(12/22/07) (03/28/09) (06/12/09)
Swingbelly’s seems to blend in with the other eateries on Long Beach’s main drag that is Beech Street. Inside, Swingbelly’s looks a little more respectable, with nice booths and tables tucked away in the nooks and crannies of a large room. There are eight TVs located strategically around the perimeter and a small bar in one corner. Located so close to the Beach and looking this proper, Swingbelly’s could easily be confused for a tourist trap. But there’s hope: on one wall are photos of the patrons who’ve successfully completed the Swingbelly’s challenge (one rack of ribs, a quarter pound each of pulled pork and brisket, four wings, three rib tips, with sides and cornbread, all to be eaten within one hour and without leaving the table).
The Swingbelly’s menu covers most of the barbecue basics, with two kinds of ribs (St Louis and babybacks), pulled pork, brisket, smoked chicken and smoked Andouille sausage. Appetizers are a little more diverse, with burnt ends chili, smoked wings (with one of six sauces or dry rubbed only), rib tips, fried pickle chips, onion strings, cheese fries and peanut BBQ lettuce wraps. Four salads are available, ranging from the healthy (house) to the not-so-healthy (“Big Salad” with bacon, onion strings and other goodies). The sandwiches get even more creative. Beyond the enticing but typical half pound burger are a cheesesteak, an Andouilees sausage cheese dog, the “Mac and Pete” (burnt ends, mac and cheese, onion strings), the “Belly Buster” (pulled pork, brisket, fries, onion strings on a hoagie) and a grilled shrimp and avocado BLT.
On a Saturday afternoon the weekend before Christmas, I joined members of three Long Island BBQ competition teams to sample the Swingbelly's menu on our first stop of a 3-joint Long Island BBQ crawl.
We started with the burnt ends chili ($6.95) while I still had my tourist trap BBQ guard up, and this chili didn’t knock it down. It was served with a crispy cheese crust, a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of scallions—pretty, but touristy. It also had beans, which I don’t prefer but don’t mind, as long as they harmonize with the rest of the dish. This chili had black beans, which I felt didn’t belong. The rest of it was a little salty, but still good, with some nice beef chunks. Things picked up with the smoked wings ($6.95 for five whole wings), which had impressive girth, crispness and a very noticeable smokiness. We had one order with just the dry rub and another sauced, and both batches allowed the smokiness and the flavorful rub to shine through. They could have been a little moister, but these were easily among the finest wings I've had at a BBQ joint.
We shared the Swing Sampler ($44.95), which supplies a half slab of ribs, a half pound each of pulled pork and brisket, a smoked half chicken, a smoked Andouille sausage, three sides and cornbread.
Brisket had a nice sheen and a bright pink smoke ring that screamed out to be the first item sampled off the plate. The slices were moist and probably the smokiest of the five meats. Flavor and texture were both excellent.
The sausage’s tenderness, juiciness and smokiness were all there, no better or worse than expected, but the flavor intensity was through the roof.
Pulled pork was the one weak link of the sampler: bark was minimal and, though moist, the meat lacked the flavor of the other sampler items.
The ribs were very moist and very tender—possibly just a little past ideal tenderness—with a nice, mildly smoky flavor accented by the rub that helped form the well-defined crust.
The smoked chicken was even more moist—including the breast—and smokier than the ribs. There was a nice balance between the flavor contributions from the smoke and the liberal use of rub.
The moistness, smoke level and use of rub varied from meat to meat, but overall, the quality was consistently good. I’d easily rank both the brisket and chicken somewhere among the best I’ve had. As I was in mid-bite, I thought to myself that the flavors and execution reminded me of a poor man's RUB, and that's good company indeed.
Two sauces (sweet and spicy) are available in squeeze bottles at the table. Though I only used a little on a piece of rib, I thought both sauces were decent. Some of my dining mates thought the sauces might both be slightly doctored versions of Cattleman’s.
None really stood out as exceptional, but all of the sides we tried were decent to solid. Cole slaw tasted home made but average. Mac and cheese was very creamy, with breadcrumbs on top. Sweet potato fries were dark and crisp.
The quality was high for a Saturday lunch, especially on a holiday weekend. I'm guessing most if not all of the meats were reheated at that hour, but nothing had an "obviously reheated" taste or texture. When our server noticed that we were tasting and sharing the items, she brought extra plates, bowls and serving utensils to make this easier.
The bottom line: Though not everything was perfect, the lows weren't bad and the highs were very high. After one visit I'm dying to go back, and I don't need another visit to declare Swingbelly's the best barbecue restaurant I've ever been to on Long Island.
Jimithegreek Blog review of Swingbelly's BBQ