This "Memphis style" establishment on Carleton Avenue in East Islip is located halfway between routes 27 and 27A (it’s also just 5 minutes from Smokin' Al's in Bay Shore). Tennessee Jack’s, named after that other Tennessee legend Jack Daniel, is divided into two sections: one half a roomy but divy bar, the other half a sit-down restaurant. Both rooms feature dim lighting, low ceilings and lots of aged wooden paneling. I counted four TVs in the bar and another four in the dining room, with sound provided.
The Tennessee Jack's menu has all the BBQ basics (ribs, pulled pork, sliced brisket, barbecued chicken and pulled chicken), but they seem to specialize in pub fare. Their impressive list of appetizers includes rib tips (the pieces that get trimmed when converting a rack of spare ribs to a rack of St Louis ribs), four kinds of wings, four different salads, chili, spinach and artichoke dip, "Haystack" onions, quesadillas with brisket or pork, mozzarella sticks, and Tennessee Jack Rolls (pulled pork in a crisp tortilla shell). They also have burgers, which are 50% off on Monday nights.
I visited Tennessee Jack’s for a Christmas Eve lunch sampling two years in a row. On my 2005 visit, I sat at the bar and had a half rack of Memphis style dry rubbed ribs, with no sauce so I could try a few of their six sauces. These were thick, meaty "grand back" ribs, prepared like a bacon candy recipe I saw once. A heavy finishing rub of mostly coarse brown sugar formed a crunchy crust, keeping the meat inside tender. The meat was brown and moderately moist, but I didn’t notice much wood or smoke flavor. Still, the flavor was good and they were truly unique for this region.
A year later I sat in the dining room and got a combo of ribs and pulled pork, again with dry rub and two sauces on the side. The plump half rack of ribs had that same hard shell finish; this time they were slightly pink and a little juicier. They were again enjoyable, but I couldn’t eat more than three. The pulled pork was drowning in sweet sauce (my server apparently applied my “sauce on the side” request to the ribs only). It’s a shame, because the pulled pork seemed like it had potential. The meat was a nice mix of chewy and tender, with a little bark in there too. I'd like to try it again without the sauce.
There are six sauces to choose from, and I think I tried the same two (whiskey and dragon) both times. Both were OK, but somewhat commercial tasting and a little too similar.
The sides both times were decent. Fries were crunchy and good, but tasted like the frozen packaged variety.Cole slaw made with red cabbage was crisp, creamy and tangy, providing a nice counterbalance to the sweet meat. Cornbread wasn’t included. Among their more unique sides are cheddar and bacon mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries and cinnamon apples.
The bottom line: One of the more interesting ribs I’ve had, in a comfortable environment for watching sports. I definitely recommend trying this place at least once, either for the Memphis style rib experience or as a piggyback to a Smokin' Al's or Willie B’s trip. I wouldn't rank Tennessee Jack's among my most favorite New York BBQ joints, but I'd go back in a heartbeat.