BBQ New England
Scroll through New England’s offerings, or click a new region on the map.
Q Tips, a new section lists unsolicited BBQ restaurant recommendations that showed up in my email. Congratulations to my wife Connie for coming up with the name. Q Tips.
176 Laning St .
Southington , CT
Exit 32 off I 84. You can see the restaurant directly ahead as you come off the exit ramp on 84 E. Follow signs for Travelodge and Holiday Inn Express. Pass the Holiday Inn Express. The restaurant is on the right about 200 yds past.
BBQ in Connecticut seems like a violation of the laws of nature, and the place was a little schitzophrenic. I had a half-rack of ribs with chicken breast, rice, and coleslaw. The rib quality was excellent – moist inside, crispy outside, and falling off the bone. The chicken also excellent. The rice and cole slaw were okay – bland. However, the BBQ sauce was bland to the point of being a lubricant rather than a sauce and actually detracted from the expectations set by the look of the meat.
The restaurant is really an Irish pub that also happens to serve ribs. Much of the décor consisted of road signs on the walls giving directions and distances in Gaelic. The staff was also young and more of a bar staff than a BBQ restaurant staff.
Overall rating – Because of the quality of the ribs, the place deserves an Excellent rating. However, the quality of the sauce brings it down to a Good. Still worth a detour though. (Thanks to a former client, now retired, for this recommendation.)
Lester’s Roadside Barbecue
376 Cambridge St.
(Intersection of Rt. 3A and Rt. 62W)
Burlington, MA 01803
In a town about 15 miles north of Boston, on a local main drag (3A). Lester’s is in a defunct McDonalds that closed about 20 years ago due to a lack of business, ironic because Lester’s was doing a booming business on the rainy Saturday night that we went. The menu is on boards over the counter, and there’s an old Coke chest, an old gas pump, and various other tchotchkes scattered around (though not at the over-saturation level of places like Famous Dave’s, so Lester’s looked more “authentic”). The tables were also jammed together, which was a little inconvenient but also gave the place a “we’re packed” type of energy.
The place has a good selection of traditional BBQ meats, including St. Louis ribs, pulled pork, brisket, smoked sausage, pulled chicken, bbq’d chicken, and, unusually for a place in New England, chopped bbq’d beef. A very good selection of sides as well, including the staples plus collard greens, homemade pickles, and smashed potatoes with chicken gravy. I have to give the place credit for trying…
We went with two friends, Deb and Jeff, and their kids, Jillian and Nate, after Deb emailed me that she was having BBQ withdrawal symptoms. Connie had the bbq’d chicken with collard greens, I had a three-meat combo – St. Louis ribs, pulled pork, and brisket, with mac and cheese and mashed sweet potato. I lost track of what Deb, Jeff, Jillian, and Nate ordered but, between the six of us, we gave the menu a fairly good workout.
Connie said the chicken was excellent, tasty, tender, and juicy, without being dried out as so often happens. Jeff and I agreed (several times) that the brisket was outstanding, tender, smoky, and with a good smoke ring. The ribs were good, excellent consistency but with a somewhat fatty feel. (We had tried Lester’s ribs at the Lowell (MA) BBQ fest in 2007 and had the same opinion.) The pulled pork was excellent, a good mix of chunks and threads with very little steam table mushiness. Connie also pointed out that whatever you thought of the taste of the meats, their consistencies were right on the money.
Connie approved of the collard greens, moderately spicy and with chunks of pork, she thought, mixed in to jazz them up. The mac and cheese was excellent, slightly soupy and (finally!) with enough salt even for me. My mother would have approved, maybe even signed on as a cook. The sweet potato was good but too mild, needing the bite of some orange juice, brown sugar, or something. Jillian thought they’d be better as sweet potato fries and I have to agree. Jeff, I think, had the dirty rice and approved. Nate had the homemade pickles for dessert. (It’s hard to know what to say about that…) I completely lost track of what Deb had, but she made a lot of “mmph” noises so it must have been okay.
They had several sauces – one sweet and moderately hot, one vinegar style, and two others that I don’t recall. All very good.
Overall rating – As I said for American BBQ, a BBQ place in New England has to be rated on a different scale than one in the south but I’d rate Lester’s as Very Good to Excellent based on the brisket, pulled pork, chicken, collard greens, mac and cheese, and Pabst Blue Ribbon drafts for $2, with some points off for the ribs and the sweet potato. Well worth a visit.
(Thanks to Deb Sauer for the impetus to try Lester’s, and to Jeff, Jillian, and Nate for helping evaluate the place.)
1124 Cambridge St .
Cambridge , MA
Brazilian Barbeque restaurant. There’s no set menu. Instead, the cooks go to the market every morning and buy whatever looks good. They then cook the meats on sword-like skewers and the waiters periodically carry the skewers around the dining room and offer to carve some of whatever they’re carrying directly into your plate. The pork, steak, and chicken were excellent. Even the chicken livers were excellent and I normally wouldn’t touch chicken livers at gunpoint. The feijoada – pronounced “feshwada” – Brazilian fried rice is wonderful. The biggest problem is to avoid pigging out on Feijoada and being too full for the meat.
Overall rating – Outstanding.
235 Old Connecticut Path
Framingham , MA 01701
Modern place, well-laid out. Owned by the guy who started Tennessee ‘s, which is also in Framingham . There’s another Firefly’s in Marlboro, MA, which is more convenient. (See below.)
Went with Nancy and Scott, my wife’s sister and brother-in-law. Very good ribs – use St. Louis-cut ribs that were meatier and more tender than mine, and probably a special cut for restaurants. However Nancy liked the taste of my ribs better. (No wonder I like her.) Their pulled pork was better than mine – slightly sweet with a slight zing.
The cheesy potatoes sounded good but were bland. However, the sweet potato pudding with chopped pecan pralines was outstanding. The macaroni and cheese was very good but, as usual, needed more salt.
Overall rating – Excellent.
26 Andover Street
Lowell , MA
978 – 454 – 5007
An Argentine barbecue like the MidWest Grill in Cambridge , MA . (See above.) Beira Rio looks like a cafeteria, unlike the MidWest Grill which was a very nice looking place, but has great food for a lot less money. You can either get buffet only (with some meat, including a great beef with onions but not the full barbecue) for about $6 or everything for about $14. Great desserts too. At one point, the waitress lost track of who ate what and offered to give us the deserts for free if we came back. We told her that wasn’t necessary; we’d come back anyway. The only problem was that the food came too fast and had to ask the waitress to slow down.
The place lived up to its first impressions on a return visit, which often doesn’t happen. The cook was carving meat for me and kept going when I kept saying “no mas”, which I thought was Portuguese for “no more”. I wound up with over a pound of meat which I ate while the rest of the table made fun of my Portuguese language skills.
(Thanks to Allen and Susanne Beebe for this recommendation.)
Overall rating – Outstanding.
The Village Smokehouse
98 Middle Street
Lowell , MA
978 – 441 – 2278 (BBQU)
The Smokehouse is part of the ongoing revitalization of downtown Lowell and is tucked into one of the old buildings on Middle St. Be aware that the sign is pretty discrete, street parking is tight, and driving in Lowell can be confusing. (I live in the next town over. When my wife and I first drove into Lowell, we decided that the reason people lived in Lowell was that they’d driven in and couldn’t figure out how to get out, so they just said the heck with it and bought a house. Be warned.)
The Smokehouse has a fairly eclectic menu that falls into three rough categories – BBQ (baby back ribs, pork ribs, brisket, chicken, and sausage), Tex-Mex-ish (chili, stuffed jalapenos, fajitas), and other stuff (steaks, salmon, catfish, shrimp, and Buffalo wings). It’s also not cheap, as you’d expect from a place in a city – $19.95 for a two-meat combo with one side and a small crock of baked beans “for the table”. I’ve now been there twice, getting a rib-sausage-brisket combo with a sweet potato the first time and the Texas Hawg (beef rib, brisket, chicken, sausage, and baby back ribs) the second time. The results were mixed.
I’ve had the sausage twice and have to rate it as excellent each time. Ditto for the brisket, tender and with a decent smoke ring. The chicken was very overcooked – Connie described it as dry at first bite and then mushy. The baby backs were good but had very little meat on them. The beef rib was good but somewhat overcooked and dry. The sweet potato was way overcooked, almost as if it had been boiled. I also have to note that while the place offers Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller High Life, and Lone Star beer, it also offers Wachusett Blue Berry Ale and Chardonnay to cater to big city customers. Good, but not what you expect in a BBQ place.
The place is done up in dark wood booths and tables with an open kitchen. Part of the entertainment on our second visit was watching the cooks entertain a toddler by squirting oil on the grill to generate a big puff of flame.
Overall rating – Good, based on the quality of the sausage, the brisket, and the Pabst Blue Ribbon and held back by the dryness of the chicken and the low meat count on the ribs.
(Thanks to Allen and Susanne Beebe and Brian and Amy Hunter for this one.)
350 East Main St.
Marlboro, MA 01752
Second location of the Framingham restaurant. (See above.) Owned by the guy who started Tennessee’s, also in Framingham.
From Tewksbury – Take 495 South to exit 24A for Marlboro, Rt. 20 East and follow Rt. 20 for about 3 miles. Restaurant is on a small rise on the left as the road bends to the right.
Went with Connie, my BBQ partner and competitor (and wife, incidentally). She got a 1/2 rack of St. Louis ribs and I got a 2-meat platter with pulled pork and sliced brisket. The consistency of all the meats was great – tender but not quite falling off the bone for the ribs, pull-apart tender for the brisket, and non-mushy for the pork. The problem is that the ribs and brisket had little or no smoke flavor and were so mild as to be almost unspiced. The pork tasted good but that might have been the Memphis sauce (which Connie highly approved of).
The sweet potato pudding with chopped pecan pralines was outstanding, just as it was in Framingham. (We debated taking it home in a doggie bag but, by the time we finished debating, we’d eaten it all. Good sign.) The macaroni and cheese wasn’t as cheesy as the version in Framingham and, as usual, needed salt. Connie got the collard greens which she said were “good”.
Overall rating – Good. If the ribs and brisket had had more spice, the place would have gotten a Very Good or even a low Excellent.
5 Railroad Ave.
Rowley, MA 01969
In a small town on Boston’s north shore, about 30 miles north of Boston itself. The restaurant itself is just off Rt. 1A and easily visible, and there were signs out at various points in the road. The building is a log-look with a small porch. The menu is on boards over the ordering window, and there’s popcorn machine and a barrel of peanuts near the door for munchies.
The place has a good selection of traditional BBQ meats, including Texas smoked sausages and beef brisket, both of which are rare in BBQ places in New England. (One owner once told me that no one in New England understands what brisket is, and by the time he finished explaining the customer had decided on something else.)
We split a three-meat combo – Memphis ribs, pulled pork, and pulled chicken, with baked beans for Connie and mashed sweet potatoes for me. The ribs were good – a little overcooked with the meat falling off the bone a little too readily and not that much flavor. The pulled pork was excellent – a mix of chunks and threads with no mushiness. The pulled chicken was also excellent and unusual, with chunks of chicken as well as threads – as if if had been pulled and chopped. Very well done.
Connie approved of the beans. We split on the sweet potato, which had some sort of citrus undertone something like lemon and orange. I liked it, but Connie thought it was odd.
They had several sauces – a mild one, which we liked very much, a hot one, which was good but had a long and lingering burn, a yellow mustard sauce that we didn’t get to try, and a vinegar-based sauce in a shaker bottle which we tried and liked.
Overall rating – Given that a BBQ place in New England has to be rated on a different scale than one in the south, I’d rate the American Barbecue Very good, based on the pulled pork and chicken and the mild sauce, with points off for the ribs. Well worth a visit.
(Thanks to Deb and Jeff Sauer for this recommendation.)
Smokey Bones BBQ & Sports Bar
431 Middlesex Road
Tyngsboro , MA 01879
Next to Pheasant Lane Mall outside Nashua , NH .
Very crowded place, with beepers given to people in line. Very good ribs, very good spicy fries. Other than that, not much stands out about the place for some reason.
(Thanks to Brian and Amy Hunter for this recommendation.)
Overall rating – Very good.
L. B. Snack Bar
LBs is a typical roadside snack bar with the typical mix of sandwiches, ice cream, and dinner boxes, plus poutine (it’s near the Canadian border)… and ribs. It’s not much of a barbecue selection, but we’re talking about northern Vermont here and LBs did itself proud. And, since it’s a snack bar, we ate at a picnic table with a checked table cloth and under an umbrella on a sunny day. Excellent atmosphere for BBQ.
Connie and I split a half-rack dinner with cole slaw and curly fries. The ribs were excellent – loin backs with the meat just short of falling off the bone and covered with a sweet but slightly tangy sauce. The owner gave my sister-in-law and I a tour of the smoker, which was a standard electric unit with a wood chip box, and said they smoked the ribs for six to eight hours. Nice job. Connie rated the cole slaw excellent, but said that the curly fries were too bland and needed more salt and more spice.
Overall rating – In terms of BBQ “sense”, a place like LBs is clearly in a different league than a place in Georgia. However, between the quality of the ribs and the cole slaw, the atmosphere, and the charm of finding something this good in a small Vermont town near the Canadian border, I’d give the place an Excellent.
Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law Steve and Cris for thinking of me when they drove by LBs, and to my niece Rachel Perlin for letting me share her BBQ sauce and double-dip once when she wasn’t looking 🙂