Drive up a lonely rural road to a quaint cottage but expect to see a more modern take on rustic that should look familiar to anyone who's visited a restaurant built within the last year or two. It's a casual, inviting space with old but shiny wood floors housing an assortment of hightop tables, low top tables and counters against the wall with stools. You order at the counter from a huge blackboard menu; they'll deliver to the table when the food's ready. The smoker, as evidenced on the website, is an Ole Hickory.
The menu is barbecue-focused but hardly narrow. There are St Louis spare ribs, babyback ribs, pulled pork, brisket, pulled chicken, sausage, smoked wings and thick cut bacon. All are available as a 1-, 3- or 4-meat platter. The boneless meats are also available in straightforward sandwiches and interesting offshoots such as a pork-brisket combo, a Cuban, a brisket Reuben, a Philly style hero, a burrito, a quesadilla, a pair of tacos or a wrap.
Craft bottled beers, wines by the glass and Boylan sodas are all on offer.
I visited for a Friday lunch with a barbecue compadre.
Bacon: Uncertain as to whether this would be actual bacon strips or slices of belly, we went with a quarter pound as an appetizer. They wound up being strips but fairly thick ones, spiraling around and back onto themselves. What they lacked in moisture (barely any) they made up for with loud crackle. I didn't notice any cure flavor or sweetness (not that they're a must); this was slightly seasoned and more like pork rinds or cracklings from a whole pig.
Wings: You can't just dip a toe into the water with these wings; they require a 12-piece4 commitment ($13.95), which gets you a half dozen wingettes and an equal number of drumettes. They'll split them into two different sauce choices if you like, so we went with half unsauced and half raspberry chipotle. You get carrots, celery and a dipping sauce, but the bonus upon arrival was an accompanying piece of cornbread with maple butter (more on that later). The wings are smoked, then fried, which raises the expectation for crispness, but most of the exteriors I encountered on the sauced wings were soft. Which raised the expectation for juicy interiors, but they were closer to borderline moist. Flavor was decent, though light on rub and lighter on smoke. The raspberry chipotle sauce brought more of the former and less of the latter in pairing reasonably well with the chicken. Overall, some decent wings that were probably slightly below average while still being more than serviceable.
Ribs: Short cut ribs (couldn't really tell if they were St Louis spares or babybacks) on the Sampler Platter for One ($25.95) had big bones with little meat between them, but the meat above the bones rose fairly high on one end. These had a formidable bark possibly constructed through a few bastings, with not much detectable rub. Flavor was pleasant, if light. Not much smoke. Moisture was just enough to squeak out a "they weren't dry" verdict from me. This was my favorite meat of the visit, and I can see the ribs being better at night.
Pulled pork: Also tried on the combo platter, this meat had little bark, little color, little smoke, little flavor, little moistness. Think leftover turkey breast, which can be good if hidden or assisted, but less able on its own.
Brisket: The third meat on the platter brought a trio of thick slices with better color and thick, crusty bark that reminded me of my mom's meatloaf slices with burnt edges. That bark had the burnt taste and little else. Inside, the flavor was mellow and pleasant, even if again not in the least bit smoky, but the texture—dry to an extreme—got in the way. Dipping into one of the many sauces achieved limited salvation, but I wouldn't race back to try this brisket again.
Six different bottled sauces are available on the tables, and with the exception of a ketchupy Texas BBQ, I liked them a lot. The Apple Bourbon, the Mango Habanero and the Strawberry Lime hot sauce all taste like they're made with real fruit, not chemicals. Carolina Vinegar mixes tart with hints of sweet and spice. Big Bird is a mustard sauce that's got some complexity beyond the typical yellows.
Brussels Sprouts: A little dry, but everything's better with bacon, so these benefitted greatly from the addition.
Collard greens: Billed as Asian style, these were more American style and nicely done, with well coated but unsoupy leaves cooked just enough to make them soft but without losing the green. Lesser amounts of bacon (or similar meat) made their way in here too.
Cornbread: The highlight of the meal, this had the looseness of a fudgy brownie, with sweetness yielding to strong corn flavor heightened by grilling and embedded kernels. Soft maple butter took things to another level, but I liked this cornbread both with and without it.
The Bottom Line
Flavors were subdued at best while textures leaned toward dry, but there's something that gives me hope. Maybe it's the sides and sauces; maybe it's the relaxed vibe. If I lived closer I'd check them out again at night. But for now, it's potential only. The meats, at least on the one day I tried them, didn't stack up.
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