NEW BUFFALO — One might say that New Buffalo Bill’s Wood-Fired BBQ has gone up in smoke. But that is a good thing.
The New Buffalo spot for genuine Texas-style barbeque, located at 603 E. Buffalo St., opened for its third season after doubling the size of its smoke room to add another Ole Hickory Smoker for Pit Master Brian Thompson to keep burning his mixture of local cherry, hickory, oak and apple woods.
The expansion was dictated when owner/chef Bill Reynolds had to turn business away last summer, something he doesn’t like to do. Reynolds said he wasn’t able to keep up with demand from both the 50-seat indoor dining area and drive-through plus the large catering clientele with the party-sized orders of ribs and all the trimmings.
In addition to ribs, the casual restaurant also offers pulled pork, brisket, chicken, ham, catfish, salmon and vegetarian-friendly tofu and portobello mushroom. Rounding out the menu are hot and cold side dishes, desserts-in-a-jar, beer, wine, hard cider and soft drinks. New this year are buffalo sausage and burnt ends.
At one time, each 60-square-foot “Ole Hickory Smoker” can smoke 40 briskets or 90 racks of baby back ribs, or 60 pork shoulders, or 180 half-chickens at a consistent, low temperature. The smokers are located in a room with large windows just to the right of the restaurant’s entrance.
“We came here with our eyes wide open and we are pretty much on track with what we predicted. The trick is to earn enough during June, July and August to make it through the rest of the year,” Reynolds said, referring to the challenges of being successful in a largely tourist-based, seasonal economy. Last year, the restaurant closed from Dec. 15 to February 15.
During the off season, Reynolds and his partner, Mary Hess, traveled in Europe, spending a good portion of their time checking out barbeque restaurants and even finding the same type of smoker in a Budapest barbeque kiosk.
“Our local traffic is growing, too. People still come in and say they’ve been driving past but never noticed us before,” Reynolds said. Perhaps helping the word spread locally is New Buffalo Bill’s presence at local fund-raising events, such as the recent hog roast for the Flag Day Parade Committee. The local events also help he and Hess get to know their neighbors.
“We like to be involved in the communities where we live. When we first we bought our house here several years ago, we realized everyone we were entertaining was from the Chicago area,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds opened the restaurant after a 25-year career with the Culinary Institute of America and 12 years with the City Colleges of Chicago’s culinary program. The barbeque expertise was learned on his family’s Texas ranch.
Reynolds also credits his “luck” with having almost all of his locally-hired employees with him from the start, with another three starting their second year.
Another boost in spreading the word locally will come on Saturday, June 23, at 1 p.m. when they host a book signing for “The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook” by Amelia Levin. Reynolds is one of the Harbor Country chefs featured in the book, with his recipes for wood-smoked BBQ ribs, simple barbecue sauce and sweet potato and pineapple salad.
Other area restaurants in the 180-page illustrated cookbook include Patellie’s Pizza and Froehlich’s Deli in Three Oaks, Flagship Specialty Foods and Fish Market in Lakeside, Round Barn Winery and Free Run Cellars in Baroda and Berrien Springs, Leaning Shed Farm in Berrien Springs, Ellis Family Farms in Benton Harbor, and Seedling Farm in South Haven.