Porky's and Petunia's is an ice cream stand first, barbecue joint second. Located in digs that are surprisingly idyllic considering it's behind a strip mall, Porky's and Petunia's is fronted by window counters running the length of the building, with picnic tables on the other three sides. Out back, you can peek through the fence cracks to see that the smoker is a Southern Pride.
Barbecue options at Porky's and Petunia's include St Louis cut spare ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked chicken, pulled chicken and turkey. There's not a lot of flexibility. You can get ribs as half and full racks with no sides. There's a sampler combo that has pork, brisket and chicken plus two sides and cornbread, but no ribs with sides. You can substitute a quarter rack of ribs (presumably for one of the aforementioned three) for an upcharge, but there are no configurable combos with multiple meats. Come to think of it, you can't get a brisket or pork or chicken plate, just the pork/brisket/chicken combo and the sandwiches. (Some additional specialty sandwiches kick things up by combining meats and adding cheese). Hotdogs, wings and chicken tenders round out the non-BBQ options.
As for the ice cream, it's Richardson's, familiar to many Massachusetts residents. So while it's not an undiscovered gem with ice cream made on site in small batches artisan style, it's at least good.
(As an aside, one of my pet peeves is that northeastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire are littered with ice cream joints with quaint country-crafty names and farmhouse trappings, but the ice cream is the all-too familiar tub of Richardson's factory-produced product. It's a very good product, but why drive 50 miles for the same thing you can get just down the road?)
Two longtime barbecue accomplices joined me for a light barbecue lunch on a Saturday afternoon.
There are no appetizers as such on the menu other than the chili, so we skipped ahead to the main event.
Ribs: A half rack of ribs ($11.99) of larger-than-average size had a reasonable crust formed more by long cooking than rub treatment or basting. That long cooking had them starting to fall of the bone, but the tenderness was still within my window of acceptability. The lack of detectable rub upon visual inspection went unchanged after a few bites; these were lacking in flavor. Smoke was light if there at all. A light smoke ring was there, but if I hadn't seen the smoker myself I might wonder if the ribs were cooked in an oven. They were nominally moist in a sweaty sort of way. While not a failure or even close, they just weren't anything to get excited about. Texture turned out to be these ribs' main calling card.
Pulled pork: Pulled into long, thin chunks and strings, the pork on the Sampler combo ($17.99 had a little more smoke than the ribs. Unfortunately, they had less moisture. Aside from the smoke, flavor was about the same, and that's about zero. Consistency was very chickeny.
Brisket: Probably the most successful of the meats, the brisket was served in long, thick (1/2") slices with a pink smoke ring and some legitimate moistness that fell a bit short of juicy. Flavor was minimally smoky with a little something in there besides the beef that made it worth coming back to a few times before discarding the plate. But again, nothing really compelling.
Chicken: A leg quarter had the most rib of any of the meats, but that rub was pretty tame: not much sweetness, spice or even salt. Smoke was predictably absent. It did present decent crispness on the surface and some moisture beneath, so at a minimum it was a workable vessel for the sauces. I'd even say it was pretty good chicken, just not anything I'd crave.
I liked that the three sauces were distinct, as opposed to slight variations of a single sauce. The Sweet BBQ sauce was basically molasses. The Tangy BBQ was a tomato based sauce that might have had some mustard added, but it came across as a mellow marinara. The Spicy BBQ had the most nuance, with some sweetness, some tanginess and a very light heat that made it the most used (and most enjoyed) of the three.
The sides wound up being a little more impressive than the 'cue. Baked beans seemed like a canned variety doctored up a little, and probably had more flavor than any of the meats. Cole slaw had cabbage sliced razor thin with a refreshing oil/vinegar condiment. Caky cornbread miniloaves were very soft and fresh.
The Bottom Line
I like that Porky's and Petunia's serves real 'cue, even though it's primarily an ice cream joint, but I wish it had a little more flavor. It's another of those mid-level joints that's not worthy of a special trip, but at least worth a look if you're in the area.
Yelp reviews of Porky's and Petunia's
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