Located in Portsmouth's downtown area, Muddy River Smokehouse is a convenient detour from route 1 or 95. Its narrow hallway leads past a small bar area with a few tables and TVs to a less narrow, dimly lit dining room. There are elements of southern architecture, but for the most part Muddy River avoids the BBQ décor clichés.
There are some interesting appetizers. "Fowl balls" are smoked bacon-wrapped chicken balls with a honey mustard dipping sauce, definitely smoky.
They offer two kinds of ribs here, babybacks and St Louis. As usual, I ordered the St Louis, which come with cole slaw and baked beans. Although not very meaty, the ribs were presented beautifully, with the uncut full slab hanging off the plate. These were glistening from a generous coating of sweet red sauce. This isn't my favorite style, but for what it is they do it well. The tender insides had a smoke ring and tasted like there were many applications of sauce or other sweet basting liquid. This was managed without making the meat too tender (falling off the bone) and with minimal charring of the crust. The slaw was decent but a little too sweet; the lackluster beans were pale and soggy. Cornbread was average. There were no collard greens available.
Follow-up: On a follow-up visit two years later, a friend and I shared some wings and fried pickles as beer snacks. Both were pleasing enough if nothing special, though I did find the light, puffy beer batter of the fried pickles to be a refreshing change of pace (and the portion was huge).
Other Thoughts: On Mondays, they have all-you-can-eat ribs. They also have a $29.95 eating challenge where if you can down a rack of ribs, a whole chicken, a pound of pulled pork and 2 sides in an hour, you get a T-shirt, a $25 gift certificate and your picture on the wall.
The bottom line: Decent enough ribs (excellent if you like them wet and sweet and charred) with average appetizers, below average sides and a comfortable atmosphere. If you like chain restaurant ribs, this is a step up. If you hate chain restaurant ribs, as I do, you probably won’t like this place a whole lot. I'd come back, though I wouldn't make it a priority.
Yelp reviews of Muddy River Smokehouse
Urban Spoon reviews of Muddy River Smokehouse