In that liminal space along the shoreline south of I-95 and Route 1, where the land seems to melt into the sea, there are some food treasures. Perhaps because of the history of clam shacks and lobster roll spots, there is a wonderful tradition of food that must be fast, unfussy and good. It needs to be a place you can hit on the way to or from the beach. It can’t be too fancy, but it has to satisfy the tastebuds of diners who are willing to travel farther for food in the warm weather.
Some offerings hit, and some miss. A good, bordering on great, example of the genre sits on Branford’s South Montowese Street in the shell of a beloved former garage, gas station and general store. The Stand is one of the better incarnations of the type of barbecue places that have popped up all over the state in the past several years. A recent visit reveals a relaxed, charming atmosphere with top-notch barbecue and an array of innovative side dishes to complement the main choices, all at reasonable prices.
196 S. Montowese St., Branford
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 1:30-9 p.m.
Bar open later. Brunch 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat. & Sun.
Price range: Sandwiches $8-$10, bowls $10-$12,
platters $15-$18, sides $4-$6.
Ambiance Relaxed, open concept with picnic tables and a separate bar area. Outdoor dining offers pleasant views. Busy and boisterous, so be on the lookout for occasional parties.
Service Cafeteria style with a counter, though employees bus tables. Be prepared for bottlenecks at the serving counter, as new cuts of meat come out. The food will be fresh, but you may have to wait for it.
Food Good-quality comfort food, at a bargain. Healthy, fresh and delicious sides complement decadent, richly flavored barbecue.
The Stand is the result of two sons of the Connecticut shoreline who made their careers in New York City, and have now returned home. The story of The Stand starts with a chance encounter that connected Eamon Roche, a 50-something property developer and restaurateur, with Greg Nobile, a 20-something Broadway producer and Tony Award winner. Roche, who had promised his wife he would never again get involved in the restaurant business, came away from having a few beers with Nobile with plans for a year-round restaurant. “Greg’s very persuasive,” Roche says.
As for the food itself, it is fairly standard barbecue fare, well presented and delicately executed. Served at a cafeteria-style counter, diners can choose among a bowl, platter or sandwich. The platter option consists of a half-pound of any combination of meats — peppercorn beef brisket, Carolina-style pulled pork, smoked hot link sausages, New England-style barbecue chicken thighs and St. Louis cut ribs (or Stan’s Veg Out, a pound of grains and greens grown in The Stand’s gardens) — along with three sides. The bowl size is one meat over two sides, while the sandwich option offers pulled pork, pulled chicken or brisket, served with fries and a pickle.
It’s been said that a barbecue place lives or dies on the strength of its brisket. By that metric, The Stand passes the test with a brisket that is tender and flavorful, with that almost melt-in-your-mouth consistency to which good barbecue always aspires. Another popular meat across the barbecue world is pulled pork, and The Stand’s version is highly recommended. Many of the barbecue dishes have a wonderful corresponding sauce, with varying degrees of heat. Sweet pepper harissa (a North African spice blend) and coffee barbecue sauce pairs with the brisket, and Bishop’s apple barbecue sauce (with apples from Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford) links up nicely with the pulled pork. It must also be said that there is good value for money at The Stand. Comparably sized barbecue meals down the road in New Haven are known to cost almost twice as much.
The sides change often, based on the season. On my visit, the cornbread was fresh and buttery, and the turmeric and barley salad acted as a clean, fresh palate cleanser as I worked my way through the flavorful barbecue. Brussels sprouts, often judged too harshly, are excellently roasted at The Stand, offering a good chance to revisit the dish if you’ve been away for some time. Other barbecue fixtures like mac and cheese and watermelon salad make themselves welcome on any platter. The summery food options lend themselves nicely to the restaurant’s outdoor seating area, with picnic tables looking out over the marshy hinterland so quintessential to our shoreline.
The desserts are also rotating. The sole offering on my visit was a gingerdoodle cookie, which, while delicious, left me wanting something more.
The Stand takes great pride in its local sourcing, using a revolving door of farms and growers. This local quality extends to the beverage offerings, which feature Foxon Park sodas, juice from Connecticut-based The Farmer’s Cow, and a rotating cast of craft beer, such as Branford’s Thimble Island and Bloomfield’s Thomas Hooker breweries. There’s a line of thinking that you should never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, or else you’ll make impulse buys of things you shouldn’t. So after you fill up on barbecue, The Stand features a regular farmers market where you can stock up on produce for the week.
Barbecue places are unique in that, in addition to a head chef, they have a pitmaster, the wizard in charge of smoking and barbecuing the various cuts of meat.
Unlike some barbecue places, Stand pitmaster Justin Kingsley exclusively uses a wood-fired smoker as opposed to the gas-powered variety favored by some barbecuers. A Branford local, Kingsley has been a competitive barbecue and chili cook for 16 years. He says the wood-fired smoking process has its drawbacks, such as increased labor time and a more variable temperature. The payoff, though, is a richer flavor. “I wouldn’t do it any other way. … There’s no comparison,” he says.
The space itself maintains many of the wonderful design elements of a classic mid-century American road stop, including old gas station signs and glass garage doors that provide expansive views, as an homage to the building’s history. The structure is an integral part of The Stand’s story. Co-owner Nobile says he got a call from a real estate broker telling him that the old Indian Neck garage would be going on the market. “I said to him, ‘No, it’s not. We’re getting it,’” Nobile says.
“I grew up getting corn from the farm market that was here. All my friends had worked here growing up and, you know, the car had come here to be repaired. It was a real cornerstone of our family growing up on the shoreline,” Nobile says. He thought to himself, “Oh God, if that becomes — as so much stuff does all over the state — a bunch of condos or homes or whatever it’s going to be, or a Walgreens … it would be horrible.”
Nobile’s experience in the theater world transfers unexpectedly well to running a shoreline barbecue restaurant. “We’re really interested in this idea of preserving what was, and finding opportunities for community to be there,” he says.
Nobile has also brought his theatrical sensibilities to the restaurant’s advertising strategy. Once a month, Nobile will host events such as a masseuse providing massages, a New Orleans-style second-line marching band or a pumpkin-carving contest. He calls the events Stand Surprises.
Both Nobile and Roche say the community has responded to their concept with enthusiasm. “Branford is not a buttoned-up town,” Roche says.