NOTE: This is an older review, kept on the site for historical purposes only. For my most recent review of Binga's, click here.
Binga's Stadium Smokehouse, an offshoot of Binga's Winga's, has probably the most nondescript exterior of any joint in my directory, with viewless windows and no real draw other than a neon sign. An understandable first impression is that it's probably a dive, but that could not be further from reality once you set foot inside. Well over a dozen large TV screens surround a spacious dining room that's subdivided into smaller all-booth sections and features a long bar along one wall, booths along another and high-tops in between. The booths are large, comfortable, squeaky clean and include a smaller TV that can be tuned to any station. There's a separate smaller bar off the main entry and a game room and function room downstairs. It's the Jennifer Lopez of restaurant spaces, with enough slickness and enough "street" to appeal a wide range demographics. It's easily accessible just a block away from Congress Street and right across Free Street from the Cumberland County Civic Arena.
Binga's was the third leg of a 3-joint Saturday afternoon Maine BBQ crawl with a frequent barbecue accomplice. Being full from the two earlier joints and having somewhat low expectations led to the uncharcteristically restrained ordering.
Usually a joint of this magnitude (and yes, slickness) has an all-encompassing something-for-everyone menu, but the stripped down menu is another surprise here. As Binga's lineage would suggest, wings are the main attraction. Besides being able to choose bone-in or boneless and from around 20 sauces, you can also choose smoked or lightly breaded. The smokehouse offerings include ribs (available as a half rack, whole rack or as a side) and pulled pork (sandwich or platter). The only combos combine wings and sides; I wish there were ribs/wings or ribs/pork combos.
We tried two wing flavors (mango habanero and Cajun dry rub) but stuck with the smoked style for both, since we're both wing purists who frown on breading and tenders. Both were of average size, both were flash fried to impart a crispy surface that served the wings well, and both had a recognizable smokiness that stood up to the other flavors without standing out. The mango habanero were also tender and juicy inside; the Cajun were dry inside. I liked the density and strength of the Cajun rub enough to forgive the inner dryness somewhat. The mango habanero were the superior of the two, bearing a generous coating that lubricated the wings without compromising crispness. Flavor was very pleasing, with a strong but unlingering heat combining with sweet quite effectively.
The pulled pork sandwich on a simple white bun was overmashed, a little oversauced and a little underwhelming. The low meat-to-bread ratio was as much a reason for the pork being overwhelmed as the high sauce-to-meat ratio. But there was some pink meat and tiny bits of bark to confirm that the pork was actually smoked (not always a guarantee, even at a joint with "Smokehouse" in the name). Sauce was fairly generic sweet non-hickory barbecue sauce. When removed from the sandwich, some of the larger unsauced chunks had a nice porky flavor and a better texture than I experienced between the bread.
A small basket of ribs ordered as a "side" presented well coated ribs that weren't as drowned as the pulled pork. Some appealing crusting action was in play under the sauce, with a crisp, flavorful bark that gave way to tender—no, make that overly tender—inner meat. Yes, these were the fall-off-the-bone style that barbecue purists usually avoid. And the style I usually don't enjoy. But unlike most representations of that style, these ribs had the aformentioned bark with spicing, some nice pink color and intense flavoring all the way down to the bone. Heavy smoke itself wasn't a part of the flavor profile, but these ribs were the unmistakable offspring of smoke and spice. So droop factor aside, I enjoyed these ribs.
There aren't any squeeze bottles on the table and no choice of barbecue sauce with ribs and pork. The sauces used are fairly sweet without much contrast from spice.
The only side we tried was the fries that came with the pulled pork sandwich, and they were excellent: skin-on, crisp and slightly brown outside, wiltingly buttery inside and kissed with some coarse sea salt to season them in unabashed fashion.
The bottom line:
This isn't mind blowing destination barbecue, but based on my limited sampling, I'm giving Binga's a tentative thumbs-up. Despite a so-so pulled pork sandwich, Binga's came through with decent to very good smoked-then-fried wings, some of the best hand cut fries I've ever had and ribs that are becoming an increasing rarity: a wet, fall-off-the-bone style that's been truly smoked and has flavor in the meat, not just the sauce. For those barbecue fans who seek out the sweet, wet, super tender type of rib, Binga's is right up your alley with one of the better examples. As for the sports viewing and creature comforts, Binga's should please just about everybody.
Yelp reviews of Binga's Stadium Smokehouse
Urban Spoon reviews of Binga's Stadium Smokehouse