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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Rating Barbecue Restaurants in Eastern Massachusetts

Article and Photo (of Memphis Roadhouse) by Eric H.

Recently, City-Data.com featured an interesting post on the best barbecue restaurants in eastern Massachusetts. Readers could not come up with many quality places, although a few dining spots really received high honors.

I concur with much of the City-Data feedback, and came up with a ranking below of barbecue restaurants. My criteria for a great barbecue restaurant is that "barbecue" is the specialty of the house, that they slow-cook the food to bring out the best flavors, that there's kind of a dusty, rural informal feeling to the place, and that the chefs try their best to recreate what Memphis, Kansas City and other famous barbecue city and town destinations do so well. Not that I've been to these famous barbecue places out west or down south, but as one who always asks questions, I have been able to ascertain through people in the business and those who have been to Memphis, Kansas City and other barbecue havens what makes an authentic barbecue restaurant.

Here is the list in order of quality, from best to just "OK," largely based on barbecue chicken and ribs:

1. Blue Ribbon Barbecue, Arlington, MA (910 Massachusetts Ave.
Arlington, MA 02476. Tel. 781-648-7427)

2. Memphis Roadhouse, South Attleboro, MA (383 Washington St.,
Attleboro, MA 0270. Tel. 508-761-5700)

3. Firefly's, 350 E. Main St, Route 20, Marlborough, MA 01752-5422. Tel. 508-357-8883)

4. Redbone's, Somerville, MA (55 Chester Street, Somerville, MA 02144 Tel. 617- 628.2200)

5. Clyde's, Walpole, MA (642 Providence Highway, Route 1, Walpole, MA 02081. Tel. 508-660- 2206)

Note that there's a real drop-off in quality after Firefly's. While Redbone's and Clyde's are capable of creating a good dish or two, the overall experience -- including some inconsistent service -- results in these two dining spots faring nowhere as well as the top three. Blue Ribbon is far and away the best of the bunch, creating slow-cooked barbecue dishes over oak and hickory hardwoods that people I've talked with say rival the best of Memphis. It's the smallest-sized restaurant of the restaurants mentioned here -- almost more of a take-out place -- but who cares when you have what has been called by some as the best barbecue food north of the Mason Dixon line? The Memphis dry-rubbed ribs, North Carolina pulled pork, the Texas brisket and Kansas City burnt ends are simply amazing!

The Memphis Roadhouse (an independently-owned restaurant) fares quite well, too, a notch below Blue Ribbon, with a large Outback Steakhouse-like dining room and a real wood fire pit that turns out some superb ribs and chicken. Firefly's is very good, too -- the winner of many barbecue awards, but my taste buds tell me that the food is not quite up to par with the Blue Ribbon and Memphis Roadhouse. The loud and cramped Redbone's used to be right up there with Blue Ribbon, but the dried-out chicken I had the past few times suggests this once terrific place is resting on its laurels (and perhaps Hardys). Clyde's is merely average -- there's really no hint of a slow-cooked barbecue meal here, at least not the way Blue Ribbon does it.

Of course, my favorite barbecue restaurant in the northeast is a big, loud fun family-friendly place in Oneonta, NY, called Brooks' House of Bar-B-Q where the barbecue chicken and St. Louis ribs are phenomenal. Brooks' also features, reportedly, the longest indoor barbecue pit in the country at 38 ft. in length!
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