Denny Mike’s Smokehouse (also known as Denny Mike's BBQ) is a seasonal joint on the main drag right next to one of the Northeast’s most popular amusement parks. There’s an adjacent parking lot ($10), with metered parking further away. Inside, there are cases of prepared foods and an ordering counter. There are no seats inside, but the multi-level outside seating is perfect for people watching (read: bikini watching) and hearing the sounds of the roller coaster.
The abbreviated menu at Denny Mike’s includes one kind of rib (babybacks), pulled pork, sliced brisket and barbecued chicken. They also have burgers, hot dogs and shaved steak (fried haddock, available in 2006, is no longer on the menu). The barbecue plates don’t offer much flexibility: there’s a half rack of babybacks ($12.95), a half chicken ($9.95) and a four-meat combo plate ($16.95, with 3 babyback ribs, ¼ chicken and 3 ounces each of pulled pork and sliced brisket). You can only pick 1 side (among cole slaw, beans or potato salad; corn on the cob and cornbread are automatic).
Six bottles of barbecue sauce on display next to the ordering counter. Since they’re sealed, they seem to be primarily targeted for sale as bottles. When I asked about this, I was told they’re willing to open a bottle to try, but it would be a lot less awkward if they just had all of them open and available, with small plastic cups for sampling. I tried a habanero sauce that was pretty good.
I opted for the combo; my wife ordered a cheeseburger. Within seconds of my placing the order, I saw a black plastic container of food with a sealed clear lid placed into a tray on the counter. I’m not sure, but it’s possible the combo plates are pre-boxed. What I am sure of is that my combo sat unheated for the full 5 minutes it took for my wife’s burger to cook. This not only affected the temperature of the meats, but the texture as well, especially the soggy chicken skin.
The ribs were midsized babybacks, cooked to competition doneness (i.e., not “falling off the bone”), with just a hint of sauce. I didn’t taste any smoky flavor or see a smoke ring. They reminded me a little of Chinese restaurant ribs, but with less flavor. I think they’d be better if they were warmer. Either way, they weren’t great but they weren’t bad.
Chicken, though moist and reasonably tender, was also lacking in smoke and flavor and had the aforementioned soggy skin issues thanks to the 5-minute plastic steambath. Pulled pork was pretty good, with a nice texture and some flavor from the Carolina style sauce.
The brisket was crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, with a pleasing flavor. Brisket is by far the most difficult barbecue meat to get right, but this was hands down the best meat on the plate and possibly even among the top third of all the briskets I’ve tasted.
Sides were so-so. Cole slaw was heavy on the Mayo and reminded me of something you’d get at the supermarket. Corn on the cob tasted fresh and was a nice touch. I can’t comment on the cornbread because they forgot to give it to me. A side of onion rings ($5.95) showcased a crisp, puffy batter. If you like a low batter-to-onion ratio, you’ll probably not like them that much. If you like something more akin to an onion fritter, you’ll love them. Hand-cut fries on another table looked pretty good.
The bottom line: Certainly nothing to plan a trip around, but if you’re already at Old Orchard Beach, you can have a decent meal at Denny Mike's Smokehouse. For destination ‘cue, I’d head further north to Buck’s Naked in Freeport.