September 21. 2016 10:45PM

At new storefront, bringing a taste of Texas to Londonderry

Union Leader Correspondent

Anthony Martino stands behind the counter at Gabi's Smokeshack, the new Londonderry barbecue storefront. He drive a food truck for years, and business just kept growing. (ELI OKUN/Union Leader Correspondent)

The decorations and the food at Gabi's hearken back to Anthony Martino's Texas roots. (Eli Okun/Union Leader Correspondent Photos)

LONDONDERRY — Near the counter at Gabi’s Smokeshack, a hanging sign offers a declaration of sorts: “North is a direction. The South is a lifestyle.”

That neatly encapsulates the attitude and charm of Anthony Martino’s Texas barbecue storefront, which celebrated the grand opening Sunday of its storefront on Route 28 after a soft launch last month.

The Houston native opened Gabi’s as a food truck and catering operation six years ago. But business kept growing, and after a massive, 650-person event last September, he started looking for a more permanent location.

“My wife was like, ‘You’ve got to find some place,’” Martino laughed. “‘Get out of my house and find a place to do this.’”

Martino now serves up brisket, pulled pork, chicken, ribs, Texas hot link and more from behind the Londonderry counter, with picnic tables outside for people to sit during nice weather.

Creating Gabi’s, which is named for his 14-year-old daughter, represented a major change for Martino — as well as a return.

From 16 to 38, he worked in the restaurant business — mostly Italian food — doing everything from washing dishes to managing restaurants. But then he switched gears and became a traveling nuclear medicine technologist.

After meeting his wife, Belinda, Martino moved to Hudson in 2000. Belinda hails from Presque Isle, Maine, and “this is as far south as I can get her to move,” Martino said.

But when he was laid off in 2009, Martino decided to bring some of the South to New England. Having regularly cooked barbecue for family and friends every Labor Day for years, he made his hobby and erstwhile profession into a career once again — and Gabi’s was born.

The secret to his approach, he said, is keeping it simple.

“A lot of people have these multitude of ingredients they put for rubs on their barbecue, and I try and stick to my central Texas roots,” he said. “Basically it’s salt and pepper. Salt and pepper and smoke.”

Belinda said she thinks Gabi’s fills a niche in the region, with few similar options between Manchester and Nashua.

“There really aren’t that many barbecue restaurants in this area,” she said. “Each week seems to be busier and busier, so I think that word is getting out.”

On top of her part-time work as a radiation technologist, Belinda does all the baking at Gabi’s: whoopie pies, cookies, peach cobbler, corn muffins and, of course, Texas sheet cake. Apple crisps will likely follow in the fall.

Anthony Martino, who financed the storefront opening by dipping into his retirement savings, said having a permanent location will expand the range of customers and his catering opportunities.

And he wants to keep spreading the gospel of barbecue, which he calls “America’s food.” The smells of meat smoking still bring him back to his childhood, when he would walk from his father’s liquor store to a nearby restaurant to see the big brick pits.

“Introducing people to real barbecue,” he said. “That’s what really floats my boat.”