Chef Dan Sauer says, "Barbecue is my favorite thing to eat." Beth Seabourne

With the success of 7a Foods—hundreds, maybe thousands of Liz Lemon sandwiches later—Dan Sauer and Wenonah Madison knew they were ready to open a second eatery on the Island. But what—and where? In the spring of 2016, an opportunity came into view while Dan was spending a lot of time at Veira Park in Oak Bluffs watching his son’s baseball games. He happened to see the For Sale sign at the old Smoke ‘n Bones on Oakland Avenue.

The sign got Dan’s attention for two reasons. “Barbecue is my favorite thing to eat,” he admits. But also, he figured, a barbecue restaurant would make a lot of sense for Island families because of the convenience: No reservations, low-key vibe, well-made food. Plus, Dan had some experience smoking meat from his long career in the restaurant business.

Still, once he and Wenonah began to consider the idea seriously, Dan needed inspiration. On a trip to Texas, he got hooked on brisket. On another research trip, this one to New York, he scouted the best ribs, pulled pork, sausage and sides.

By the time Dan and Wenonah opened Sea Smoke Barbecue last summer, Dan had developed a barbecue that doesn’t strictly adhere to any particular regional style. He’s quick to point that out, not wanting to offend loyalists. Of course, a huge part of the barbecue experience is the sides, and Sea Smoke’s got its own renditions of mac and cheese, potato salad, baked beans, collard greens, corn bread, and cole slaw—made with Island ingredients whenever possible.

Old-fashioned cafeteria-style service contributes to the family-friendly atmosphere. Wenonah Madison

Even before he had the menu figured out, Dan knew that no-frills counter-service, cafeteria-style dining was the model he wanted to use. When all ran efficiently last year, diners first chose their meat and ordered it by the pound or rack. Then they moved down the line to order sides and drinks before reaching the cashier and moving on to finding a booth. Dan and Wenonah found that the system needed refining and are hoping to make the flow of counter service more obvious this year.

One thing that might not change, however: On some nights, the much-coveted barbecue runs out before closing time. “Last year, there were times when we ran out of some things by 8:30 or 9:00 p.m., and I definitely understand people’s frustration with that. But that’s how a lot of barbecue places operate,” Dan explained. They smoke a certain amount of meat every day and when it’s gone, it’s gone. “And honestly, I wouldn’t trust a busy barbecue restaurant that has all of their most popular items late on a Friday night,” he said with a little laugh.

Opening a new barbecue restaurant within the walls of a former beloved barbecue spot had some perks and also posed some challenges. The old wood smoker is a gem, and Dan is happy to have it. But along with the space came a legion of former customers who had come to love Smoke ‘n Bones’ food and were skeptical of the newcomer. “We’ve won over some Smoke ‘n Bones customers, but not all of them,” Dan said, “You can’t please them all.”

Ribs and brisket in the smoker. Wenonah Madison

Still, they’re surely pleasing many. After opening in July, Dan enjoyed watching his clientele grow into regulars who kept coming back—a lot of local folks and to his surprise and delight, lots and lots of little kids.

No doubt those folks will be lining up when Sea Smoke reopens in mid-May for the 2018 season. Dan and Wenonah are happy to welcome back manager Mike Edwards for a second year. And happy to announce a few new menu items, including combo plates and some non-traditional sides. Sea Smoke, 7 Oakland Avenue, Oak Bluffs, will be open Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesdays) from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.