Big Daddy's is a gigantic restaurant located on Route 109, about a half hour inland from the Maine coast. Its focalpoint is the bar-meets-playroom area that features video games, several pool tables, high definition TVs and plenty of sports-related signage. The large dining room is packed with tightly spaced tables and no booths. A drive-though window allows easy access for takeout order customers.
There's one kind of rib (St Louis cut pork) and a pulled pork sandwich, but the all-things-to-all-people approach here is more tuned to appetizers and seafood than barbecue. The menu emphasis seems to have refocused after the initial opening, with lobster (50 different items) and fried seafood the main attraction and barbecue now merely a sideline. Very popular among the locals during my visit was the "all you can eat" lobster special (I use quotation marks because it's only "all you can eat" if all you can eat is their limit of six, but it's still great deal for $19.99). Wings are also featured very prominently here. The menu offers many of the same items (ribs, wings, rings, fries) in a few different combinations, so it takes some planning to figure out the best way to get what you want without excessive duplication or getting extras you don't want.
I stopped in with a friend for a late lunch as part of a Maine mini crawl. I was expecting this to be a rough and tumble joint dominated by bikers, but the crowd I saw was mostly families and large parties. At least 95% of the tightly packed crowd stuck with the fried seafood or lobster, and I didn't see a single barbecue item headed to any table but my own.
As one of the things Big Daddy's is known for, wings were clearly in the ordering plan from the get-go. It turned out that the wings were far and away the highlight of the visit, warranting a re-order to get a few more varieties in. Although the wings aren't smoked, they're everything I look for in a wing: good size, the right amount of sauce (either extreme can be underwhelming or overwhelming), bold flavors and good outer crispness that doesn't compromise the tenderness and juiciness of the meat within. The technical excellence varied a little among the four batches we tried, but some were perfect and overall Big Daddy's nailed it, producing some of the best traditional non-smoked wings I've ever tasted.
Good wings don't necessarily guarantee good barbecue, and good seafood (it was at least good to the 95% of the dining room gobbling it up as if it were their last meal) can actually be a detriment to good barbecue if it means nobody is ordering it.
A pulled pork sandwich arrived oversauced, with limp meat that had the consistency of spaghetti struggling to breathe under too much marinara. I poked through the meat and found a few firmer and pinker spots that may have suggested that smoking took place, but the bland meat certainly didn't taste smoky. Aside from adding some moisture, the all-too-generic sauce hurt the sandwich more than it helped.
Ribs, ordered without sauce, were good sized St Louis cut spare ribs that had a decent amount of meat and not a lot of fat. There was also not a lot of rub (next to none), not a lot of smoke (probably none), not a lot of moisture (probably depended on the sauce for that) and not a lot of flavor (ditto). But they did have the right tenderness—pulling easily off the bone without falling off—and a nice outer crust for textural contrast. The sauce on the side was a necessity here to make these ribs workable.
I'm not so sure the ribs and pork were smoked, but there was just enough reasonable doubt that I can't say with certainty they weren't. I can understand an all-purpose restaurant with an obligatory pulled pork sandwich or rack of ribs on the menu not being able to provide the same "real deal" barbecue as a smokehouse that specializes in it. But in the case of Big Daddy's, barbecue is one of their calling cards, so smoked or not, it should have been a little better than what I tried that day.
There weren't any choices for barbecue sauce or any sauces provided at the table, but extra sauce was provided with the ribs. It's a typically sweet, tomato-based variety that seems to be a throwback to what was popular at chain restaurants in the 1980s.
French fries struck me as the standard food service issue frozen crinkle cut variety. Onion rings, billed as homemade, were crisp and tasty. The cole slaw tasted store bought.
The bottom line: Even though I thought the barbecue was lackluster, the wings all around were among the best I have tasted, so I can easily recommend Big Daddy's on that basis only. And who knows, maybe the seafood is good too.
Citysearch reviews of Big Daddy's BBQ
Urban Spoon reviews of Big Daddy's BBQ