Walter Sterling's new barbecue restaurant, Starlite BBQ, is set to open next week in Scottsdale. Sterling, executive chef at Ocotillo, will be migrating to Starlite for the foreseeable future. Alex Levine, a sous chef at Ocotillo (the one charge of Ocotillo's smoker), will be chef de cuisine at Starlite. Rounding out the Starlite team is Brad Twigg, fresh over from a line of beverage ventures in Southern California to helm the drink program.
"Barbecue has taken on a new face," Sterling says. Starlite will be a different kind of barbecue joint.
It will offer traditional barbecue staples. Brisket. Beef ribs. Pork ribs. Chopped pork. Sausage, smoked chicken, smoked turkey. Meat will come from high-end purveyor Creekstone Farms. Sterling says that Creekstone does a meatier-than-usual cut of beef rib, one that, during butchering, doesn't rob the rib of meat by lopping off some of the beef rib so that the prime rib will be bigger.
Sterling, Levine, and their team will smoke meat using a pair of upright smokers. Each smoker has 12 racks. They will smoke meat using pecan wood and mesquite. Their wood-fired grill will run on pecan wood, mesquite wood, and mesquite charcoal. "If you drive from Phoenix to Tucson, it's pecan and mesquite," Sterling says. "So that's what we're using."
The smoked meat offerings go beyond what you would find in a traditional barbecue joint.
"Arizona doesn't really have a style of barbecue, so we have to borrow," Sterling says. "We're not trying to create our own style but we're trying to do some things representative of Arizona."
Starlite will be serving be serving high-concept dishes based on smoked meat. There will be a green chile pork that uses smoked pork. There will be side dishes like squash with mole, pepitas, and pomegranate seeds, all ingredients sourced locally.
Many of the dishes fall somewhere between traditional and modern. Starlite will serve a mac and cheese that the chefs will let solidify in trays, and then slice thin, fry, and serve. There will be a smoked cheddar-and-green-chile sausage and a more traditional Texas-style beef sausage with garlic and cayenne.
Sterling and his team aim to take simple smoked meat a few steps beyond what we have typically seen here in the Valley. He will be smoking what is often called a "Brontosaurus rib," a heady slab of three beef short ribs attached to a single long bone. He will be smoking slices of meatloaf and serving them on plates, sandwiches, or — at brunch — with fried eggs and gravy, a take on the Hawaiian Loco Moco that Sterling calls the "Smoko Loco." (His wife is Hawaiian and he travels to the islands often.)
He'll also be doing things like cold-smoking a rotating fish, maybe trout, bass, or catfish, and giving it a brief pan-sizzle to crisp up the skin.
Sides are designed to range. Some will be unconventional, like fried mac and cheese. Some will be more in line with classic barbecue sides, like a cold bean salad, barbecue baked beans, and cole slaw.
Many of the dishes will be Southern-leaning. Biscuits will be made in-house. (Pastry chef Greg Drinenko will be baking, pulling double duty between Ocotillo and Starlite.) A fried green tomato sandwich will present a meat-free option. Cornbread skillets will take sweet or savory form. Sweet, they'll come with maple syrup and be available for brunch. Savory, they'll come topped with Nashville-style Hot Chicken.
Even the colossal U-6 shrimp that go with the grits will be smoked. So will the chicken wings.
For the herbivores among us, there will even be a few salads.
Sterling and Levine have a litany of unconventional dishes on tap. They first cooked one of them more than a year ago during an experimental session at Ocotillo. That dish is a Puerto Rican pork steak consisting of loin, chop, and belly all in one cut. They will be using smoke as one of the heat sources to cook the steak.
Starlite has about 45 seats in its dining room (including 17 at the bar) and 40 or so outside. Out on the patio will be the same beer-garden-style tables as at Ocotillo. Inside, the ceiling, bar shelves, and much of the bar itself are cedar, torched by hand to blackness. A gray carbon fiber bar mottled with waves of black curves strikingly across the room. Solid yellow tiles run behind the bar's two TVs and tricked out whiskey selection.
"We wanted to do a nice place where you can have a nice beer and drink whiskey," Sterling says. "Most of the places here don't have alcohol."
Twigg is overseeing a beverage program that will be "brown-spirit forward." There are some serious bottles of whiskey on the bar, including Pappy Van Winkle and every iteration of Whistle Pig's Boss Hog series. Twigg wants to spotlight whiskey because, like barbecue, it's a made-in-America food tradition. His focus won't stop him from pouring pisco, mezcal, and gin drinks.
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Sterling will be moving into more of a management role, overseeing both Starlite and Ocotillo. Over at Ocotillo, Brendan Lee, who was already cooking at the restaurant, will be stepping into a chef de cuisine role.
Starlite looks to be a promising addition to metro Phoenix's robust barbecue scene. If you stop by, let us how that Brontosaurus rib goes with some old bourbon.
Starlite BBQ. 7620 East Indian School Road, #101, Scottsdale; 480-553-9330.
Wednesday and Thursday 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. (bar open later); Friday 4 p.m. to midnight (bar open later); Saturday 10 a.m. to midnight (bar open later); Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
*Brunch will be served on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.