Eddie B's Comford Food & BBQ is a casual eatery in downtown Portsmouth that's as close to a diner as you can get without the actual diner car. The architecture is 1950s modern with a small bar and stools setup that's more breakfasty than beer oriented, but you can enjoy an adult beverage here. There's also an even mix of booths and tables. The decor is nostalgia, using framed vintage newspapers and photographs that all with a personal connection to owner Ed Barton, who previously owned Bella Luna. (When Eddie B's launches evening hours, some of the most fondly remembered dishes from Bella Luna will be revived). The smoker is a Cookshack.
The barbecue takes a backseat to the comfort food, but all of the standards are represented: pork ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket and smoked chicken. Anything can be had wet or dry. Boneless meats are available on sandwiches, platters and combos (up to four meats). Ribs are available as half slab and full slab platters and on combos. Chicken is available as a half bird platter and on combos.
There's a burger section that includes everything from the classic to the patty melt to turkey burgers to funky barbecue-topped monstrosities. Panini sandwiches include grilled cheese, a Cuban with ghost chile relish, a Reuben and a few different Italian style meat 'wiches. Steak sandwiches, hotdogs, haddock sandwiches, haddock chowder and chili round out the lunch menu, Breakfasts are popular, but I was there for the 'cue.
I hit Eddie B's as the first stop on a Portsmouth BBQ and burger crawl, joined by a hearty eater.
Burger: As I've done many a time at a barbecue joint, I split a burger as an appetizer. The Angus patty with bacon and cheese doesn't promise anything special on
the menu and wasn't anything special when delivered (not that there were
any problems), but since diners always have burger potential, it was
worth a try. Decent. Nothing more, nothing less. Big props for the homemade bun though.
Ribs: Full cut spares arrived as a connected one-third rack on the "Da Big Fella" 4-meat platter ($24.95). They're narrow but long, so there's no lack of rib meat. There's also no lack of rub, which is applied about as heavily as I've ever seen. The reheat (we're talking Saturday morning before 11:30) did a nice job crisping up that rub to remove most of the sludgy effects of refrigeration, but I'd like just a few minutes more. These ribs were quite tender, with a nice inside/out textural contrast. There was only a faint smoke ring, but there was no doubt after one bite that these were smoked. Flavor was extremely high, with the well rounded rub leading the way, followed by smoke and porkiness. These were helped out by sauce (requested on the side rather than applied) but sauce was hardly necessary for moisture or flavor. Though not a blatantly obvious reheat (I'd say it was a pretty good one), it was still a reheat, so I'd love to try Eddie B's ribs on a day when they're fresh out of the smoker.
Chicken: Although dryer than the ribs and with a better surface crisping, the chicken exhibited all the same traits: noticeable smoke, lots of rub, lots of flavor.
Pulled pork: I'm not a fan of oversauced pork, especially when I ask for it unsauced,
but this arguably oversauced sauced pork did have some redeeming qualities. The unwilting
texture of the meat stood up to the sauce, and each bumpy, smoky,
rub-crusted piece had flavor well beyond the sauce. Was that enough to
make me a fan? I wouldn't go quite that far, but the pork was definitely doable. I bet
it would present better in a sandwich.
Brisket: Just as Eddie B's chicken is a lot like the ribs, the brisket is similar
to the pulled pork, but ultimately less successful. The slices on my
platter were thin, slightly crisp and submerged in sauce. There was
flavor, but all of it seemed to come from the sauce. Tenderness was just
okay, it too seemingly coming from the sauce.
The small bowl of sauce onthe side is straight from the 1980s, with a puddinglike consistency and a familiar sweet/tangy flavor.
Sides are the real strength of Eddie B's.
Fries: The burger menu offers homemade chips or an upgrade to fries or onion rings. We opted for the rings (more on that later) and received both the rings and a large basket of fries. These were hot, thin, crispy as potato sticks and well salted.
Onion Rings: A small pile of rings accompanied the burger, and they were eye catching in their thinness, probable crispness and appetizing brown hue. In a word, they were fantastic. Reasons? Just as much crunch as expected, a sweet oniony flavor, a vigorous salting and a thin, delicious batter whose greasiness was just far enough past ordinary to make it a plus rather than a minus. We quickly ordered a full basket, which turned out to be just as good.
I'd easily rank these onion rings somewhere in my top 10, probably near the top.
Collard greens: Perfectly cooked greens straddled the line between crunchy and wilting, accompanied by bits of pink pork and a broth that was a nice blend of sweet, salty and tart.
Mac and cheese: This continued the string of more-than-solid sides, bringing fusili (corkscrew pasta) that were properly cooked (neither stiff nor soggy) and bathed in a loose, thick and creamy cheese sauce with enough sharpness to gear it to an adult palate. This was definitely one of the better ones.
Cole slaw: This rendition was almost as much about the carrots as it was the cabbage, packing some crunch to go along with a creamy and strongly peppery condiment.
Cornbread: The menu mentions cornbread being included, but I didn't realize until a few days later that we never got any.
The Bottom Line
The ultra-rubbed, full-flavored ribs are the definite draw at Eddie B's, and if you're an onion rings fan, you're in for a treat. The jury's still out on their barbecue acumen beyond ribs, but with free parking, outstanding sides and a menu that goes beyond 'cue, Eddie B's is definitely worth a look. Just get there early, because they close at 3:00PM.
Other Opinion and Info
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