Casey's Crossing is a converted railroad station on a small street parallel to and 3 blocks in from routes 16 and 126 in Holliston. It's an unusual cross between Irish pub and sports bar, where the bar's namesake isn't the owner but rather Casey of the famous baseball poem "Casey at the Bat." Legend has it that Mudville is in or near Holliston. The decor inside Casey's features a Mudville 9 sign, large pictures of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, some Red Sox and Patriots neon signs and assorted visual references to the Boston sports scene and Ireland. It's an interesting looking place, with very high ceilings at the center of the room, low ceilings at the ends, a few arcade games, a lottery scratch card vending machine and an upstairs billiards room.
According to the menus in 2006, the place was also called Armadillo Smokehouse at Casey's Crossing, with a connection to the now-defunct Armadillo Depot in Worcester. By 2011, a new regime had taken over, with a different, smaller array of barbecue offerings.
Barbecue has been de-emphasized in recent years, possibly related to the departure of their former pitmaster, but it's obvious from the moment you walk in that the grub takes a backseat to the pub. That said, the wings are described as smoked; the entrees include a pulled pork sandwich and a half rack of babybacks. A ribs and pork combo is not offered. The frequent whole pig roasts offer some hope for a deeper barbecue presence here.
Beyond barbecue, there's a vast array of burgers, sandwiches and beerworthy appetizers.
The 5-1/2 year gap between the first and second visits might be the most widely spaced in this site's history. The review that follows is vased on the second visit only, with a link further down to the original review.
Onion Rings: A generous serving of puffy beer battered rings got things off to a decent start. I prefer the flaky kind and a little more seasoning, but these were warm, crisp and satisfying.
Wings: When you claim that the wings are smoked and further bill them at the very top of your website as "the greatest wings on Earth," you're setting some pretty lofty expectations. If delivering "merely good" would be a disappointment, then Casey's wings ($7.50 for six pieces) were well beyond disappointing. Size was about average, probably a little smaller than average. The deep surface color I associate with a deeply smoked wings was nowhere to be found—in fact, these wings were downright pale. Usually a pale wing equates to rubbery skin, so the crisp bite on each wing was a welcome pleasure. Inner meat was tender enough. Flavor? Again, nowhere to be found, aside from the sauce. The Buffalo wings were a competent if unspectacular treatment; with the plain wings they took the word "plain" quite literally. Overall, the wings were okay, but when I think of the best wings I've ever had or even just the best smoked ones, these would never come to mind.
Pulled pork: A pulled pork sandwich ($7.25 with fries) veered off the traditional path with Scali bread, a slice of American cheese (shrug) and large chunks of unsauced pork. Although there were some crisp edges, actual bark was minimal. Texture resembled turkey thigh meat with its nominal moistness and tenderness. Flavor was extremely light, with no obvious smoke or rub presence. The container of sauce served on the side was less of an option and more of a necessity.
Ribs: Things picked up with the half rack of babybacks ($10.95 with rice pilaf and cole slaw). The missing bark/crust arrived, the missing surface rub arrived, smoke made its debut and the inner meat finally had some flavor. Spice was prominent in that rub. Texture is always a subjective thing, but I'd say these were more than a little on the undercooked side, requiring more than a gentle tug to get the meat off the bone. But overall, these ribs were a nice improvement and an at least passable representation for what's basically a bar.
A medium bodied tomato/vinegar concoction tasted homemade and worked fairly well on the ribs and the pork. It's kind of a throwback sauce, reminding me of what barbecue joints in this area used to offer in the 1980s.
The mountain of dark brown, skin-on hand cut fries served with my pulled pork sandwich could have filled two large McDonad's fry containers. They needed an extra hit of salt but were pretty good. Cole slaw looked good but had no flavor. I've never claimed to be a barbecue expert, so I certainly won't claim to be a rice pilaf expert, but I liked the version served with the ribs.
The Bottom Line
Real but so-so barbecue at a pub that makes no real claim to be a barbecue joint. In my previous review of Casey's, based on the previous regime, I observed that the flavorful meats were smoked competently and creatively but suffered significantly from storage, reheating and service issues. Under the new administration, the meats strike me as (generally speaking) initially smoked with less proficiency but held and handled with greater proficiency. Whether that's better or worse is up for debate, but understand that you'll have to win a debate to get me up for a return. If you're already at Casey's for drinks and want to grab a bite, the barbecue is doable (and a nice bonus considering that it's not claiming to be a barbecue joint), but it's not worth seeking out.
2006 PigTrip review of Armadillo Smokehouse at Casey's Crossing
Yelp reviews of Casey's Crossing / Casey's Pub
Urbanspoon reviews of Casey's Crossing / Casey's Pub