Shaw's Ridge Farm, located about a half hour inland not too far from Route 109, just might be that rare place that delivers on a promise of fun for the whole family. The scenic compound includes a separate ice cream stand, barbecue barn and miniature golf course. And this isn't just another ice cream stand bolstering sales with faux 'cue. There's a large Southern Pride smoker right out front to attest to the legitimacy of the barbecue. Inside, it's an over-the-counter operation with an immaculate and spacious kitchen, two cavernous dining rooms and a centrally located sauce/condiment station.
For barbecue, there's only one kind of rib (babybacks) and no brisket, but the menu is still fairly extensive. There's pulled pork, sausages (both sweet and hot), smoked chicken, pulled chicken and smoked chicken salad. Non-barbecue options include grilled chicken sandwiches, grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, a bleu cheese BLT and a lobster roll.
I stopped in with a friend for a late lunch as part of a Maine mini crawl.
There are no appetizers as such, but we started with a smoked chicken salad sandwich ($6.95) that had a few different characteristics elevating it above the typical. The bun was a very fresh brioche. The chicken, rather than the usual overmashed, obliterated mess, consisted of large, moist chunks that were clearly the best pieces from the chicken, not the scraps. The mayo supplied just enough lubricant without getting in the way. Chopped celery added some texture without acting as filler. And the unique accent of halved red and green grapes provided a sweet touch that still let the chicken itself do the talking. As for the smoke, it was closer to a whisper, but it was there. Overall, a very nice sandwich.
With another stop already scheduled, we made the obvious selection of the BBQ combination plate ($15.95) to get a varied sampling of the smoked meats. The platter arrived with a good supply of meats: 3 babyback ribs, a cup of pulled pork, several smoked sausage chunks (a nice bonus that's not mentioned in the online version of the menu) and one large piece of chicken. I liked that none of the meats were sauced. The sides were generous but did not include cornbread (it can be ordered as a side).
The compact but meaty babyback ribs were just a little firmer than your standard issue chain restaurant variety, and that's a good thing. Outside, there was substantial bark from a generous rub. The flavor was balanced, with neither the sweet nor spicy component dominating. Inside, the meat had the classic smoke ring, some moistness and a good overall flavor that showcased smoke, rub and pork in equal amounts.
Pulled pork was mostly brown meat with a few pink tinges and a good amount of bark. Served in a cup, it had a small amount of liquid that might have been a combination of water and drippings, but the saucing was left to the user's discretion. The meat was tender but the texture offered just enough resistance to assure us that it wasn't overcooked. Though moist and clearly smoked, the flavor here was more subtle than in the ribs and needed a bit of sauce to help it along.
The chicken in the combo, finished on a grill, was similar to the chicken in the sandwich: moist and flavorful in a chickeny sort of way but not really smoky or "barbecue" tasting.
Two kinds of sausage were included, each as a handful of slices about 1" long. The sweet (dark) and spicy (light) were both smoky, moist and fresh tasting, with a good snap and very pleasing flavor.
Sauces were the weak link in this otherwise impressive operation. The sweet sauce is a dark brown variety that tastes like something you'd get at the store. The spicy sauce has some heat but was a little too ketchupy for me. There's also prepackaged Ken's barbecue sauce and some straight vinegar which can be mixed into the other sauces.
Sides were a mixed bag. Baked beans were a fairly humdrum rendition that was similar to storebought but with a more full-bodied sauce. Enjoyable sweet potato fries were warm, crisp, full of natural sweet potato flavor but otherwise unadorned and unseasoned. Interesting cole slaw was crisp, creamy, sweet and savory, with that last component driven home by a more than liberal addition of celery seed. I really liked it, but my guess is that your fondness for this cole slaw will depend heavily on your fondness for celery seed.
Service was friendly and helpful. Both the inside space and the grounds outside offer a pleasant, relaxing atmosphere that's ideal for barbecue on a beautiful summer's day. Portions and value are excellent.
The bottom line: I have to admit, I came in with low expections: how could a seasonal ice cream stand in Maine offer authentic barbecue? As it turned out, Shaw's Ridge Farm BBQ Barn does that and does it well. They not only exceeded expectation by a mile but provided the best stop of the day and one of my more enjoyable meals this summer. I'm going to try to return before they close for the season on Columbus Day weekend.
Yelp reviews of Shaw's Ridge Farm BBQ Barn
Urban Spoon reviews of Shaw's Ridge Farm BBQ Barn