How to Throw a Barbecue Like Eli and Max Sussman
It was a perfect July afternoon, and the chefs Eli and Max Sussman were facing off in a heated round of Ping-Pong that suggested a long family history with the sport. The two brothers were taking a break from barbecue duty at Ruschmeyer's, the hotel and restaurant in Montauk where they did a cooking residency last summer. Founded in the '50s at the tip of New York's Long Island and stylishly revamped a few years ago, Ruschmeyer's is like a summer camp for adults: Cedar cabins surround a lawn (a.k.a. The Magic Garden) dotted with grills, fire pits, hammocks and an oversize tepee. The place could be straight out of Dirty Dancing—only the crowd is a cross section of tattooed surfers and social butterflies.
Ever the hosts, the Sussman brothers were flipping paprika-spiked veggie burgers for their guests at an impromptu afternoon party. Also on the menu: a version of the Middle Eastern kebabs called kofta, made from local cod and served on a brioche hot dog bun. Iced tea spiked with cardamom and rosewater fit into the Middle Eastern theme. "It's the perfect summery drink," says Eli, "with a lot of character"—just like the Sussmans themselves. They've been shaking up the food world ever since they started cooking at Brooklyn's Mile End deli (Eli) and Roberta's (Max) and began publishing irreverent cookbooks with deadpan titles like This Is a Cookbook and Best Cookbook Ever.
Welcome to paradise, Sussman style. Ruschmeyer's has become a Hamptons hot spot thanks to its playful atmosphere, gorgeous views of Fort Pond and farm-to-table philosophy—an ethos the Sussmans share. The brothers' party in The Magic Garden turned out to be the ideal showcase for their unique take on Middle Eastern cuisine, which is on year-round display at Samesa, their stand at the Berg'n beer hall in Brooklyn's emerging Crown Heights neighborhood.
"We used the bounty of Montauk and did a really cool menu with it, taking a Mediterranean- and Middle Eastern–themed inspiration but being superlocal with ingredients," explains Max. The duo forged direct relationships with area farmers and fishermen, who provided everything from stripers fresh off the dock to candy-colored heirloom tomatoes.
Spending the season at Ruschmeyer's was a flashback for the Sussmans, who grew up going to summer camp in Three Rivers, Michigan. As adults they were hired to work in the camp kitchen, with then 22-year-old Max in charge and 20-year-old Eli as his trusty sous-chef. The culinary ideology they carved out there endures today. "The kids were used to chicken nuggets and peanut butter sandwiches," says Eli. "We tried to make real food and get them excited about it. We were baking breads, making Indian feasts, roasting chickens."
Cooking in the increasingly (and sometimes deafeningly) buzzy beach town of Montauk was a bit of a change from rural Michigan, but the experiences have their parallels. "Summer comes around, you sort of shed your city skin and can reinvent yourself out in the woods," says Eli.
For the Sussmans, great food should have the same elemental appeal, whether prepared in Brooklyn or by the beach. Explains Max, "Going out to eat shouldn't be superserious or intellectual—it should be fun."
Cook the rest of the menu: