Only during the summer (well, June through October) and it's only on Thursday nights, Meadowbrook Orchards offers barbecue dinners with a handful of meats smoked right before your eyes.
After taking a gander at the night's offerings—either via the menu or up close and personal right outside the building—you pay for your 'cue inside and bring the ticket back outside, where the staff serves out of heated aluminum pans. Grab your forks, napkins, warm sauces and then decide whether you want to tackle your bounty at picnic tables under the trees, inside the country store or around the back with a view of the farmlands.
A BYOB option lets you bring your own alcoholic beverages.
The barbecue meats feature babyback ribs (full or half rack), pulled pork, sliced brisket and smoked chickens (half or quarter bird), plus another meat or two available as a special. You can pair any two ($22.99 with two sides and cornbread) or three ($26.99), or go for the sampler ($22.99) that gives you smaller portions of all four of the standard meats.
There are burgers and dogs for the kids as well as a soup and sandwich menu if you can get there before 6:00PM. Breakfast and lunch is served seven days a week.
After years of wondering why I hadn't gone yet, I hit Meadowbrook Orchards on a (surprise) Thursday night, arriving right around 5:00PM when the barbecue was first set out. At that time the brisket wasn't ready yet, so I tackled my 3-meat combo in two stages: ribs and pulled pork at the outset and brisket when available.
No appetizers here as such, but on the night of my visit I could have had fried green tomatoes or mozzarella, basil and tomato—both available as sides.
Ribs: Served as an uncut half rack on the 3-meat combo, short but very plump babybacks had very thick bark. The ribs tore apart with minimal effort and the meat pulled cleanly from the bone without any sagging or sogging. Some might call them not quite tender enough, but I was okay with it (though a little more tender would be more than okay). The meat had good pink color throughout and adequate moisture, though shy of juicy. Flavor was the real attraction here: aggressive rub, lightly applied glaze and hearty smoke, all of it in good balance. I'd love to see Meadowbrook Orchards attempt spare ribs.
Pulled pork: I could tell as soon as I walked up to the aluminum tray that the pulled pork inside it looked dry. Perhaps it was pulled hours before dinner service, or maybe even the day before. The first bite at the table confirmed the dryness, but that's not to say this pork didn't have merit. The flavor mimicked the ribs, bringing the same high levels of bark, smoke and rub. A vigorous addition of the most vinegary sauce they had made the pork not only doable but actually pleasant. Still, a softer, moister product would go a long way. For those getting pulled pork as an entree, rolls are provided upon request.
Brisket: As soon as I pulled into the lot I saw pitmaster Dave poking and prodding the
briskets, which looked very tasty with their thick bark and abundant rub
(a trend, no doubt). By watching this I got a good sense of the
tenderness, but the briskets were about twenty minutes shy of ready. So after
sampling two-thirds of the meats on the 3-meat platter, I went back for
the brisket, available as both sliced flat and sliced point. Both had good
color and ample, crunchy bark as expected. Unexpected was the
faint crispness on the cross sections. It's pure speculation on my part,
but I suspect the briskets may have been sliced and then placed into an
oven to get the final doneness. As for moistness: none whatsoever on
the flat (we're talking very dry) but a fair amount of it (although
again shy of full-on juiciness) on the richer point cut. Both had good, strong flavor.
If I can speculate twice in the same paragraph, I'm guessing that nine
times out of ten, the brisket is better than this batch, but also guessing
that the serving method (pre-cut slices out of an aluminum pan) can only
take it so far. But there were enough positive signs to want to find out.
Three heated barbecue sauces are available for ladling into plastic cups. The Espresso sauce was a dark, somewhat thick molassesy number with a coffee kick, thinned down a little by being served warm. A Blueberry sauce was almost as dark, only slightly blue and very tart along with the strong sweetness. It worked for me mostly as a novelty, and then I moved on. Dave's sauce, which debuted on the night of my visit, was the most interesting of the bunch. Only slightly sweet, with some tartness from vinegar, maybe a little oil, many bits of finely diced onion and pepper and many more bits of diced bacon. This was best used on the pulled pork.
A big thumbs up for the sauces. Sorry, I forgot to take photos.
Cole slaw: A very different approach, with red and white cabbage, raisins, caraway seeds and a creamy, tangy, slightly sweet condiment. Quite enjoyable.
Baked beans: Soft, sweet like molasses and cut somewhat by small inclusions of onions and other vegetables, and large inclusions of meat. I asked the server to remember to include meat in the serving and I got a piece of pork shoulder about half the size of my fist. Nice smokiness throughout.
Cornbread: There's many a cornbread—and probably far too many—that have been compared to cake, but when's the last time you had cornbread that reminded you of crème brûlée? This one did. Big, soft, sweet, corny, cakey and boasting a top surface with the sugar glazed on and probably heated to get it pane-glass crisp.
The 3-meat combo packs enough cargo for two people. You might need some extra sides, but the meat is more than plenty.
Another farm—Rota Spring Farm—is just down the road for all your ice cream needs.
The Bottom Line
I can never tell where my item-by-item rundown checks in on the negative-positive continuum, but let me say this: despite some execution issues, it's been a while since I've been so enthused on a first visit to a New England barbecue joint. There's no denying that textures were off on at least two of the three meats, but flavor across the board, some over-the-top sides, some outside-the-box sauces and a relaxed pastoral setting all made Meadowbrook Orchards an enjoyable excursion even on what I'm hoping was an off night.
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