In the middle of a winding road you probably wouldn't want to navigate
during winter, Parker's Maple Barn is the largest building in a compound
that also includes a gift shop and a coffee and doughnut stand. The barn housing the restaurant is
impressive with its high ceilings, wooden walls and tables, borderline
touristy knick knacks and larger-than-expected overall size. Real maple syrup bearing the Parker's name is for sale at the exit.
My bad for getting excited at the prospect of ribs for breakfast and letting my romantic notion of sugarmill-meets-smokehouse affect this joint's worthiness of being included in the directory. Basically, you can get a half rack of ribs—maple or barbecue—with eggs, home fries and toast for $17.99 or solo for $12.99. At lunch, you can get the ribs with fries for $14.99. There's also a pulled pork sandwich ($6.99), so technically Parker's qualifies. But this isn't a barbecue joint and isn't attempting to be, so I'm not going to compare them to full fledged smokehouses.
I visited Parker's Maple Barn solo for a late weekday breakfast on a last-minute day off. The weather was too nice to be indoors all day, so I took to the road.
There aren't any appetizers as such for breakfast. The blueberry muffin caught my eye, but I had other stops to make, so I kept to the babybacks and eggs platter.
Ribs: A ghastly plate of pale, fatty ribs shattered my illusion instantly. Ever smell the porkwater after boiling ribs? Yeah, I know, but we were
all stupid once, or followed someone's misguided advice of parboiling
and grilling. For me, we're talking 20+ years ago, and I can still
remember that smell. That's what these ribs smelled and tasted like. Boiled. And foul.
The babybacks had virtually no surface crust and no rub that I could detect. I wasn't expecting a smoked product, but I was expecting some level of proficiency if not pride. I figured they'd lather the precooked surface with some maple syrup, stick the half rack in a hot oven to let the sugars caramelize, then pour a little more on top to make them maply and moist. Not so, although they were moist inside. On the plus side, the ribs were very meaty and had nice tenderness within. Billed as slow cooked in the oven, they had the feel of something cooked by crockpot or microwave. The meat had no flavor of its own other than that boiled essence, so the watery puddle of maple syrup lurking beneath had to be used for dipping.
Now you might think I'm picking on a weak target by panning a place that's not even trying to call itself a barbecue joint. But their not being a barbecue joint is precisely my point—sometimes I feel like trying something a little more tender, sweet and saucy, and a little less authentic than my usual rotation. I was looking for crispy, slurpy, maply, bacony pig candy on a bone—something TV chef Bobby Flay, who often succeeds triumphantly by sacrificing authenticity for flavor, might serve. But even on non-barbecue terms, this boiled and baked horror show failed miserably.
I'm guessing the maple syrup under the ribs was real. No problems here but by no means a standout.
The scrambled eggs were fine, the home fries were competent/boring and the thick-cut wheat toast was fantastic. But that's all pretty moot.
The Bottom Line
I'd been dreaming of breakfast at Parker's Maple Barn for years, but this dream turned out to be a nightmare. Their ribs were not only bad by barbecue standards but by almost any standard you could think of. If I came back, I'd be a sap.
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