Review Date: 10/28/15
Visit Date: 10/24/15
Surfside Smokehouse is a summer 2015 addition to the Plymouth food scene by the owners of Nantucket's B-ACK Yard BBQ. The concept is simple: combine surf and turf with smoke (at least on the turf) and breathtaking views of the harbor from an upstairs perch.
[photo from Surfside Smokehouse Facebook page]
The smoker is a Cookshack, using wood taken from used whiskey and bourbon barrrels from Kentucky.
The menu is quite ambitious. A la carte barbecue offerings include St Louis cut Berkshire pork ribs ($18 half rack, $35 full rack), pulled Heritage pork shoulder ($17 per half pound), sliced brisket ($20 per half pound), chopped brisket ($20 per half pound), kielbasa ($15 per half pound) and a smoked half chicken ($17). Eight different sides are available at $6 each.
A few different combination platters targeted toward multiple diners combine meats and sides. The Feedbag ($70) presents a choice of three meats (half pound, half rack, half chicken), four sides and rolls.
Sandwiches on brioche include the boneless meats (slightly less than the half pound prices), along with smoked turkey, salmon tacos, beer battered cod and a lobster roll. Appetizers include smoked chicken legs, deviled eggs, lobster and corn hushpuppies, mussels, a crab cake, and "kielbasa/pineapple spice candy." There are also raw bar selections and several soups and salads.
I stopped in with a well traveled barbecue buddy for a late Saturday lunch.
Kielbasa: Things got off to a very promising start with the first course. The smoked kielbasa was a single link, or a half-pound portion thereof, that had impressive girth and stretched the entire length of the plate, even curled. More importantly, the dark, thin casing was extremely crisp, lending a crackle to each bite. And the meat within was elegantly tender and juicy, unleashing staggeringly smoky flavor along with it. The flavor of the kielbasa itself was a little hotdog-like, but the other attributes more than carried the day. This shining success had me very eager for the next round.
Ribs: The half rack of St Louis cut pork ribs on the Feedbag combo showed nice crusting and some golden brown color, but none of the bright red typically exhibited by Berkshire pork ribs. The cross sections were mostly gray, with only a slight if any smoke ring and not much if any juiciness. Even with a slightly disappointing visual to reset expectations, the bite was a disappointment as well. Both the largest rib at one end and (especially) the smaller ones at the other were tough, dry and chewy. Flavor saw a drop in smoke from the kiebasa and none of the strong porkiness typical in premium sourced product, nor much of a contribution from rub. Simply put, this was a letdown all around.
Brisket: A half dozen or so slighly-thicker-than-usual slices brought a little more moisture than the photos indicate, but well shy of legitimately juicy. Smoke was back in play; rub was not. With the consistency of a medium rare steak, the meat had nice tenderness from start to finish, with but the pleasantly moist early slices gave way to drier ones as the meal progressed. This was probably the best meat of the combo—kielbasa was the best of the meal—but probably not worth the premium.
Pulled Pork: The strings were tender. The strings were dry. The strings had that overcooked turkey breast feel all around, demanding to be dunked into one of the sauces to make each bite possible. Smoke and rub were both out to sea, making the sauces necessary for flavor as well as moisture.
Four sauces in squeeze bottles are shuttled out to the tables as needed.
Sweet: Described by the server as Kansas City style but less molassesy and more of a brick color, this thick, tomato-based sauce adds spices that impact the mouthfeel.
Gold: Similar to if not actually a Cattlemen's product, this mustard-based sauce with chiles is more "brown" than "yellow" in both color and flavor.
Vinegar: A fairly standard North Carolina vinegar, buoyed slightly by spices and perhaps a hint of sugar.
Hot: Also tomatoey and similar to the sweet, with a little more heat.
Baked Beans: A few different sized beans, all firm but tender, sat in a thickish broth that felt and tasted more like a heavily seasoned marinara than anything normally added to beans. Innovative for some, mismatch for others.
Cole Slaw: Another interesting rendition took a different approach with the vegetable cutting, going julienne, then made good use of parsley and other leafy goodies. Good flavor, great mouthfeel.
Potato Salad: Large, firm chunks of red bliss potatoes with skins on, amply coated with a tasty mayo-like dressing.
Mac and Cheese: Soft pasta faintly coated with a creamy, mild cheese. Things get innovative—and crunchy—with a topping of crushed cheese Goldfish by Pepperidge Farm.
Rolls: Instead of cornbread, the Feedback supplies these, additionally supplying versatility: you can top them with the sweet whiskey butter or go the sandwich route and fill them with the platter's smoked meats.
If you haven't noticed already, I'll come right out and say it: this place is expensive. At New York City's top barbecue joints, brisket runs north of $25 per pound but not quite $30. Here, it's $20 per half pound. If that's because of the view, then I get it. But the assumed quality at $40 per pound? I certainly didn't get that. Or with the pulled pork at $34 per pound? Not even close.
Service was friendly and accommodating.
I like the effort. I like the ambition. I like the creativity in the sides. I even like the style. I just wish the execution were better.
The Bottom Line
The kielbasa was fantastic; the core meats, not so much. I'd be willing to chalk the textural issues (dry across the board) up to unlucky timing if flavor (bland across the board) pulled its weight, but that wasn't the case. That dynamic, combined with the sticker shock, rendered an exploratory revisit moot.
But sometimes meat isn't everything. If you're on vacation in the heart of summer and have the right mindset, the right seat and the right half of the cocktail list, the views could make it all worthwhile.
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