Southeast Massachusetts is cranberry country, and Little Red Smokehouse on Route 58 looks right at home: cranberry is the main ingredient in one of the sauces, and framed cranberry labels form the backbone of the décor. The combination of dim lighting, a chalkboard menu, candles and and an indoor shack structure over the bar makes Little Red Smokehouse respectable and casual at the same time. The newly expanded bar area has numerous stools and a view of the kitchen. Flat panel TVs are scattered around the room.
Little Red Smokehouse reopened in December 2010 after a 2-year hiatus. The ownership has changed, the pitmaster is the same and the menu has expanded more than threefold.
The menu at Little Red Smokehouse includes all the barbecue staples, with three kinds of pork ribs (babybacks, St Louis cut and giant "Carolina" cut spares), pulled pork, brisket, sausage and cranberry rubbed chicken and turkey. Barbecue combos are a single price regardless of whether you want two, three, four or five non-rib meats; they'll just scale the portions accordingly. Ribs can be added onto a combo as a quarter rack, or had as a quarter, half or full rack with two sides. Or as a 3-rib combo.
The lengthy kist of appetizer list includes wings (smoked, fried or boneless), quesadillas, nachos, fried okra, fried catfish, chili and five different salads. Sandwiches include barbecue fare, plus roast beef, grilled or fried chicken, pineapple chicken, grilled or fried pork loin cutlet or steak cutlet, Peking turkey, meatloaf and fried catfish. Or you can have a hotdog. Or a burger as a 6-ounce patty or a "Juicy Lucy" with two patties encasing a cheese filling. Or one of five flatbread pizzas or three pastas infused with barbecue meats.
It's one deep menu for any restaurant, much less a barbecue joint.
Two visits were spaced nearly five years apart because the Little Red Smokehouse shut down in 2008 and reopened in 2010 after a 2-year hiatus. What follows is a report on my findings after the reopening, with a link to the original 2006 review below.
Smokin' Cranberry Wings: The only item presented sauced (sauceless is standard practice here), the smoked cranberry wings ($7.95) brought decent size and a lightly charred crust that peeked through what I'd call more of a light, syrupy glaze than a sauce, most of which slid into a pool beneath the bones. I liked that the three major players were chickeny flavor first, smoky flavor second and sweet-tart finish last. The meat was slightly tender and slightly moist. This was a solid bowl of wings that kicked the meal off to a good start and turned out to be one of its highlights, providing the most smoke and the most flavor of any dish.
Pulled pork: A massive serving on the 3-meat combo plate ($15.95, a surprisingly steep drop in price from 5 years prior) wasn't sauced but it did arrive in a pool of a holding or finishing liquid that was mostly natural meat juices. The bark level was high, though it wasn't crisp. Most of the meat had a very tender (possibly overtender) texture, either from slight overcooking or sitting in the liquid a little too long, but I still enjoyed it with or without additional sauce. Although the smokiness was more subdued here than in the other meats, overall flavor was higher, with a nice pigginess accented by whatever secret collaborating flavors went into the mix.
Brisket: Thick slices rimmed with a fat layer along the circumference had good pink coloring and a thick, dark bark. As with the ribs, smoke was evident but rub was not; again the natural flavor of the beef spoke loudest. As for tenderness, this brisket was neither overdone nor overly tough, but its somewhat firm texture might have benefitted from a thinner slice.
Ribs: A quarter rack add-on ($5.95) to the combo plate, the massive Carolina cut of pork spare ribs brought four bones that were even meatier than the similar cut available at nearby Chili Head BBQ. It bore a very thick bark probably resulting more from the smoking process than from abundance of rub. Inside, the meat was very moist, with a soft texture similar to a beef short rib. The meat was so thick that it included part of the belly, with a thin embedded layer of fat layer that was removed easily enough. Smoke was similar to the other meats in that it was in there and obvious, but deferred to the natural pork flavor. Rub was again not so noticeable. The impressiveness of the cut, the tenderness of the meat and the contrast in outer/inner textures made these ribs enjoyable despite the minimal flavor.
Sausage: The most unusual item on the 3-meat platter was the sausage, cut into 3/4-inch slices of crumbly meat that may not have even had a casing. The super soft, fall-apart texture—closer to stuffing or meat loaf—took some getting used to, but the juiciness of the meat, the strong smokiness and the most assertive flavor since the wings were all welcome. I know I'd get these again, if for no other reason than curiosity, but I think I liked the sausage.
Three sauces graced the table and all three were pretty good. Cranberry is thin, sweet and tart without leaning too far in the sweet or tart direction. Carolina is a full-bodied sweet mustard sauce. Bourbon had a sweet/tart contrast similar to the cranberry, but with more sweet and more thickness.
Cole slaw: An interesting crunchy/creamy concoction overcame the absence of both spice and vinegar via the addition of mini grapes.
Onion rings: Available as a side as well as an appetizer, had light, crisp batter with a perfect flaky consistency but no stickage factor. Although there was little if any seasoning, the rings satisfied with the subtle crunch and the moistness and sweetness of the thick cut onions. The ranchish dipping sauce was fairly plain.
Collard greens: A little undercooked and presented mostly au naturale. A few stewed tomatoes joined the party, treated as a standard vegetable, with a light coating of flavor, but no sauce or broth.
Mac and cheese: Perfectly cooked pasta was liberally coated with one of the thickest, creamiest cheese toppings I've come across in this dish. The cheese wasn't particularly sharp, but it was smoked, adding a very interesting flavor.
The Bottom Line
The general trend was toward extremely subdued flavors, but the presentations, portions, textures and sauces were mostly impressive enough to justify a follow-up visit. I see some potential here.
2006 PigTrip review of Little Red Smokehouse
Yelp reviews of Little Red Smokehouse
Urbanspoon reviews of Little Red Smokehouse