Wandering Chef: Mike Mills in New York City
Barbecue obsessives consider Mike Mills a legend. Mills oversees the pits at his five barbecue restaurants—three branches of 17th Street Bar & Grill in Southern Illinois and two Memphis Championship Barbecue spots in Las Vegas. The Barbecue Hall of Famer was recently in New York City to participate in the annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, a two-day event he co-founded in 2002 that draws more than 100,000 people to sample the country’s best barbecue. Here, Mills shares his go-to spots when he’s in town for Block Party weekend.
“I’m from Murphysboro, Illinois, a tiny town in Southern Illinois, nicknamed Apple City. So I feel like the Big Apple is our sister city. I’ve been coming here steadily for 15 years, starting back in 1999 when we first started working on Blue Smoke restaurant. My favorite watering hole is Shorty’s. It’s a sports bar, with lots of televisions and a solid beer and bourbon selection. Shorty’s also has probably one of the best Philly cheesesteak sandwiches I’ve had. This is our pitmaster hangout during the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party each year and you can go in at anytime during the weekend and find a friend. The bartenders know us by now and greet us warmly when we return. They also know to staff up for the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party weekend as we’re a big crowd and we pretty much hang in until closing time each night.
66 Madison Ave., (212) 725-3900
“I’m a little biased since I’m a partner in Blue Smoke, but I love everything about this restaurant. I spend a lot of time at the bar or sitting outside with big groups of people. The bar is impressive, with a soaring ceiling, iced down longnecks, a good selection of drafts, and an amazing bourbon and wine selection. Sitting outside is equally enjoyable, especially with our large crowd of pitmasters and crews. I’m a beer man, myself, and I always drink the Blue Smoke Ale, brewed by Brooklyn Brewery. My crew really likes the cocktails and they especially like the Porch Swing, made with Hendricks gin and Campari. They drink a lot of the Blood Orange Margaritas, too.”
116 E. 27th St., (212) 447-7733, bluesmoke.com
“I stayed in the Gramercy Hotel back in 1999 when I first visited New York City to meet with Danny Meyer about working on Blue Smoke. The hotel sure has changed since that time and the restaurant, Maialino, is one of my favorites. Breakfast at Maialino is a real treat. I like to order the frittata bianca, which is egg whites, asparagus, and spring onion. It’s very light, but has great flavor. As a barbecue guy, I like what they do with pork and I always get their pancetta and salsiccia, which is a really flavorful pork and pecorino sausage. The pastries are really delicious, too, and I’m always glad if I’m there when rhubarb is in season. They have a really good apple-rhubarb turnover. Dinner is equally special. I just dined there last week and I had an antipasti of chicken hearts skewered on rosemary sprigs that were rich and earthy. The carciofini fritti, fried artichokes with lemon, and paté di campagna, which is a country pate spread served with pickles, are a good start to the meal. Their housemade pastas are really fresh and special. We shared the tortelli, filled with pork and chicken liver, and the orecchiette with lamb sausage and broccoli rabe. Outstanding.”
2 Lexington Ave., (212) 777-2410, maialinonyc.com
“Sometimes I’m in the mood for just a simple burger and the lamb burger at The Breslin never disappoints—thick, hearty, always perfectly cooked. The fries are hand-cut and thrice-fried in duck fat. They’re so perfectly crispy and well-seasoned. Round that off with a beer and it’s just about as good as it gets.”
16 W 29th St., (212) 679-1939, thebreslin.com
Favorite Liquor Stores:
“Believe it or not, champagne and rosé go great with barbecue and we like the selection at Appellation on 10th Avenue. Barbecue is simple food and having good wine or champagne makes it feel special. Appellation sources small-scale wines and the staff is extremely knowledgeable and helpful.”
156 10th Avenue # 1, (212) 741-9474, appellationnyc.com
“We also buy a lot of beer when we’re in the city and the most convenient place, when we’re at the Block Party, is the Live Bait store at 23rd and Madison. We’re pretty simple when it comes to beer and they always have a good supply of what we need.”
14 E 23rd St., (212) 353-2400, livebaitnyc.com
Union Square Greenmarket
I really enjoy the Union Square Greenmarket. The array of fresh vegetables and fruits, meat, flowers, and all of the other items available are amazing and the juxtaposition of all of those farm-fresh items, right in the city, makes me feel like I’m back home. I like to take advantage of the Greenmarket when we produce dinners and special events in the city. We’ll buy fresh berries, vegetables, and herbs with which to cook and garnish.”
East 17th St., grownyc.org/greenmarket/manhattan-union-square
Bread and Butter Market
“We often stay at The Roger hotel (therogernewyork.com) and there’s a huge Bread and Butter market right across the street, at 31st and Broadway. Our grocery stores are pretty simple in Southern Illinois and the concept of this is interesting to me. There’s a combination of fresh and prepared foods, ethnic food counters, made-to-order breakfast, and all of the snacks and food items you might want.”
303 5th Ave., (212) 448-0444, breadandbutternyc.com
Title photo courtesy of 17th Street Barbecue.