Last year, Jay Villani and Matt Purington, who already owned Portland restaurants Local 188 and Sonny’s, had a hankering for barbecue.

“Portland has a great restaurant scene, but we saw a need for authentic barbecue,” Purington said.

This week they filled that need, opening Salvage BBQ & Smokehouse at 919 Congress St.

Villani, who also happens to be a metalworker, saw potential in the former Portland Architectural Salvage building near Maine Medical Center. Eleven months later, the property has been transformed into a spacious, casual barbeque joint with a full bar. Villani even built the smoker himself.

“We’re excited about opening a restaurant in a neighborhood where there’s not a lot going on,” said Purington. “Tonight is an opportunity to get together with friends and neighbors and kick off our barbecue experience.”

During the pre-opening party the kitchen sent out complimentary barbecue, smoked meats, and other fixings.

Cape Elizabeth residents Gordon Monk, originally from Texas, and his wife Patty Monk, originally from Colombia, say they were both raised in barbecue country.

“We’ve tried every BBQ in town multiple times,” Gordon Monk said. “And we think this is right at the top.”

“I think it is the best,” Patty Monk said.

On the chicken, at least, they agree.

“I’m not a big barbecue fan, but I loved the sides,” said Alyson Ciechomski, of Portland. “There’s something for everybody.”

“We’re tough critics,” said Megan Bird, a native of Kansas City — serious barbecue territory. “But we thought it was really good.”

“It wasn’t overly smoky. It was just right there,” said Adam Hodgkins of Portland, making a hand motion to indicate the flavor was perfect.

“And I like the atmosphere,” he added.

“Tonight’s just opening ourselves up to the community and putting our best foot forward,” said bar manager Kris Lopez. “The phone has been ringing off the hook.”

Guests raved about the drink specials, including the Fig Whittler, a mix of Jim Beam Rye, lemon, fig jam, fresh mint, ginger, and soda.

“It tastes like the South in your mouth,” said Truc Huyht, of Portland, holding up his Plain Jane, a mix of Blueit, Grand Marnier, Cocchi, Gran de Torino, cherry liqueur, and bitters.

Being transported to the South through distinctive, authentic flavors is exactly what the owners of Salvage BBQ have in mind.

“It started with six of us in a Suburban,” Villani said, describing a barbecue research trip across North Carolina.

“We hit 11 barbecue restaurants in 36 hours,” Purington said. “We really had to pace ourselves.”

A few months later, they did the same thing in Texas.

“That’s what really turned us onto it, seeing how connected people are to the cuisine itself,” Villani said. “They take it very seriously. If you say you like one place better, that’s when the family feud starts.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

amyedits@aol.com