M&M Ribs is a strictly outdoor operation, vending ribs, chicken and assorted other barbecue, soul and Caribbean fare out of a trailer semi-permanently parked in a vacant lot in Dorchester. There's a table and chairs for onsite dining, but most of the business is takeout or eaten standing up. M&M operates Wednesday through Saturday only, remaining open until 3:00AM early Sunday morning.
In the summer of 2009, M&M garnered "best-of" awards from both the Improper Bostonian and Boston Magazine, piquing my interest past the tipping point. I was also a little surprised, because although I'd enjoyed M&M ribs at those festivals, I'd hesitate to call them "best-of" caliber. A few attempts in the fall fell through, but an M&M pilgrimage materialized as my first barbecue visit of the new decade.
M&M has a lean menu that offers pork spare ribs, barbecue chicken, pulled pork, brisket and a few specials, plus a wide roster of soulful sides. Fried chicken is currently limited to wings.
Accompanied by a barbecue restaurant owner/pitmaster, I ventured to M&M Ribs on the first Saturday of the year, braving the snow for an early afternoon visit.
I'd heard raves about M&M's fried chicken, but only fried wings are available, not the rest of the bird. Lightly battered, very lightly seasoned and served served ultra crisp, the wings were competently made but otherwise uneventful. I really liked the two dipping sauces, one a barbecue and the other a jerk, each adding some oomph to match the crispness..
A rack of ribs was crammed into a large tin, lightly coated with sauce. These were lengthy spares with plenty of meat and a decent crust, though not much rub. The meat was tender, and thankfully not the kind of stewed tenderness you sometimes see at joints that straddle the line between barbecue and soul food. These had a little more crispness and bite, with more grill taste than smoke.
The pulled pork sandwich had a good portion of finely chopped (almost to the consistency of egg salad) meat that bore no smoke or bark. Lightly sauced, it brought a very porky flavor and was enjoyable despite the lack of texture and smokiness. The soft, plump bun was much fresher and higher quality than I expected.
A chopped brisket sandwich (sliced is not offered) was also ferociously chopped. More heavily sauced than the pork, it yielded an even greater portion of beef, which was strong on beef flavor but not along the lines of the familiar brisket/barbecue profile. The saucing, texture and flavor reminded me of a hamburger. If you close your eyes and imagine it as a burger, it's a pretty good burger—and better as a burger than as a brisket sandwich.
BBQ Chicken was a whole chicken cut into pieces and sauced like the ribs, but more heavily. This was not so pretty to look at but it had good moistness and tenderness, if slightly overcooked. There was no smoke flavor.
Jerk chicken was a special that served a large thigh over rice with a nice "topping" that had some heat and a pleasing complexity of flavor beyond the heat. The thigh meat was a little dry but the sauce was able to compensate.
Overall, the meats were more reminiscent of the old school open pit style of 'cue that gives the meat an outdoorsy charcoal flavoring than the now-familiar subtle smoke of high powered automatic cookers. You have to admire that the cooking is all done by hand, outdoors, under adverse weather conditions, and served up reliably and cheerfully, even in the snow.
The standard sauce used on all of the meats is a thin, tomato-based sweet sauce with a little tanginess. It seems to be used more as a lubricant than as a full bodied flavor jacker upper. The sauces that came with the wings were a little thicker and more intensely flavored.
Sides were mostly good. Cole slaw was refreshing and crisp, with thinly sliced with peppers and pickles really punching up the flavor of the more standard ingredients. Mac and cheese: was very orange and very mild. Cornbread was served as tiny loaves that reminded me of a Stop 'n' Shop variety I had as a kid. Collard greens were large leaves cooked past wilting with a pleasingly mellow flavor.
The bottom line: A solid if unremarkable meal on a cold day. Was it the best of Boston? Not on this visit, but the timing (late Saturday lunch on a day when it was snowing, following two earlier days of snow and cold temperatures) wasn't ideal for any barbecue joint, much less one that's strictly an outdoor operation. But there were enough good signs to warrant a return trip.
Urban Spoon reviews of M&M Ribs