By Lauren Fetter
Something good is cooking up in the neighborhood.
With summer in full swing, the owners of new local eateries are preparing for the season’s arrival, when bustling crowds and waves of tourists will make their way to downtown Port Jefferson for sights, sun and good eats.
No one knows this change of pace better than Smoke Shack Blues owner Jonathan Levine.
A former fine-dining chef in Manhattan and Las Vegas, Levine served as the head chef at Wave Seafood Kitchen in the nearby Danfords Hotel & Marina for five years before opening up his Main Street barbecue joint in April.
Though Levine had many opportunities throughout his career to open a restaurant of his own, it wasn’t until a stop in the Carolinas during a family trip to Disney World that he decided to try his hand at a different type of cooking skill: real smoking and wood-burning barbecue.
“When I came back, I started experimenting. It was just amazing,” Levine said. “Something that was old was new again, and it just made sense.”
Walking down Main Street, customers cannot miss the restaurant’s smokehouse aromas and the sound of blues music pouring out of an open window onto the street. An exposed brick interior, paired with deep reds, blues and homemade wood block tables branded with the Smoke Shack Blues logo bring a southern feel to the East Coast eatery.
Brisket. Ribs. Pulled pork. The restaurant’s traditional barbecue fare has customers flocking through its doors, reassuring Levine that that number will only increase over the next few months.
“We’re starting to see a lot of familiar faces, a lot of repeat customers,” Levine said. “At night during the week, that’s when we get the locals.”
In a community like Port Jefferson Village, it’s the locals that drive business year-round.
Amarilis Singh and her husband, Jiten, the owners of Local’s Cafe on East Main Street, opened their coffee shop in February to create a welcoming atmosphere for village residents and newcomers alike.
“We are locals and we love this town,” the wife said. “We wanted to have something that is from here, and at the same time it feels like you belong here.”
Despite their different backgrounds — Amarilis is from Puerto Rico and Jiten is from India — the couple’s love for coffee jump-started their business venture.
Using coffee beans from the Brooklyn location of Seattle-based Caffe Vita coffee company, the cafe serves specialty coffee drinks and small treats in a quaint shop on the street’s corner with East Broadway.
Customers quietly chat at wooden tables and chairs with steaming cups of coffee and hot chocolate in their hands. Fluorescent lights in the glass case next to the registers shine down on the dozens of macarons and miniature cupcakes made by local bakers sitting on the shelves.
All items on the menu are made in-house and made-to-order, with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available for no extra charge.
Though Amarilis Singh said she is looking forward to the summer season and the rush of customers, the fear of disappointing them remains in the back of her mind.
“You want everybody to like your food, and you want everybody to have a good experience in your place,” Singh said. “You don’t want anybody to leave unhappy.”
Just a short walk from Local’s is Slurp Ramen. Located on Broadway, the Japanese restaurant focuses on serving “authentic Japanese ramen in a comfortable, friendly environment,” according to owner and village resident Francesca Nakagawa.
Opened in March, Nakagawa’s husband, Atsushi, who is originally from Osaka, Japan, previously worked in the kitchen at Toast Coffeehouse on East Main Street for three years before he and his wife decided to open their own restaurant.
The couple wanted to highlight and bring Japanese culture and cuisine to the village by hiring students from Japanese language classes at Suffolk County Community College and Stony Brook University to work there.
“Now it’s expanded out to kids who are really into Japan and like anime and manga, or who want to travel there,” Nakagawa said. “We have a great group of people who are excited about this restaurant.”
Workers welcome customers when they come through the doors of the ramen shop, eager to help first-timers walk through their menu of what Nakagawa calls Japanese comfort food and answer any questions.
Though the restaurant serves rice bowls filled with white rice, meat and sriracha, and salads topped with cold ramen noodles and mixed greens, the Slurp Classic, a ramen noodle bowl, is the most popular dish. Overflowing with bright green scallions, red ginger and different meats, the Classic is served in deep black bowls filled with steaming broth. Pair it with a honeydew cream soda imported from Japan, and a customer is ready to go.
“It’s so exciting to watch people try it and like it,” Nakagawa said. “We’re very excited for the summer.”