(05/26/06) (07/27/14) (11/23/14)
The American Barbecue is just off Route 1A in Rowley and not far from both the coastline and Route 95. This cabin is a natural “pit” stop on the way back from a day at the beach or after a morning of antiquing at a nearby flea market in the summer. Red barn-looking on the outside, log cabin-looking on the inside, with antique signs instead of prefabricated ones, the place has character. A popcorn machine offers pre-meal snackage (sorry, the peanuts in the shell are no more). I also like the paper towel racks built into the sides of some of the booth tables. Outdoor seating is an option in warmer months.
Barbecue options include St Louis cut pork spare ribs, pulled pork, sliced brisket, smoked chicken, pulled chicken and smoked sausage. The wings may or may not be smoked (and yes, I asked). Combination platters allow two-meat ($16.99) and three-meat ($19.99) configurations. Sandwiches can be made with the boneless barbecue meats. If you're in the mood for Mexican, they do burritos, quesadillas and chimichangas with barbecue meats or all-vegetarian.
In addition to the barbecue, the menu has beer, wine, chili, grilled turkey and tenderloin tips, a few grilled fish options, burgers and veggie burgers, two different salads, prime rib on Thursdays and an array of Southern desserts.
I made weekend afternoon visits years ago, then did a Sunday lunch and Sunday dinner more recently.
Fried Pickles: A fairly generous basket of battered, deep fried pickle chips ($5.99, I thnk) was more generous with the dense and impactful seasoning. Crisp, hot, and a nice combination of tart and savory. The thick dipping sauce had some nice zing too. One of the better fried pickle renditions for sure.
Onion rings: A seafood shack containerful ($4.99 for a small) emptied gigantic rings of the puffy batter variety—an odd choice not to go with the coastal seafood shack style given their location. These had a pleasant flavor, a hint of crunch and more than a hint of grease.
Wings: It's not clear from the menu whether they're baked, smoked, grilled, fried or a combination of the above, so on my first 2014 visit (Sunday lunch) I asked. "Fried," said the girl behind the counter. So I passed. Then, five minutes later, after I ordered, a sign went up promoting a 50-cent special on smoked wings. Nice to know. But were the smoked wings a one-time thing or the way they're always cooked? Would be nice to know.
So I augmented my order with a half dozen, choosing Citrus Chipotle as the sauce. Although smoke flavor wasn't part of the equation (I do believe they're smoked), the wings impressed. The skins were sufficiently crispy and a little more, even with a more-than-sufficient saucing, and with slightly moist meat beneath. That trio of attributes is hard to achieve, but they did it. The thick, sweet sauce didn't really taste like citrus or chipotle, but it still hit the spot with a nice, just-thick-enough mix of mostly sweet with a little heat. If you're a fan of General Gau's chicken at your local Chinese restaurant, this sauce is worth a try. A follow-up visit a few months later saw the same sign up, and this time I inquired again. Turns out, according to this counter staffer, that the wings are always smoked. So I got 'em again and they duplicated the previous batch. So to sum up: Sundays 50 cents each. Smoked. Not smoky. Still good overall. Sweet.
Ribs: Two 2014 visits saw very different results, but the one obvious constant was the volume. They give you four or five large spare ribs on a combo. On the summer lunch visit, the ribs had a rub-studded crust and meat beneath that was as tender as pudding (which can be a good thing or not-so-good thing, depending on personal preference). Flavor was okay, but more subdued than the visual would suggest. Moistness was okay too, though well shy of juicy.
The late fall's batch came sauced (I forgot to request otherwise), and the saucing was generous without being invasive. You can see past and through the sauce in the photos that these ribs had good color and trickling juices. They were much fresher and much more moist than the previous effort, and with a much better bite. I'm all for pudding texture in pudding, but I like putting a bite into a rib and having it give me a little resistance while still being tender. This batch succeeded. Flavor was about the same: slightly porky, slightly rubby, slightly smoky, not too crazy in any direction. This second installment, sauced or not, was easily above average for the greater Boston area.
Pulled Pork: On the 2014 revisits, I tried this staple only once, but once was more than enough. The meat had the look (pale), taste (minimal if any rub and smoke) and feel (overly mushy) of something out of a pouch, straight from the supermarket. It's not that it was oversauced (it wasn't) or any referendum on style; this was just washed out, flavorwise and otherwise.
Brisket: Tried on the night visit, this selection delivered an abundance of slices—mostly gray, somewhat pot roasty, slightly smoky, not at all rubby, not much else going on, and steamy without being juicy. On the plus side, the brisket was tender and they give you a lot of it. With more things on the negative side of the ledger, this brisket registers below average.
Sausage: Tried on the night visit's 3-meat combo, the link arrived as a series of
slices sauced heavily but not so much that the sweet/hot Italian
flavors ever got lost. Smoke got a little lost, but not a huge issue.
The casing was neither crisp nor soggy; the interior was tender with a
hint of resistance and moist but not juicy. Overall, a fairly average
Five different barbecue sauces are available at a well-stocked condiment, cutlery and plating station The regular (brown) and hot (more red) are slight variations on ketchup, though the regular that topped the meats as served seemed to have more zing and more spreadability. The "Yellow" sauce (that's the name they use) also had some zing and sweetness. The Carolina sauce had lots of pepper and spice flecks and was significantly thicker and more full bodied than a typical vinegar sauce. The Citrus Chipotle offers a different take on sweet and heat.
Southern Greens: A bright green, closely cropped but not overchopped collection of stems and leaves, cooked with just the slightest crunch left, brought invigorating flavor with its light broth. Even more flavor comes from the inclusion of quarter slices of sausage and slivers of what look and taste like pepperoni. It's different and it's good. I've had it on every visit and see no reason not to continue.
Mashed Potatoes: A moist, skins-on version is soft, fluffly, very potatoey and one of the better efforts, maybe just a tick or two below Blue Ribbon and Rosebud.
Cole Slaw: An early serving in 2006 packed too much celery seed for my taste, and I like celery seed. But subsequent ones have found a nice balance of creamy, tangy, sweet and savory that makes it one of my favorite cole slaws in the region.
Mac and Cheese: I didn't try this personally, but dishes I saw on neighboring tables had a loose, creamy style that looked mild but good.
Cornbread: A large block, soft and cakey without being too sweet.
A big plus is the handling of plates, takeout containers, sauces and plastic cutlery. It's all right there for the taking, so if you want a separate plate for your ribs so you can sauce the other meats a different way, or a separate plate for your cornbread so you can keep it free of sauce entirely, you can do it. And later on, you can configure your doggie bag any way you want.
The Bottom Line
The barbecue is real, but the just-ok-for-the-most-part meats are the weakest link in an otherwise pretty solid operation that's geared around the meat. Sides, appetizers, menu breadth and value are the strong points here, and for those reasons—along with friendly service and a comfortable environment—I plan on checking in every now and then.
My 2006 review of the American Barbecue
Yelp reviews of the American Barbecue
Urbanspoon reviews of the American Barbecue
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