Located at the Mall of New Hampshire, Smoke Shack Southern Barbecue is a typical food court operation, with counter service and central seating common to all of the food court stalls.
The menu here is a slightly abridged version of the one at Smoke Shack's Boscawen NH flagship location. Although the emphasis here is more on pulled pork sandwiches and the like, you can get an appetizer or two. The combo I ordered seemed to be a rare occurence.
A Friday night date night had me at the Mall of New Hampshire (Manchester NH), so I could not resist the opportunity to check out the food court outpost of Smoke Shack Southern Barbecue. But the greater opportunity lied with Smoke Shack: it was a chance to redeem itself, since my visit to the flagship nearly a year earlier saw what was probably my single worst meal of 2009. The bar was set low, but I'm happy to say Smoke Shack cleared it. I ordered a three-meat combo with two sides to get a good survey.
Brisket was the single worst item from the 2009 visit to Boscawen (see evidence), but brisket was easily the highlight of this visit. Cut to order, the brisket had good though uncrispy bark, excellent moisture, an appetizing mahogany color and good overall flavor (beefy but elevated with a just a little spice), somewhat similar to Goody Cole's brisket a little further southeast. This wasn't just an improvement from the last one; this was downright good. And from a mall food court no less.
Pork ribs were thick babybacks with a sturdy crust drizzled with a standard sweet sauce before cutting. They also had an appealing pink color, good flavor but only slight moisture. Flavor-wise, I had no complaint, but the texture was disappointing. Clearly overcooked, my first rib literally fell off the bone when I picked it up. Since that's what happened a year ago (but with a lesser rib), I'm guessing that's what they strive for.
Pulled pork was stringy and dry, so I only had a little and can't really remember the flavor. But it was a huge portion that would be more than enough for a large sandwich.
The Carolina sauce was much thicker than what I think of as a typical Carolina sauce. For both taste and texture, it seemed like it might have been Frank's hot sauce mixed 50-50 with ketchup. The outstanding Smoke Shack hot sauces are available for purchase here (and I bought two), but unlike at the Boscawen restaurant they didn't appear to be offered as condiments for their over the counter barbecue.
Cole slaw was creamy and very bland. Beans were sludgy and ordinary.
Other Thoughts and Observations
The meat and sides portions were all extremely generous. For less than $20, there was enough food to feed two people. You could easily spend that much at a place like Sbarro and not be as satisfied.
Service was odd. After I placed my order, the counter person didn't take my money but instead took the next person's order, then took his money. At this point I headed back to the counter and asked if I could pay, and I did. She then took the next person's order, and then another's. I figured someone in the kitchen would be processing my order based on their order entry system, but the counter person at this point started preparing my order. I'm guessing this is a strategy to strike while the iron is hot, taking as many orders as possible before would-be customer #2 explores a different food court option while customer #1's order is being assembled.
The bottom line: Overall, a mixed bag for sure, but there were some clear bright spots, much improvement and for a food court experiemce, it was a rare treat. I'll be visiting Smoke Shack again, this time with a lot less fear.
Urban Spoon reviews of Smoke Shack BBQ at Mall of New Hampshire