Review Date: 07/21/15
Visit Date: 07/03/15
The same husband-and-wife duo who ran a huge barbecue parlor in Chelsea have moved their operation to smaller digs in Boston's Seaport District. With all of the corporate competition from chains in that neighborhood, Larry J's is a breath of fresh air—literally, in fact, because it's a only a kiosk with takeout and al fresco dining. Patio tables overlook a tiny park. You order at the window and they call you when it's done.
The Chelsea menu has essentially remained intact. A usual downside of over-the-counter joints is lack of appetizers, but Larry J's is almost singlehandedly changing that paradigm with a bevy of innovative treats: rib tips, burnt ends, Fire Balls (spicy meatballs), wings, chili, Hawg Wings (pork shanks), catfish and more. The barbecue menu is equally far reaching, with pork ribs, beef ribs, pulled pork, sliced brisket, sausage, smoked turkey legs, smoked and pulled chicken. Beyond 'cue, there's a hot dog, a burger, a chicken burger, a veggie burger, a catfish sandwich, assorted stuffed baked potatoes and four salads.
With a rare weekday off from work, I joined an eating buddy for a pre-Fourth-of-July eating tour that included Larry J's for a late lunch.
Burnt ends: These rubbed-and-smoked cubes of beef ($8.95) from the fattiest part of the brisket didn't exhibit the classic buttery texture of rampant juice flow (or even anything close), but the firm-to-a-fault meat (texture like a clenched fist) did have strong beef flavor with light smoke and lighter rub.
Wings: Billed as smoked-then-fried, the wings ($9.95) yielded ten pieces with two things I liked from the Chelsea visits: gentle smoky flavor and the perfect amount of just-spicy-enough chipotle sauce (BBQ, Buffalo and habanero are the other options). They also had two things that were an improvement: crispy skins and a very strong chickeny flavor. Rub was again light but not a problem; these wings were large, tender, very flavorful and very enjoyable.
Hawg Wings: A trio of pork shanks on the bone ($9.95) are also smoked-then-fried, and these were superb. Served unsauced, they immediately showcased the virtues of a minute in the deep fryer. The skin—or whatever you call the exterior of a pork shank—was super crisp and still gently bubbling. One bite in, the moist meat glided meltingly off the bone. The meat wasn't what I'd call overly porky, noticeably seasoned or particularly moist (though not dry), but the smoke, outer crunch (with a fried chicken feel) and sweet chili dipping sauce on the side made these a winner.
Pork ribs: To allow as much variety as possible, we opted for a trio ($7.95) that came out with perfect doneness (neither firm nor soggy) but a steamy, long-in-the-tooth feel. Flavor brought the most rub of any meat and brought the sauce on the side. I noticed a tinny backdrop in there too, which is somewhat common among meats cooked in a Cookshack smoker. Overall, doable but below average.
Pulled pork: Ordered as the smallest bulk tub available (around $13), the pork arrived with a bounty of commercial-tasting brown barbecue sauce that dampened the meat thoroughly. Texture was fine, hitting that sweet spot between firm and soggy without nearing either. Flavor aside from the sauce was light in every aspect. I'm guessing the public at large would really enjoy this, though serious barbecue types would probably find this too sweet and too similar to something out of a supermarket.
A single sauce at the condiment station is a reddish brown tomato-based number similar in style to what you'd get at the store, but much better executed: a little thinner, a little zippier and more homemade tasting.
Only two sides were available on this visit. The others, according to Larry (at least on this day), had "left the building."
Collard Greens: Cooked just past wilting without drifting into mushy. Nice complementary flavors that masked the bitterness without being overly sweet or vinegary. It tasted like vegetable and that's how it should be.
Potato salad: Very white, very mayoey, very soft, very bland.
Surprisingly easy parking. Though I've eaten here only once, I've been here three times (once to grab a menu, once to find nobody manning the booth).
Always jovial at the Chelsea location, Larry J has apparently gotten grumpy in recent years. It was evident during our visit and has been a recurring theme in the Yelp reviews.
The Bottom Line
It's nice to find a cheap eats option and a mom-and-pop operation in the Seaport area that's overrun with national chains. The barbecue is a mixed bag: a few pleasant surprises, serviceable in spots and a little rough in others.
My review of Larry J's House of Q in Chelsea
Yelp reviews of Larry J's BBQ Cafe
Zomato reviews of Larry J's BBQ Cafe