Visit Date (06/12/15)
Near the bank of the Merrimack River sits New England Country Market, a newcomer to the barbecue scene that's made itself known via high visibility on Groupon. It's an offshoot of Boston Chowda, an outfit with a former outpost at the Prudential Center in Boston. A quartet of indoor picnic tables is the only touch that pushes New England Country Market into restaurant territory; it's essentially just what the name tells you: a market. Refrigerated display cases and wooden shelves against almost every wall house homemade prepared foods and commercial products such as barbecue sauces, hot sauces, syrups, candies and craft bottled sodas. Head all the way in and you'll see what looks like your typical supermarket deli department, with salads and sides in a display case, an assortment of soups and chowders in heaters to the rear, and a wall menu listing options ranging from barbecue to sandwiches to seafood.
Parking may seem scarce, but if you’re willing to aim your vehicle down a short but steep hill, there are many spaces around the back.
Smokehouse selections include pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken, brisket and a turkey leg. These are available as single meat platters and 2- or 3-meat combinations with two sides. The boneless meats are also available as sandwiches. For those not into barbecue, sandwiches also include a turkey BLT, maple chipotle chicken salad, chicken parm, meatballs, grilled cheese and a lobster roll. There are no salads per se, but the display case is filled with items that can be ordered by the pound to come pretty close.
Young bride and I visited for dinner, armed with a Groupon.
There really aren't any available other than soups, but I would have kept things brief anyway but just sticking to a 3-meat combo.
Ribs: The ribs arrived as part of a 3-meat combo ($24.99) delivered to the table in a closed clamshell container, nicely delaying the "reveal" until the owner had departed. An uncut third-rack (four bones) of better-than-average sized babybacks bore a worse-than-average crust. The gray-brown color suggested previous congealing and the steaming hot temperature suggested microwaving, but I'm not saying either of those happened for sure. Saucing was minimal.
Flavor had little to no smoke and a vaguely meatloafy characteristic even though the firm texture was anything but. The tight ribs didn't bend readily but cut easily enough with a plastic knife. Interestingly, the neighboring table had less success with the plastic knife, sending an order of ribs back to be cut in the kitchen by professionals. The meat had some moistness, some flavor and some tenderness without excelling at any of the three.
Brisket: Some very gray color on some very thin slices with very large pockets of fat characterized this brisket. The thinness of slice helped with the tenderness but not the moistness, which was only a factor in the bites with fat. Flavor was very beefy without being smoky or highly seasoned.
Pulled Pork: Now this was highly seasoned, and easily the best of the three meats—and the only meat I managed to eat more than half of. There was more of that almost uniform gray-brown color and more of that meatloafy thing going on, this time in mushy texture as well as flavor. Moistness was similar to the brisket in its scarcity (here, I'd call it borderline dry rather than outright dry), but flavor was enough to make it workable. One of the sauces helped too.
Those who hate silly sauce names will love the names on the two squeeze bottles are available on every table: #1 and #2. Sauce #1, geared for pulled pork and pork ribs, came through with the sweet and tangy promised by the label. It even exceeded expectation with more oomph than your typical off-the-shelf variety. I can see why sauce #2 is intended for beef: it's basically a glorified ketchup.
Cole slaw: Crisp, firm, crunchy, minimally dressed and probably very recently made. Some celery seed brought contrast.
Mac and cheese: It was a little hard to tell after being packed into a plastic container, but the mac had some nice creaminess to go along with a mildly cheesy flavor.
Cornbread: A large, cellophane-wrapped block, not included as part of the combo, was reasonably soft and unreasonably salty.
While the 'cue might have been ho-hum at best, the service was first rate all the way. Counter-man (and possible owner) John made sure customers had napkins and utensils, and insisted on bringing everything to the table personally and with great enthusiasm.
This likely stock photo
from Groupon looks nothing like the ribs I was served.
The Bottom Line
So: three meats, two of them (ribs, brisket) iffy, one (pulled pork) barely doable. Would I run back for more? No, but it's something I'd consider stopping in for maybe once a quarter if it were on my way home from work. Hey, they're trying. But I'd emphasize the seafood if there ever is a next time.
Yelp reviews of New England Market & Smokehouse
Zomato reviews of New England Country Market & Smokehouse
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