In July of 2003, Jeffrey Hyer of the Cape Codder paid a visit
to Marconi Beach Restaurant. Thanks to the Cape Codder for
allowing us to reprint the article. Here is what he wrote:
Ribs are Smokin' at Marconi Beach Restaurant
By Jeffrey S. Hyer
WELLFLEET - Smoke billowing from the front and rear of a restaurant is generally considered a bad sign. But don't call the fire department just yet. "We are always smoking up a storm," says Rich Swart, as he examines six racks of pork ribs in one of three outdoor smoker grills at Russ and Marie's Marconi Beach Restaurant. Prodding an oak log to fall deeper into a concert of flames, Rich begins his third hour of a 12-hour day on Monday tending to the smoky tradition that is Southern barbecue. By day's end, he will have smoked 24 racks of ribs, half as many chickens and a dozen
pork briskets. On a weekend day, these numbers triple.
"Smoking meat is something you can't do in a hurry," he said. "You can't be rushed." Authentic barbecue meats are the newest addition for cuisine offered along Route 6 in town. The restaurant is a hundred yards south of the Marconi Station Beach entrance. While the cuisine may be new to the area, the proprietor is not. After a 22-year absence of selling his popular submarine sandwiches in town, Russ Swart returned in May to the exact location where he began in 1976. In the building that formally housed the Nut Hut, Swart began selling his popular steak bombs and other sandwiches under the banner, Russ' Sub Shop.
Five years and one move later, Swart sold the business and pursued a doughnut franchise in Florida in search of a year-round income. Karen Murphy - Russ's friend and frequent customer - was disappointed to see him depart for the Sunshine state. "You always knew you could walk in and see a friendly face behind the counter," said Karen. "He always had a joke and a laugh. It was a nice, real small-town part of it. It's nice to have him back. You see Russ, you know Russ and you know the food is going to be good." Richard Murphy, Karen's husband, said the secret to Russ's early success was his development of the steak bomb. "The sandwich was something new and was good quality," said Richard. "It was the meat and the way that he prepared it. It was top shelf."Both for their friendship and epicurean delight, the Murphys are thrilled that Russ has returned.
While Russ was in Florida during the 1980s and `90s, he dabbled in many areas: opening an additional doughnut franchise, catering fairs and expositions, exploring sunken vessels with famed treasure-hunter Mel Fisher, and occasionally returning to Wellfleet to work as a cook at the Bookstore or the Beachcomber. For several years Russ searched for a location on Route 6 to re-open a restaurant, and this was his year. "It's impossible to find a place for rent along Route 6 in Wellfleet or Eastham," said Russ. "The opportunity presented itself." To differentiate his business from the competition, Russ chose to offer barbecued meats. "Everyone has fried foods, hamburgers and hot dogs. Ribs are us," says Russ. "The nice thing is that it is a change from seafood." Plus, he adds, "It took me living down south to learn how to cooked smoked foods."
The restaurant's operation is a family affair. In addition to Russ's wife, Marie, and his daughter, Heather, his older brother, Rich, sister-in-law Marlene, and his cousin Jim Gaston all pitch-in. Rich and Jim are the keepers of the flame.
"The secret is in the smoke and Doctor Russ's recipe," says Jim, as he steadily chops firewood into slender strips to provide the day's smoky fuel. The technique returns to where cooking began, using hardwood logs of hickory, oak, cherry, and maple to provide heat. The smoking grills contain two compartments: a large enclosed compartment with grills for the meat and a smaller firebox offset to the left. After the wood has burned down to coals in the firebox, (about 90 minutes) the meat is added and will be bathed in a moist, medium-warm blanket of thick smoke for up to three hours. The smoke exits a short chimney to the right of the cooking compartment and gently drifts across Route 6, causing passing noses to turn and seek out the source of the enticing smoky aroma. As practiced in the South and Texas, the meats are barbecued in the truest sense of the word. To barbecue means to cook food slowly over indirect heat and smoke, not searing directly over a bed of charcoal, says Rich. Done properly, the tender meat will fall off the bone when ready because the collagen - the connecting tissue in the meat - has dissolved into gelatin. The meat has a sweet, smoky flavor that melts in the mouth.
While not an exact science, Rich says he tries to keep the temperature around 190 degrees for the three hours cooking time. As for knowing when the meat is ready to serve: "When I pull a rib back with the tongs, and if it falls of the bone, it's ready." However, the appearance of the cooked meat is the biggest challenge, says Rich. Once done, smoked meat appears pink around its bone and a chicken's skin will be blackened, giving the appearance of it being burned, but the skin is discarded.The cooking times of the meat are meant to coincide with families coming off the beach and then heading out to dinner. Several racks of ribs and chickens are pulled from the smokers around 3 and 7 p.m. It is all part of the show, says Russ. "People want to see it cooking," he says.
Smoke pours from the two smokers in front and the smoker in back of the building from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, partly out of necessity and partly to draw in customers. "People will stop by during the day and say it smells good, and then they come back that night," says Rich, who talks to most of the customers before, during and after their meals. "If the fires are not going, people wonder if we are still selling barbecue."
In addition to the meats, Russ slow-smokes his molasses-infused baked beans for about an hour. The top-selling menu item is the pork ribs, followed by pulled pork sandwiches and then fried fish. Take-out is big business during lunch, while the evenings are reserved for inside dining, said Russ. The interior motif of the nine-table dining room is a pleasant country-comfortable in a Cape Cod sort-of-way. There are '50s era images of the Cape mixed with country antiques and nautical icons of yore.
Outside, hickory-scented smoke drifts across the parking lot into the open car window of a customer who has just pulled up. He steps out, approaches Rich and asks, "Smells good. What'cha cookin'?"
Business Off Due To Purloined Sign
The Cape Codder, Friday, August 4, 2006
By Marilyn Miller
WELLFLEET - Russ Swart, who is doing a booming business selling ribs and pulled pork sandwiches at the Marconi Beach Restaurant, saw his fried chicken sales plummet by 50 percent since someone walked off with the sign out front, which featured a bucket with chicken legs spilling out.
"I had that sign done by a local artist, and I guess someone liked it enough to take the whole thing Friday night," said Swart. "I've got someone else making me a new one, but my sales are way down." That's not the case with the sale of ribs. He's cooked and sold 14 tons of ribs since the season opened, compared to a total of 8 tons last year, when he was at his former, much smaller location. And that 14 tons may even double, since he and his wife, Marie, have all of August still to go.
"We are thinking of staying open through November," Swart said. And, if there is year-round license available to serve alcoholic beverages, they'll consider staying open year-round.