce. Inside, the meat was pink and tender. This was probably among the better beef ribs I’ve had, too.
Willie B’s barbecue sauces come in two varieties: sweet and hot, where the hot is a mix of his sweet sauce and his wing sauce. Both are fairly tomatoey, with a ketchup base. Used as dipping sauces, I thought they were decent. When basted into the meat, I thought they were fantastic. In addition to sauce, you can request one of a few different Willie B's dry rubs to be added to your meats—a nice option.
Sides were decent. I liked the uniquely Spartan cole slaw, which had finely chopped cabbage, some onion and almost no condiment. If you like yours wet, you might not like it, but give it a try. Collard greens were good, with coarse leaves and a hint of sweetness.
I'd like to go back and try Willie B's wings and pulled pork, as well as the ribs without sauce to see how they hold up. But I'm liking this place so far.
The bottom line: If you’re looking for top notch ribs and other smoked meats for takeout that’ll keep Long Island BBQ fans happy, you’d be hard pressed to find better.