Evan McDonough stands in front of three brand new smokers behind Maple Tree Barbecue. He opens one of them, and a cloud of smoke billows out revealing two hunks of pork, dark and glistening.
“You see this color?” McDonough says. “That’s the real deep smoke flavor. If you were to cut that, you would see the ring on the inside.”
The new smokers are just a few of the recent changes at Maple Tree Barbecue, which was bought last month by Riverhead husband-and-wife duo Dennis O’Leary and Andrea Glick. The couple closed the barbecue house in early February to renovate the building’s interior.
But the popular Main Street eatery is back. Two weeks ago Maple Tree reopened with new owners, a new facelift and a new expanded menu that puts an emphasis on quality.
“We want to do the best we can with the meat and the products,” said McDonough, the restaurant’s new executive chef. “That will be our motto moving forward.”
McDonough fires up the smokers every morning between 4:30 and 6 a.m. By the time the barbecue house opens for lunch, the meat has been slow cooking in the smoker for several hours. “We strongly believe in making sure the food is as fresh as it can be,” he said. “Everyone who comes in is eating stuff that was produced that morning.”
Meat will continue cooking in small batches throughout the day to feed the dinner crowd as well.
And that’s another big change: Maple Tree is now open for dinner.
“Barbecue isn’t just for lunch,” O’Leary said. “Especially on the weekends, people love having barbecue for dinner.”
The restaurant will be open until 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday and 6 p.m. on weeknights. It will have later hours during the summer.
“Towards the end of the day we get a lot of people on their way home from work grabbing a rack of ribs and a dozen wings for take-out,” McDonough said. “It’s a nice way to not think about dinner but still treat yourself.”
Maple Tree is also in the process of getting a liquor license to build a full bar inside the restaurant for the first time. They plan to offer products from local vineyard and breweries. “We want to keep it as local as we can and involve as many Riverhead and North Fork people with what we’re doing as possible,” McDonough said.
That also means McDonough will be crafting seasonal dishes with ingredients from local farms. “We’re going to be cycling in new things each month,” he said.
O’Leary and Glick bought the barbecue house from longtime owner Kevin Judge in early February. O’Leary, who recently left his job as a media executive in Manhattan, plans to combine his business savvy with the culinary background of his wife, who is a culinary professor at Suffolk County Community College and president of the American Culinary Federation of Eastern Long Island.
It was through the American Culinary Federation that Glick met McDonough, a Virginia native and experienced chef.
“This is the first time in my career that I’ve been able to combine my southern roots with my fine dining experience,” McDonough said. “I’ve always incorporated pulled pork and ribs and smoked meats into my other menus at my other restaurants, but this is the first time where I can just smoke meats all day long.”
Growing up in Richmond, barbecue was a weekend staple for McDonough. “I fell in love with it,” he said. “My dad used to make ribs on a regular basis, and it was a big ordeal because it was such a long process, so when you finally sit down to have those ribs, you’re just loving every bit of it.”
For O’Leary and Glick, Maple Tree fell into their hands at exactly the right time. “I was ready for something different after my job in New York,” O’Leary said. “When this opportunity came up, it was a no-brainer.”
Maple Tree is open from Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 8 p.m. and Sunday until 7 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Mondays. It is located at 820 West Main Street, Riverhead.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Maple Tree’s hours. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m., not 12 p.m.
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Katie Blasl
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