Port Royal Pub and Grille sits in downtown Islip right on the main drag and right on Main Street. There's a pirate theme that permeates both the decor and the menu naming. The long bar is the focalpoint of Port Royal's main entry; a small, quiet dining room awaits around the corner.
Barbecue is a small part of a something-for-everyone menu that's heavy on burgers and wings (more than 20 flavors), with seafood, salads, sandwiches and a host of eating challenges (Adam Richman filmed a segment here for Man vs Food) all part of the mix. The 'cue offerings (babybacks, pulled pork, brisket, sausage, chicken) are conveniently available in sandwiches and platters with one to four meats.
Two Long Island competition cooks and one certified barbecue judge joined me for a test drive of Port Royal's 'cue as part of a Long Island BBQ mini crawl.
Homemade Potato Chips: Served complimentary at the start of the meal, these looked a little hokey wrapped in foil but were very good. Although not hot, they tasted fresh, had a nice crispness and just enough greasiness to help the cause without ruining it. The heavy rub that clung to each chip had a gentle spice kick and just a hint of sweetness. A dipping sauce to go with it would have made this even better, but whattaya want for nuthin'?
Chili: Served in a big crock and topped with cheese partially melted in, 3 Alarm Texas BBQ Chili ($4.95) kept thing simple: nothing more than meat (mostly beef) and spices. I liked that there were no beans, no stewed tomatoes and no scallions to gussy it up. Just a simple straightforward chili. The meat had some brisket bits and some sausage bits, but was about 90% ground beef, with a little greasiness to it that I didn't have any problem with at all. The only problem, if you could call it that, was that the flavoring wasn't typical chili flavor. The broth had a thick tomatoey quality that combined with the ground beef to remind me more of spaghetti sauce than chili. There was a lingering chile pepper component too (possibly cayenne), but it was a sharper, less chili chile flavor than I expect in chili. I still enjoyed this, but think Port Royal's chili is better suited to pasta and fork than bowl and spoon.
Treading lightly, we shared a four-meat combo ($23.95 with two sides) among the four of us.
Brisket: This odd looking array of meat had crisp edges and touches of pink, but man, was it sliced thin. Deli thin, Steak-um thin, as if from a meat slicer. And possibly grilled. I didn't find it to be the total turn-off that some of my tablemates did, but it was easily far below average. The brisket tasted like deli meat too, just a grilled and sauced one to artificially elevate it above rock bottom bland.
Pulled pork: By far the best of the meats, this had some tender, slightly moist strings with little flavor to it. Bark was minimal; smoke was more minimal. The pork needed and benefitted from the sauce.
Sausage: It's hard to screw up sausage, but this one—though apparently smoked—was dried out on the exterior and a little slimy (and this time, greasy in an unpleasant way)
on the interior. One tablemate suspected that the problem had more to do with bad sausage selection than bad sausage cookery. I liked the flavor—a nice Italian type with some real body—and appreciated the juiciness, but I really didn't like the gummy, elastic-like texture overall. I'll say this much about the sausage: there were three full links on the four meat platter, so the portion was at least generous.
Ribs: With nearly a full rack on the four meat platter, this would again be a great value if not for their being some of the worst ribs I've ever tasted. Babybacks are typically small and not too meaty; these were smaller than any I've had (fewer larger ribs would be better). Babybacks when they're bad are typically overcooked and mushy; these were undercooked and stiff. Babybacks whose flavor I don't like are usually too bland, then oversweetened and oversauced to the point where the sauce speaks louder than the meat. If only this were the case with these ribs. There was something very foul about the flavor. Long after the others had given up after two bites, I soldiered on, trying to figure out what the deal was. I'm not sure. These tasted more like chicken than pork, and I'm talking bad chicken with a funky flavor that may have been the result of a storage problem.
Meats/entrees summary: The pulled pork was decent, and possibly above average for Long Island, especially considering Port Royal's mostly decent sauces. But the rest of the meats on the platter ranged from unimpressive (brisket) to inept (sausage) to inedible (ribs).
The four sauces available in squeeze bottles on the table were a mixed bag, with some hits and misses. The Original tasted like a simple mix of ketchup and mustard. Queen Anne's Revenge was probably the Original, plus a little heat. Although I'm not big on the sweet sauces, Ma Bailey's Secret Honey might have been my favorite, with a molassesy flavor, smooth mouthfeel and slight (probably artificial) smokiness. The golden Carolina Mustard had elements of heat and sweet that made me think it was Cattlemens mustard sauce, which I like.
Mac and cheese turned out to be fusili, lightly dressed with mild cheese. It had a nice texture but lacked flavor (I wished I held on to that chili to mix the two). Baked beans were well cooked and accented with spices instead of the usual "let's just dump our BBQ sauce over it" approach.
The Bottom Line
I've never thought much of Long Island BBQ joints as a whole, so the bar was set quite low for this visit. But instead of easily stepping over it, Port Royal stumbled over it. I didn't see any signs warranting a return visit.
Yelp reviews of Port Royal Pub & Grille in Islip
Urban Spoon reviews of Port Royal Pub & Grillee in Islip