Owner of Vienna in Roslyn launches Uncle Steve’s House of BBQ ghost kitchen

When we look back at 2020, the restaurants that launched this year may have wildly divergent origin stories. For Uncle Steve’s House of BBQ in Roslyn, that tale might begin with “It was a dark and stormy night …”

That would be the night owner Matt Prince raced around the darkened roads of Roslyn in a Jeep Wrangler delivering brisket during Uncle Steve’s first night in business as a so-called ghost kitchen.

Prince’s other business at 1 Railroad Avenue, Vienna of Roslyn, had been thriving when lockdown arrived in mid-March. In bat of an eye, events hit a hard stop. After reassessing his choices — and as takeout and delivery gained steam as a survival tactic for other restaurants — Prince realized that what might be missing in his immediate surrounds was a delivery-focused barbecue spot. Around that time, a culinary consultant Prince had worked with, chef Matthew Birnbaum, reached out and asked, “What are we going to do with Vienna’s kitchen?”

This challenging and unusual year has lent momentum to ghost kitchens, a restaurant model focused primarily on pickup and delivery. While “ghost kitchen” is a mysterious term, it’s just one of many nicknames for a kitchen-within-a-kitchen that has no public-facing presence beyond a web page or delivery app. Some Long Islanders had their first exposure to ghost kitchens this spring when Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings suddenly appeared in their delivery apps; as it turned out, Pasqually’s was a sub-brand of Chuck E Cheese, and one that operated out of Chuck E Cheese kitchens without any public tie to that company.

Prince, a career-long hospitality professional who had founded or overseen more than a dozen bar and restaurants, had never heard of the term. Yet it was unwittingly the model he adopted, installing smokers into Vienna’s kitchen to transform it into a barbecue spot with “a small menu, top meats and the best ingredients,” Prince said, as well as online ordering and delivery.

In early September, Uncle Steve’s House of BBQ was born, with Prince himself ferrying food to customers, mostly friends and family at first. “It was my 2020 version of a soft opening,” joked Prince, who drove orders around the area until midnight or so for the first few nights.

Brisket ($18), baby back ribs ($19 for a half-rack, $37 for a whole), smoked half chickens ($14), pulled pork ($14) and burnt ends ($21) forming the meaty crux of the menu, all overseen by Birnbaum, who has worked with chefs such as Bobby Flay and Jonathan Waxman during his career and once oversaw the commissary for first Shake Shack. Birnbaum also grills smoked garlic and jalapeño-cheddar Meyer’s Elgin Sausage from Texas, and will soon add fried chicken; sides run the gamut from mac-and-cheese with a bacon crumble ($8), potato salad ($7), barbecue beans ($11), Tater tots ($5 to $9) and an iceberg wedge with a roasted garlic-yogurt dressing ($9). Cocktails to go, such as moonshine margaritas, are made with spirits from Kings County Distillery, and come batched

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Sakaya Kitchen in Midtown Miami Will Become Society BBQ

When Richard Hales opened Sakaya Kitchen in 2009, Midtown wasn’t the bustling shopping and residential hub it is today. “Besides Target, I have the longest lease there,” the chef and restaurateur tells New Times over the phone.

Sakaya, which serves Hales’ takes on Asian and Southeast Asian food, was one of Miami’s first chef-driven fast-casual concepts. The storefront space became known for its Korean fried chicken, pork buns, and kalbi beef tater tots.

Hales has gone on to open several other concepts, including Blackbrick (also located in Midtown), the now-shuttered Bird & Bone in Miami Beach, and Society BBQ at the Citadel food hall in Little Haiti.

When COVID-19 forced the restaurant industry to rethink menus and business models, Hales was able to persevere with Society BBQ and Blackbrick. “Even considering the quarantine and lockdown, they’re doing very well,” Hales says. “Sales are not back to where they would normally be, but we’re surviving.”

Late last month, when restaurants in Miami-Dade County got the go-ahead to try indoor dining again, he was faced with a choice: Invest in renovating Sakaya Kitchen’s dining room and menu, or make a change.

He decided to transition the Sakaya Kitchen space in Midtown into a second Society BBQ.

“Part of my job as a restaurateur is to assess the risk on every dollar we spend. I just felt like I need to go with the sure thing. I can’t throw the limited dollars we have away, ” Hales explains.

Expected to open as early as next week, Society BBQ Midtown will offer the same menu as the Citadel location, along with some additions, such as the burger and chicken sandwich Hales served at Bird & Bone.

The chef says people are seeking comfort these days and barbecue is the ultimate comfort food.

“At Society, it’s ribs, mac and cheese, and cornbread. It’s pulled pork and chicken. It’s food that sells itself, and that’s appealing to me as a restaurateur.”

And the chef in Hales has discovered a newfound passion for cooking with fire.

“When I’m at home, I’m cooking with wood and honing my skills,” he says. “There’s something about leaving behind the electric and gas and using wood-fired grills. I’ve been toying with wood for six, seven years and you think you’re going to control the fire, then it does something else. This is now what I want to master.”

Even with all the changes, Hales is not shuttering — or even mothballing — Sakaya Kitchen. The restaurant will operate as a virtual entity. Fans of Sakaya’s Brussels sprouts and bao will still be able to order from the full menu online. Food will be prepared in Blackbrick’s kitchen.

Says Hales: “Sakaya’s still there. There’s still a heartbeat.” 

And there’s always the possibility it will return in restaurant form.

“As a chef, I would love to dig into Sakaya” again, he says. “Let me revive it — it’s my baby.

“I can spend an hour telling you why opening Society BBQ is a

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