Tucked into a quiet strip mall on Route 1 is AD's Barbecue, the second incarnation of a downtown Portsmouth joint by the same name that closed a decade ago. AD is Adrian DeGraffe, who runs the kitchen with his sons while wife Andrea handles customer orders. Although it's technically counter service, all orders are brought out to the tables and many of the orders are taken in the dining room as well. In addition to a single TV, the low key space blends a unique mix of Portsmouth historical photos, jazz art and nostalgic TV star 8x10s, along with framed newspaper clippings about the restaurant past and present. Tables near the counter offer complimentary reading material and—now this a first—dental floss. The smoker is a Southern Pride.
The barbecue menu features pork spare ribs, pork babyback ribs, beef back ribs, shredded pork, brisket, chicken, sausage and wings, with several ordering options for maximum flexibility.
For example, pork spare ribs can be had as three or six ribs with one or two sides. Or as a combo with three ribs and a quarter quicken with one or two sides. Or as a combo with six ribs and a half quicken with one or two sides. Or as a two pork ribs and two beef ribs with one or two sides. Or four and four with one or two. Or as the "Super Barbeque Platter for 1" that includes a pork rib, a beef rib, a sausage, a quarter chicken and a small side. Or as the "Super Barbeque Platter for 2" with double the dosage amd adds two rolls. Or as a quarter, half or full slab without sides. Or in bulk as 18, 24, 30, 36 or 40 ribs.
Chicken can be had solo in increments of quarter birds up to a whole chicken. Or as the dinner with one or two sides. Shredded pork and brisket are slightlyless modular, available as dinners, or half pound increments solo, or sandwiches. Additional sandwiches include BBQ chicken breast, BBQ catfish, hot sausage (with cheese and vegetables), burgers and dogs.
Beyond chili and wings, appetizers include hushpuppies, jalapeno poppers and chicken fingers.
I stopped into AD's for Saturday lunch and dinner visits spaced two weeks apart.
Chili: The first visit's first item got things off to a very good start, starting with the presentation: the small ($3.75) is served in a wide cup with a hot, fresh baked, softball sized dinner roll. That was one impressive roll, with a nice crusty, sesame seed studded surface and a fluffy interior. Not that the chili was a slouch. Made with barbecue meats, it had an instantly recognizable smoky aroma and flavor. I also liked that the balance of sufficient thick broth to go along with the meat. And a nice chile pepper flavor—not always a given with barbecue chilis—to go along with the smoky profile. The heat was definitely there without trying to prove anything, just how I like it.
Wings: You can get BBQ wings or Hot wings, but I took the owner's suggestion of the dry rubbed wings with sauce on the side. The 7-piece order ($9.95) had a near-even mix of drumettes and wingettes, all crispy, slightly tinted red and heavily rubbed. The aroma was an equal mix of chickeny, smoky, grilly and chile peppery—I'm guessing cayenne. Flavor delivered everything suggested by that aroma, with a little more grilliness than smokiness and a lot more heat than expected—both in heat level and heat dominance over other flavors such as salt, pepper and sugar. These aren't reach-for-the-beer-immediately hot, but they're not geared for kids. I enjoyed them, especially the contrast between crispy exterior and tender, slightly juicy interior. Probably just a few rungs shy of making the next Wings List, but a worthy contender.
Ribs: Tried on the first visit's Super Barbeque Platter for 1 ($18.50), the lengthy, meaty spare brought a formidable crust, formidable spice rub against a glistening backdrop and the faintest of charring on all four sides (including the cut cross sections between ribs) to suggest that this might be a reheat. That first bite echoed the wings for flavor in every regard, but the texture was much firmer. I'd hesitate to call these ribs tough—and I'm not looking for fall-off-the-bone tender—but it took some work to get the meat off the bone. Smoky, tingly flavor was satisfying enough to make them enjoyable; moisture was enough to get by, though sauce helped. A second tasting on visit 2 duplicated the first, with a paler complexion but slightly improved tenderness. Still, some effort was needed, so I'm guessing they're firm by design.
Beef ribs: This back rib cut is getting harder and harder to find these days, so it's a pleasure to find it in a hidden seacoast town in New Hampshire of all places. Shorter than the pork ribs but meatier between the bones, these delivered the same pleasant-potent flavor profile in a firmer-still package that required spirited gnawing on some bites. Juices trickled steadily, and orangy from the rub. The meat itself was more monotone, so there might have been a fast cook. Again, flavor made them worthwhile, but tenderness was an issue here, and on both visits (I was hoping the later-in-the-day visit would see a breakthrough). These beef ribs could be something really special with some improvement on that front.
I did notice some sauced ribs on another table that looked more appealing, so I saved some of my order for home experimentation. Then, with my likely slower foil and toaster oven reaheat, I achieved satisfactory results with both unsauced and sauced beef ribs. As for the restaurant, I recommend trying the beef ribs but recommend proceeding with caution. Go for just one, and if the texture is to your liking, the flexible menu has multiple ways you can order more.
Sausage: This is a custom made sausage that starts out as Italian but adds a few other top secret ingredients to give it a more unique flavor. Texture was a huge step up from both rib types, bringing a crisp casing, explosively juicy cross sections when cut and a velvety mouthfeel from first bite to last.
Chicken: This turned out to be a surprise highlight on both visits. Both times the skins were crisp, the interiors were tender and that slightly red tint so elusive with the ribs was back with the chicken. Most of the pieces were well lubed, going past moist and into full flowing juiciness, with the breast at more of a trickle. All had that signature flavor led by chile pepper heat and backed by a smoky/grilly tandem that for the first time featured more of the former. Nicely done and very fresh tasting.
Pork: Here it's shredded, not pulled, but that's a minor point. On the second visit I was able to swap in the pork instead of sausage, finding the meat a little more sauced than I prefer but not drenched or "smothered," as some like to say. I could easily make out the bark and another example of attractive red tint through the sauce. The chop—or shred—was such that each piece was small enough to have lost its own moisture, so it leaned more on the sauce in that regard. But the flavor came through, with some light heat and a seemingly more diverse array of seasonings that may have been the sweetness of the sauce tempering that heat. Either way, it worked for flavor more so than texture, but on a larger version of those fresh baked rolls—that's how they do the sandwiches, I'm told—this could be a winner.
Regular and hot options are available, applied directly onto the meat or served on the side in small plastic cups. Both are bright red in what appears to be a ketchup base kicked up with vinegar and spices, with more of those spices and chile pepper in the hot version. The end result is interesting and not too ketchupy for me. The consistency is thin enough to spread and thick enough to adhere. Heat is recognizable but not unnavigable.
Cole Slaw: Crunchy and lightly creamy, AD's version has flavorful celery seed inclusion.
Mac and cheese: A tight southern version with less emphasis on the cheese and more on the macaroni itself.
Baked beans: The beans were firm enough that they must have been homemade, but the thick molassesy style had the flavor of a canned version.
Prices may seem high at first glance but portions are usually generous. On my first visit I received an extra pork rib and on my second I received an extra beef rib. Sides more than fill their containers.
There's something very homey about this place that I like.
The Bottom Line
Unique, no-frills barbecue with textures that sometimes succeed, sometimes struggle, along with flavors that are always bold and full of personality. Ribs take a back seat to the wings, chili, sausage and chicken. It feels like home.
Seacoast Online profile of AD's Barbecue
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