When it comes to cooking great barbecue, Backyard Barbeque chef and co-owner Kenny Ware isn’t messing around; he’s cooking up a storm on Freeport’s Nautical Mile.
Ware, who co-owns the eatery with his childhood friend Michael Toney, is using his finely honed skills as a chef to put a “different twist” on some traditional Southern barbecue favorites.
“I’m using my training to put a fine dining touch on many classic barbecue dishes such as ribs, brisket, chicken, and pulled pork that come straight off the grill,” says Ware, 33.
Backyard Barbeque: The Chef’s Story
Ware says that everyone in his family cooked and that he had “always wanted to cook.” With that in mind, he attended and graduated from Johnson & Wales Culinary School in Providence, Rhode Island in 2013, he says.
Following graduation, Ware says he “bounced around” and worked with several high-profile chefs including renowned Chef Dan Kluger at Loring Place in Greenwich Village and Chef Ignacio Mattos at the now defunct Flora Bar.
“I also worked in Manhattan at ABC Kitchen, owned by famed Chef Jean-George, who owns restaurants all over the world.” He recalls spending “a lot” of his time at ABC Kitchen focusing on fine dining and farm-to-table cuisine.
Ware also spent time abroad in London, England as well as in Savannah, Georgia, working on honing his craft with other top-rated chefs.
Then, about two years ago, Ware says he and his partner Toney took over Backyard Barbeque from Ware’s father, Archie, who had opened the spot in 2018.
Some of Ware’s signature dishes include collard green cheese empanadas, which he says are very popular with millennials, as well as made-from-scratch pickles, sauces, and burgers, which are ground fresh, in-house.
Other specialties are lemon pepper honey wings, jerk wings, sweet Thai chili wings, and Southern sides such as baked beans, collard greens, candied yams, and smoked mac and cheese.
“We also have some of the best wings you’ll ever taste,” he says, adding that the lemon pepper honey wings are customer favorites. “They’re sweet and savory mixed together with a perfect crunch.”
When asked about competition, Ware says they are their own competition, by way of providing a new twist on barbecue.
Ware says he still does much of the cooking but also has several top-notch cooks who help. He adds that all his recipes yield consistently good, high-quality food that tastes great from one visit to the next.
Asked about effects from the pandemic, Ware says they held their own by doing lots of to-go orders.
However, he says that everyone is still feeling the effects of the pandemic as food prices continue to go up and down. “The biggest challenge now is to serve top-quality food at a reasonable price…while still managing to keep the lights on and make a profit,” he adds, “It’s hard when prices continue to rise…you need to maintain price stability for customers.”
“We also market ourselves by selling hats, shirts and other things,” he says, noting that Backyard Barbeque has already won a few awards such as best barbecue restaurant from the 2021 Herald Long Island Choice Awards presented by PSEG-Long Island.
Ware also recently participated in the Grill Hamptons culinary event, sponsored by Dan’s Papers, which pits regional grill masters against one another. “I made smoked jerk wings and homemade pickles as well as pulled pork sliders and BBQ sauce,” he says, adding that the event was a success, and that the restaurant’s food was well received.
Ware also is a big believer in giving back to the community. He says that each year, they hold a Christmas toy drive for kids benefitting his hometown of Roosevelt.
“We want to provide jobs for youth, do lots of mentoring, and speak to kids about entrepreneurship, etc.” He also notes that his restaurant sponsored the Roosevelt Rising Stars team last year. The Rising Stars provide programs in low-income communities that encourage academic, cultural, and social development in addition to college/career exploration activities for youth ages 5-13.
Ware says that while business has been getting back to normal, it’s still a struggle to be in a seasonal area since not everyone is aware the restaurant is open all year round. “During Thanksgiving, we sell both fried and smoked turkeys. We’d like people to remember that.”
When it comes to online reviews, Ware says they can be either a gift or a curse.
“At the end of the day, we’re all human and make mistakes. But, regardless, there’s always somebody working very hard to give people the best experience they can.”
And, so far, most reviewers are big fans. One recent reviewer on the restaurant’s Facebook page, Tonio Drum Major Simmons, called the food “superb” and the service “professional,” and said they would be back.
Looking ahead, Ware says they plan to expand with more locations. One such spot coming soon will be a pizza-by-slice place next door to the restaurant, called Backyard Slices.
“The pizza place will be a spin-off. Everything we do in the barbecue restaurant… we’ll do on a slice of pizza.”
He anticipates Backyard Slices will open by the end of September.
“Once people come out and try our food,” Ware says, “they’ll be knocking down our door.”
Backyard Barbeque is located at 300 Woodcleft Ave., Freeport. It can be reached at 516-771-4227. Visit at bbqonthemile.com.
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