(05/18/14) (07/16/14) (08/14/14)
Look for the "Wood Smoked BBQ" symbol that gets second billing on the sign of Chip Shots, located on a lonely road frequented by truckers a few miles west of I-495. Though once called one of the eight most "fun" places to eat in New England, Chip Shots is basically a combination dive and sports bar. Walk into the unmanned, beer-scented entry area and you'll see the wood paneled game room to the left that features simulated golf ($30/hour), pool and air hockey. To the right, most of the eating and drinking takes place in a mid-sized room with a row of booths against the windows, a row of bar stools at the bar along opposite wall and a row of high tops in between. A handful of TVs and a Keno monitors provide entertainment, but most of the clientele—mostly regulars—engage in loud conversation among themselves and with the well seasoned bartenders. You won't bump into any Harvard professors, but you'll see couples, families and groups spanning three generations. On weekends there's karaoke.
The barbecue portion of the menu is an addition from a few years ago, but the selections go deeper than just the obligatory ribs and pulled pork. Chicken, turkey tips and pork loin round out the smoked fare. Brisket seems to have been a regular item at one time but a recurring special nowadays. Any two of the above can be combined on a two-meat platter, and if you choose pulled pork, it's not just a pile but a full sandwich that joins your other meat.
Chip Shots also creates weekly specials, announced on their Facebook page.
I hit Chip Shots for a weekend afternoon lunch and two weeknight dinners, spaced a few months apart.
Wings: The wings ($8.99) are large. They aren't smoked. They are breaded. They're probably frozen. The sauce, though available in varying in heat levels, is pretty basic. The execution is decent for what it is, achieving crispy and tender at least.
Onion Rings: If you like the puffy kind, you might like these. Reasonable crispness, not much flavor. Probably also frozen.
Pulled pork sandwich: This may be the boonies, but the roll on this sandwich ($9.95 with one side) is city sophistication all the way, with a light, fresh, eggy brioche. It hugs and holds in the mass of pulled pork shreds very effectively. Rub and smoke take a back seat—if the trunk is a seat—to the very heavily applied sauce. Although I prefer a little bounce-back and a little sauce over none of the former and boatloads of the latter, I'm okay with different approaches, as long as there's some flavor in the meat. I didn't find much, but those who like it extremely soft and extremely saucy might not mind. Some may like it a lot.
Ribs: A half rack of babybacks on the 2-meat combo ($18.95) brought a few more bones and a little more mass than is commonplace. Though not heavily (or even modestly) rubbed, the surface brought some formidable crust that shielded a tender but not overly wobbly interior. While these ribs were not overcooked, the texture reminded me of well done salmon: tender, yielding only if pressed intently, and not quite dry and not fully moist. I had no problem with this texture. As for flavor, the meat, the sauce and the two together were harmless enough but a little on the bland side and ultimately forgettable. Overall, some serviceable ribs if you happen to find yourself in the area, but if rankings and far flung choices come into play, these are going to wind up closer to the bottom than the top.
Turkey Tips: Tried on a 2-meat combo, this presented thick cubes of smoked-then-grilled turkey breast topped with grilled onions and bacon. The three sauce options are BBQ, teriyaki and plain, and I chose plain-- a mistake in retrospect but more so a misunderstanding. I figured that since plain was an option and not a special request, the turkey tips would still have that basted, crusted finish even if not drowned by additional sauce. Not the case. Though remotely smoky, the pale, dry meat was just that: plain. I also figured that the onions and bacon would be more like the saucy caramelized onions that go on a burger, only with bacon in the mix. Nope, just more dry stuff. Ultimately, this item failed, but I divide the blame three ways: my choice, their execution and menu wording (don't offer it plain; making it a special request would change expectation).
Chicken: Supplied on a separate plate as part of the 2-meat combo, the half chicken bore browned, wrinkly skin and a brown coat of browner sauce. The latter turned out not so overwhelming—whether for flavor or chicken obfuscation—and the former turned out not so crisp. Underneath, the meat was moist everywhere but the breast. Unexpectedly restrained use of sauce nudged the mild smoky flavor nudged along. Overall, not great, not bad.
Burger: A number of barbecue restaurants have upped their burger game, going with interesting and/or upscale beef blends made with unusual and/or expensive cuts. This burger ($10.99 with fries for most options) isn't one of them. I'm guessing these are pre-formed patties shipped on a SYSCO truck, but the execution on two tries has surpassed much of the snootier competition. The meat was well seasoned, well crusted, cooked to the requested temperature and fairly juicy both times, even with a pedestrian patty. The bun is a reasonably fresh brioche. Toppings were fairly ho-hum, with no pleasant or unpleasant surprises. Overall, a workmanlike burger that offers no fanfare but is more than doable.
They don't offer any choices and they don't serve extra on the side. The single sauce is fairly standard, with a thick consistency and a sweet and tangy flavor similar to if not actually a bottled variety.
Cole slaw: A very impressive thin slicing of the cabbage, probably done with a mandolin. There wasn't much going on for flavor, but it was cold, crisp and topped with celery seed. The second try looked a little pale but came through on flavor this time, with a creamy/tangy mix.
Baked beans: These tasted like a canned version but with a little more punch and a little more firmness.
Corn on the cob: Considering that there's a cornfield across the street, I can imagine many customers thinking it's farm fresh in the summer-- not the case. I tried to order this, but the server took the initiative and talked me out of it, as it was a frozen product. Kudos to her.
Mashed potatoes: Now these tasted homemade. Soft, creamy, buttery and with skins on. They needed some salt, but that was easily added at the table.
Fries: Frozen for sure, light on flavor and heavy on crunch achieved with that thin batter found on some industrially produced fries.
Cornbread: A large pale piece screamed Twinkie on the visual, but this was a surprising jolt of savory. No sweet, and a little salty. Very unusual. To be honest, I'm still not sure what to make of it, but give them credit for originality.
Some of the Yelp reviews of Chips Shots have been rather harsh. While I would not call it anything close to destination dining, it's nowhere near the disaster some of the reviewers portray. That said, there's very little that's homemade.
The beer is among the coldest I've ever been served.
The Bottom Line
Not a joint to travel out of your way for, but the friendly service, gaming options and cold beer are plusses. Chip Shots is a stop to consider if you're passing through town and you like your pulled pork sandwich wet and sloppy, or your smoked turkey tips not wet and sloppy.
Yelp reviews of Chip Shots
Urbanspoon reviews of Chip Shots
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