While the rest of us were hibernating this winter, Justin Kingsley, Pit Master at The Stand in Branford, was up daily at the crack of dawn, cleaning and firing up the restaurant’s duel smokers in the pitch black. “Anyone can BBQ in September,” he quips as he opens one of the smokers to reveal shelves of pork shoulder and chicken slow-cooking for that night’s dinner. They look like perfection – rubbed with love and house-made spice blends he’s developed through trial and error with co-owner Eamon Roche. Justin tells me, to get the best flavors, they “draw inspiration from everywhere, see what works, and then make it our own.”
This epic outdoor smoke pit, set between expansive tidal marshes and the restaurant’s own practicing organic garden, has become The Stand’s calling card. Sure, crowds flock here to enjoy local beers on tap at the full bar, a warm and modern-rustic atmosphere with lots of outdoor seating, and weekly live music on The Band Stand. But they come back for the BBQ.
Here’s why I love this place: it has truly grown into what it set out to be. It’s a local hangout and a destination. It’s cool and casual, but the food will knock you off your feet. You can spend 20 minutes here or three hours. It’s solid yet evolving. The menu varies daily, seasonally and with the owners’ moods.
This didn’t happen easily or overnight. “Last year was about figuring out what we were doing and working out the kinks,” offers Greg Nobile, co-owner/Special Sauce CEO. “Now, we’re excited to have room to get creative, work with new farmers and have some fun.”
Order at the counter but once you find a seat and get your food, the meal transforms into a full restaurant experience. So grab a drink at the bar, put your stuff down at a table, or get on line to order first, whatever suits your fancy! A friendly employee will be happy to explain how things work if you have any questions. There’s just one requirement: show up hungry.
With the introduction of Saturday and Sunday brunch this winter, the crew is officially killing it every meal of the day. I showed up with a group and did my best to try as many dishes as possible by demanding everyone choose something different. You have the option to order a la carte or the full brunch, which includes an entrée (called a platter), one side and a dessert waffle with toppings. Yikes! After seeing how much food this was, I recommend not everyone at your table get the full brunch. The entrees are filling on their own and the sides and waffles are sharable.
If you agree brunch should include a cocktail or two, rest assured you’ll find all the likely suspects and then some. The Bloody Mary didn’t blow my mind but it was yummy and perfectly satisfying.
Chicken & Waffles:
My go-to for an indulgent brunch, we had to give this a try. Two small waffles came topped with one piece of buttermilk fried chicken each, lightly drizzled with spicy honey syrup. The chicken was the best part, fried in small enough pieces to stay super moist throughout and provide lots of crunchy, well-spiced breading per bite. A hint of sweetness in the syrup added balance. The waffles themselves, however, were a little too sweet for my taste.
Overall, the dish was excellent and portioned to satisfy but not overwhelm. You can usually find fried chicken on the regular lunch/dinner menu as well.
BBQ Pork & Grits:
This was by far my favorite of the platters I sampled. It came in a big bowl layered from bottom to top as follows: buttery grits, pulled pork, crunchy fried onions, Jack Daniels maple syrup. I know, right?
This dish made an impression because, while it arrived exactly as described, it was unexpectedly delicious. Served as a bowl, you could eat the whole thing with just a fork and get a bit of each layer with every scoop. It was pleasantly sweet but leaned towards the savory, as do I. Not being sweet tooth, I appreciated just the light touch of syrup. I was stuffed before I finished (to be fair, I was nibbling from everyone’s plates) but the leftovers made for an exciting reheated treat later.
Pulled pork is a staple on the menu all day, every day (or until they run out.) The day I visited, it was made from Walden Hill pork shoulder.
Shrimp & Grits:
While you might worry ordering two grits dishes is overkill, fear not as they each present their own personality. The flavor here felt traditionally Cajun and totally delicious. Between the soft poached eggs, creamy grits and chunks of Andouille sausage it ate like a hearty stew. I’m calling this my second favorite platter of the morning.
BBQ Eggs Benedict:
BBQ hollandaise drizzled on poached eggs balanced on a crisp slab of pork belly parked on a biscuit – what’s not to love? This dish was a solid nod to the classic with a few smoky twists. For me, nothing especially exciting but totally eye-catching and a great combo.
Pro tip – Make sure you add a side of cornbread with honey butter. I don’t know what’s in it but it was my absolute top choice of everything I ate.
Starting in May, The Stand will be back to their summer hours, open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, plus weekend brunch. Planting has begun in the garden and the farm stand should open around Memorial Day.
“Coming into our first full season, the challenge will be handling our highest volume yet,” says Greg. The Stand sources everything (that they don’t grow themselves) as locally as possible and all the meat is hormone and antibiotic free. But that can be a tall order when you are working with small producers and smoking 18 pork shoulders a day! The team is looking forward to creating new partnerships to fill this demand with high quality ingredients.
And, as soon as it’s warm enough to open the doors and use all the outdoor seating, brunch will feature live jazz. There’s also lots of party planning in the works, so keep an eye on the schedule for pig roast luaus and the like.
The Stand 196 S Montowese St, Branford, Connecticut (203) 433-4728