Boston Burbs BBQ:
First Look at SlowBones
Slowbones, located in a small strip mall behind the larger Burlington Mall, looks a lot like a Boston Market. But that's no surprise considering that it's the creation of Boston Market founder Kip Kolow. Many of the elements and much of the vibe are there: over-the-counter ordering, numerous homestyle sides, attempts at higher quality ingredients, seemingly healthy options and a handsome interior that shows good taste and some money behind it. Oh, and one thing Boston Market doesn't have: a Southern Pride smoker clearly visible behind the counter.
I was there on night one, paying my own way and checking the place out to get an early look that admittedly may not be 100% representative of future visits. Let me repeat that, and consider this a disclaimer: things will probably change, as they inevitably do with any restaurant opening. Some of the kinks may get worked out, some of the menu could get dropped, some of the portions could grow or shrink and some of the techniques may evolve.
Anyhoo... here's my quick take, which is not to be taken as a full review just yet. It's close enough that I'll get multiple visits in throughout the next month; expect a full review before the new year (and yes, along with Nashua's Riverside Barbeque and Portland's Salvage BBQ, among others).
Real quick: many choices, only one combo, but much flexibility thanks to "add on" items that allow you to create your own combo.
I ordered the barbecue sampler, which comes with two ribs, brisket, a quarter chicken and two sides. Note that cornbread is available as a side but counts as one of the sides—so if you want it, it's that plus one other side. I was asked if I wanted some sauces from their 10 or so varieties. I asked if they were on the side rather than on the meat and the server said yes. She asked me if I wanted a drink and I told her water. There was no receipt; she just asked my name and that was what was going to get me checked out at the end (where I again was asked if I wanted a drink and twice asked if I wanted dessert).
Ribs: As it turned out the ribs were sauced, though I think it was a standard house sauce, as opposed to either of the sauces I specified. I was very impressed with the cut (plump St Louies) and the height of the ribs. They had a nice pink color on the cross sections and looked like a higher grade of ribs from what most restaurants use. They were grilled with the sauce before service, putting just a hint of a crust on them (could have used more, though I appreciated their not being grilled to death). But the texture, while indicative of good doneness, had much steaminess that suggested there may have been a sauna involved between smoking and grilling. Actual juices were involved too, so it's wasn't just steamy moisture. Flavor was strong: not necessarily smoky (almost absent) and not necessarily rubby (rub did poke through the sauce, at least visibly), but an intensity that I enjoyed. Add a little bit more smoke and crisp that surface up a little more, and these would be very good ribs.
The two sauces I ordered never came with the clamshell arrangement used to house the meal. Now that I think of it, I wonder if there was a charge for those sauces. On the plus side, instead of receiving two ribs I received four that were connected and one extra one that was separate, making a bounty of five ribs. Not bad for a $15.95 combo.
Brisket: A little pale and a lot pot roasty, but it had potential. The pieces were larger than chunks but none of them would constitute what I would call a legitimate slice. All had good moisture (again mostly steamy with some real juices in there too); some had a semblance of crust. Flavor was very mildly smoky with no real rub flavor on the surface like many do. The steaminess and rubbery texture were the major issues for me.
Chicken: The sampler platter's poultry component was a quarter bird with some breast meat in addition to dark meat—more bounty . All of it was red from the saucing (basically sweet with a little kick) and most of the skin was crisp from the grilling. Just like the ribs, the chicken had a bumpy rub that poked through the saucing. The owner's background at Boston Market came through here, as the chicken had that same briny feel that was full of flavor, but with much more freshness and complementary flavors from the rub. Either this didn't have thesteaminess that I noticed on the other meats, or the chicken wears it a little better. Either way, it was the item I thought they did best that night. I have a feeling the chicken will be a better seller than the red meats, and will probably travel better on takeout orders.
Pulled pork: Not included on the sampler but I ltook note of all the meats in the steam trays as I mozied down the line, and this looked pretty good. More good in a "Chipotle's having a good day today" good than killer barbecue good, but it definitely looked good enough to prioritize next time. The brioche buns also looked good.
Wings: Again, as I am wont to do, I studied plates on others' tables, and the wings looked more grilly than smoky. Not a priority, but I know I'm gonna get 'em anyway.
Sides: Cole slaw and cucumber salad were both complex, crunchy and flavorful, with some good spice on the former.
More bounty: about halfway through the meal a server appeared at the table and said here are your beans. I replied that I didn't order beans and he said that's okay, just take them. Less flavorful, but a hearty "American" tasting version without the typical sweetness. Some meat inclusion helped.
Hard to say; it was only day 1. If forced to make a guess, I'd guess that I'm going to like SlowBones enough to consider it for a quick option while shopping, but never choose it to scratch that barbecue itch. But better than I thought, and time to improve. I'll keep you posted.
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