This south shore eatery on Merrick Road is an offshoot of the Mara's in Syosset that relocated from Manhattan. It's a small building with a single room surrounded by windows while its small tables surround a small bar. The yellow and purple color scheme and Mardi Gras decor hint that their menu goes beyond barbecue. There's a convenient parking lot on the west side of the building.
The menu runs even deeper than the "Burgers - BBQ - Fried Chicken" announced via the building signage, but let's start with the Arkansas barbecue first. Babybacks and St Louis cut ribs are available as quarter racks, half racks, three-quarter racks, full racks, mixed racks (half of each), on a chicken and ribs combo and on a semi-flexible chicken and ribs combo with one other meat. Beef ribs are sold as trios and as a 1-rib inclusion on Stephen's Ultimate Combo" that also includes St Louis and babyback ribs, pulled pork, sliced brisket and smoked sausage. Brisket and pulled pork can be paired as a combo. So while there aren't the classic "pick any two (or three)" meat combos, Mara's Too comes pretty close—and was willing to swap in pork for chicken on my first visit. The boneless meats can also be had in sandwiches (brisket is chopped).
Appetizers include cornmeal dusted Cajun wings (not smoked), fried green tomatoes, crawfish-stuffed bread, fried alligator bites, fried pickles, Texas chili, two gumbos and three salads with or without meat.
Mara's grinds their own beef brisket burgers and turkey burgers, topped with a variety of regional offerings. Char grilled hot dogs are another option.
Other sandwiches include po' boys (catfish, oyster, crawfish, shrimp, gator sausage), grilled cheese and lobster rolls.
Non-barbecue platters feature fried chicken and a macaroni and cheese entree in two sizes and with the option of mixing in crawfish or smoked sausage.
I visited Mara’s Too for a Friday lunch, joined by my carnivorous cousin. I had not been to either of the Mara's locations previously.
Although there are numerous choices, we focused on the entrees to get a handle on the barbecue meats.
The way to go here is the 3-meat platter ($21.95), served on a paper-lined metal tray with all of the meats and sides arranged in separate areas, making for a very attractive presentation.
Ribs: Convinced by media photos that the pork spare ribs would be so good that we wouldn't want to limit them to a trio shared by the two of us, we decided to order two 3-meat combos, assuring a trio of ribs on each plate. Whether it's a lunch thing or a media-photos-aren't-reality thing (I suspect both), this turned out to be a strategic error. Color and crust were both lacking, though it was obvious that the latter existed at one point only to have dissolved in the cold of the refrigerator. The abundant, once-crisp rub became more of a paste; it would take a more skillful reheat to bring it all the way back. The feel was soft and meatloafy throughout, with borderline moisture but nary a trickle of pork nectar. Flavor had faded. I still believe the ribs here can be good—maybe at night. That they were smoked was never in doubt, but all things considered, these ribs were below average.
Pulled pork: Tried on one of the 3-meat combos, this meat was snow white, looking more like turkey than pork. I've often described pulled pork at various barbecue joints as having a turkey thigh consistency, but this was turkey breast all the way: dry. Really dry. Unfortunately, flavor didn't do much to compensate. Bark was minimal, smoke was light at best and rub was light to nonexistent. A failure all around.
Brisket: The meat known throughout barbecue as the one most difficult to cook and hold was the meat with the best appearance (crust, smoke ring), the best tenderness (neither firm nor mushy) and the most moisture (slight juiciness). Flavor (smoke, rub, beefiness) didn't get too crazy but exhibited more oomph than all others except the sausage. Based on the other meats, the brisket should have been pot roasty, but it wasn't. I'd dare say this brisket was above average, even if there wasn't really anything noteworthy about it.
Sausage: There are two choices here; we went with the Andouille. Serving them as slices rather than a whole link generally sacrifices some of the juiciness, but this exceeded expectation and sacrificed all of it. Texture had a meatloafy feel. Flavor mitigated some of the damage with a little heat and spices beyond the heat, but this heat came in a halfhearted reheat. Most of the slices sat uneaten.
Chicken: Bearing a flavorful but uncrisped skin, the chicken succeeded on moisture even if a little steamy. Flavor deeper down wasn’t as compelling but still a big improvement over the blank and untouched canvas that was the pork. With a short smoke time, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to deliver fresh smoked chicken at lunch—but I don’t necessarily expect it. What I do expect is a reheat that exerts a little more effort than this.
The two table sauces—a tomato based sweet sauce and a dissimilar one with more heat—both got a good test drive. Both were reasonably thick and both exhibited very complex and pleasant flavor.
Fries: The reheats may not have ended with the meats. You often hear claims that unsatisfactory food “tasted like cardboard”—these fries didn’t taste like cardboard but they sure did feel like it. The same vacant texture and flavor you get with air popped popcorn was evident here, with the added bonus of feeling a little old. Ketchup became a requirement.
Levi beans: Named after the owners, this concoction provided smoked beans kicked up with a little bacon. Not all that different from commercial baked beans and not much bacon.
Cole slaw: A mayo-free mix brought slightly crunchy diced cabbage and other vegetables in an oil and vinegar dressing. I found this rendition both inventive and good.
Collard greens: A simple approach got the leaves cooked right and moistened them with some broth that stayed out of the way flavorwise. That assignment went to the slices of Andouille that were as arrid as the ones included in one of the 3-meat combos.
Cornbread: Probably the highlight of the meal, this cast iron cooked wedge scored points for freshness, moistness and flavor, with jalapeño adding to an already good cakey-but-not-too-cakey recipe.
The Bottom Line
Some might be quick to jump to conclusions, but I allow for any of the following possibilities, at least one of which must be true:
A. Mara's Too isn't very good at lunch.
B. Mara's Too isn't very good, period.
C. I caught Mara's Too on an off day.
D. Mara's Too is better at Cajun fare than barbecue.
Based on previous intel from sources I mostly trust, I’m inclined to say a combination of A and C, but the next visit (yes, there’ll be one, if probably not soon) will be pivotal. For now, the item-by-item rundown tells the unfortunate story.
Yelp reviews of Mara's Too
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