Review Date: 12/31/17
Visit Dates: (05/28/17) (12/10/17) (12/13/17)
Battle Road Brewhouse is an eating and drinking establishment located near the Assabet River in Maynard's Clock Tower Place, a Civil War era mill complex that was once home to Digital Equipment Corporation. It's run by Whole House Group, with radio man Greg Hill (WAAF) one of its principals. Battle Road is a wide open space with a large foyer, hightop tables opposite a lengthy bar, booths scattered along the periphery, and more tables in quieter areas in the back; there's also a function room. Among the neutral decor are a few TVs behind the bar and large windows revealing the brewery activity below.
The Battle Road menu proclaims itself as a mix of "beer-friendly foods from both sides of the Mason-Dixon," balanced with "real pit Southern BBQ, New England staples and amped up pub fare." Given that disclaimer, the barbecue component is significant: babyback ribs, St Louis cut spare ribs, brisket, pulled pork, sausage, half chickens. The babybacks are offered as 1.5-lb portions. St Louis ribs can be had as quarter racks, half racks, single bones, and as part of 2- and 3-meat combos. Pork and brisket can be had on platters, combos and sandwiches; brisket also hits the appetizers as sliders.
I visited three times: once for a Memorial Day weekend dinner with Young Bride and friends, once with YB for a Sunday lunch in December, and once solo the week after for a post-work dinner.
Wings: Tried only on the first visit, the wings ($10) were small and barely hinting at crisp, with no sign of smoke and a mild, nondescript sauce. They're not billed as smoked, but I asked: the server on the first visit said yes, the server on the second visit had no clue, and the server on the third visit said no. Even against other fried/Buffalo wings at other places, these didn't compare well. Or, to use their lingo, this was pub fare that needed to be amped up further. Given the lack of detail and lack of positive past performance, I passed on them going forward.
Fried pickles: Also tried on the first visit, the pickles ($7) didn't distinguish themselves, but they got the job done without embarrassment: thin, crisp, lightly seasoned.
Brisket sliders: Not ordinarily my first choice, especially because cheese is involved (I'm a purist who thinks brisket should stand alone), but the third visit's detour in entree ordering led to this trio ($9). Served on a wood plank, the mini sandwiches arrived in buns similar to King's Hawaiian and Martin's potato rolls, amply but not excessively buttered and grilled. Inside, the beer cheese and crispy onions weren't treated as toppings or accessories. Instead, they were incorporated into the mix of burnt ends (shreds and scraps, not cubes) and barbecue sauce (not excessive). It was a creative decision that worked surprisingly well. The sliders didn't scream brisket or barbecue, but did provide a nice little snack whose balance of bun, beef and butter was enjoyable enough that I'd get it again.
Ribs: Tried on visit 1's 3-meat platter ($23), the ribs consisted of a pair of mid-sized St Louis cut spares, lightly sauced. They were tender without being overtender, but without sufficient resistance on the crust. Rub and smoke were both light to mid-level. They didn't seem fresh, but the flavor and texture did show promise.
The second visit was similar, but a step down: again only two, again old, and this time narrower, gray and cold. Not straight-out-of-the-refrigerator cold, but the reheat didn't reheat them all the way. Moisture still came through though, and the flavor was again pleasantly porky along with the rub/smoke contributions. Again I wasn't thrilled, but thought they could be better another day, though that's what I said last time.
Visit 3 went with a different game plan, foregoing the variety of a combo for the focus of a single effort. It paid off. A half rack of ribs ($24) arrived as a much larger presentation—and not just because there were six of them, but because the bones were longer, meatier and included the chine at the end that connected them. The crust was more pronounced, the meat was thick and downright juicy, and the temperature was what it should be. Rub was less pronounced, as was the porkiness, and the cross sections were again gray, but for a place where barbecue isn't exactly the priority (that would be beer), they were certainly adequate. Smoke was noticeable, and if I were a betting man, I'd bet the smoker is a Cookshack.
Overall, I'm neither thrilled nor scared away.
Brisket: A 3-meat combo ($23) twice supplied a very small piece—about half of what you'd get even at the higher-priced places in Boston, and those places are stingy to begin with. On visit 1, stiff. On visit 2, impressively tender and moist, but cold—even more so than the ribs that day. Old. Unrendered fat. Smoke was light: enough to let you know it's there but not really enough to taste. Much like the other smoked items on those first two visits, brisket showed potential but it went unfulfilled.
Pulled pork: Tried twice on the 3-meat combo ($23), this turned in two very different samples. On visit 1, very tender with good moisture but a little light on flavor. Visit 2's pork brought the benefits of very high bark percentage and lots of rub, but the tradeoff was dryness so extreme that most pieces had a crunch similar to Chex cereal or onion strings out of a can. The few pieces that didn't have that brittle, disintegrate-upon-contact feel were just so dry and stiff that sauce and extended chewing hardly helped. Flavor beyond the appealing rub (salt out front, with a balanced attack otherwise) didn't offer much. Smoke was very light. Overall a disaster for texture, a mixed bag (again with promise) for flavor. Part of me regretted not ordering pulled pork on visit 3. Part of me felt relieved.
A caddy at each table houses four different bottled sauces. Overall, pretty good here.
Bastin' Sauce: Red, with mid range thickness. A little ketchupy, but sweet, peppery and piquant too.
Maynard Muster: A thick, speckled mustard sauce that you'd expect to see in a supermarket as one of the more expensive options; think of it as a more viscous deli mustard with an Eastern European accent.
Putnam's Porter: Made with beer, this one is the darkest, the thickest, the sweetest, and the most like a commercial Kansas City style sauce.
Lexington Dip: This one references Lexington NC, not MA. It's a very tart vinegar sauce with spices accumulated at the bottom, so mix it up thoroughly before applying. Ideal for pulled pork.
Mac and cheese: Tried three times and similar over time, this side presented generously coated shells (previously penne) with Velveeta-like flavor and the texture of a clenched fist. Either it wasn't heated all the way—which would be consistent with most of the second visit—or it needed more liquid. The most recent visit was the loosest but still somewhat siezed.
Cole slaw: Interesting for sure, and good if you like 90% carrot. The condiment was fairly neutral, adding just enough moisture to get the job done and letting the vegetables (mostly shaved carrots) do the talking.
Baked Beans: A few different bean varieties, semi firm with a sweet sauce that most likely is (at least partially) the Bastin' Sauce available in the barbecue sauce caddy.
Cornbread: A substantial block had an all-savory corny flavor with no contributions from whatever herbs or peppers contributed green color. All three times it had a very dry, gritty texture. A compound butter on top looked oddly orange, like Wispride cheese spread. It's seasoned honey butter, spreading a lot easier than it looked, but not really tasting like anything.
I'm not going to pretend to be a beer geek, but my tastes do run a little north of the pedestrian Budweiser. Here, the beers are brewed in house and there's a good variety, which makes the sampler both something fun and a way to zero in on the one you might like best. There are very detailed descriptions in the beer menu to assist in your selections. My more abbreviated tasting notes:
1775: Hoppy, light.
Lexington IPA: Thicker, citrusy.
Minuteman Gold: Very light, like water.
Baron's Festbier: Sweet, thin, light.
Service has been spotty, and it's something mentioned frequently on Yelp. Nothing atrocious or even bordering rude, but only one of the three servers knew the menu. One barely mustered enough energy to stand without falling over. Another was AWOL most of the meal.
My assessment of Battle Road (which I'm still not sure about) has nothing to do with owner Greg Hill. I'm not familiar with his radio persona, so I have no real opinion, but I know he does a lot of charity work and he seemed like a nice enough guy the one time at met him at Flank (Waltham), another of his restaurants. I believe Flank was the victim of a hatchet job review by the Boston Globe, which was much kinder in their review (different reviewers) of Battle Road (see link below, with much better looking food than what I've been served), but that's another story for another day.
There's plenty of parking, plenty of inside gathering space before the restaurant's entry, and plenty of room between tables.
The Bottom Line
While I wouldn't choose it just to have barbecue, Battle Road is the kind of place potentially suitable for accommodating large groups with varying food and beverage requirements.
The track record, whether by meat or by visit, isn't the greatest (a constant challenge to find good flavor and texture in the same bite), so I'd peg Battle Road a little below the middle of the pack for Boston area barbecue. But along with some near misses and near disasters, there were positive signs—on every visit, actually—so the place warrants further monitoring.
Yelp reviews of Battle Road Brew House
Boston Globe review of Battle Road Brew House
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