There are times when the term "joint" simply doesn’t work. Usually, it’s because the restaurant in question is too sophisticated or too suburban. Here, it fits just fine, even though "dive" might be closer. Full Rack Smokehouse is a small but imposing brick structure on a stretch of highway in gritty Revere. It’s saloon all the way, with a pair of tiny windows ensuring near darkness in the lounge, which in turn ensures that leaving before dusk will fill your by-then-dilated pupils with blinding sunlight. A half dozen TVs behind and near the bar qualify it for sports bar status. All of the seating is at bar stools and small tables near the bar; there’s no separate dining room. Only cash is accepted, but an ATM in the back is there if you need it.
The smoker is a Cookshack. On their website, Full Rack Smokehouse claims that it offers "the best BBQ food within 100 miles of Boston."
Full Rack keeps things simple with a few smoked platters (ribs by the half and full rack, half chickens), a few grilled items (steak tips, turkey tips, sausage) and a few sandwiches (pulled pork, brisket, corned beef, burger), plus a few salads. It’s not until you get deep into the sides selections that smoked wings, hot wings and "Texas Saddle Bags" (smoked potato stuffed with smoked meat) appear.
Fearing anything close to a night visit, I hit Full Rack solo on a Saturday afternoon toward the tail end of what could be considered lunchtime. I nearly tripped over a dog (and not of the seeing-eye variety) on my way to a small table. About three-quarters of the barstools and half the tables were occupied; everyone had a bottle but only one had a plate.
They don't technically list appetizers, and I had my hands full just trying the ribs and pork, so not 'til next time.
Pork ribs: I ordered the half rack platter ($10.95 with two sides) expecting four things: that the ribs would be babybacks (I dunno, just seems like that kinda place), that there'd be six of them, and that they'd be both diminutive and falling off the bone. Good thing gambling's illegal, because I was wrong on three out of four. These were gigantic full spares, with impressive height to complement the lengthy cut. A modest blanket of sauce covered most of the crust but left a few glimpses of what looked like gray meat on the cross section. Perhaps the volume explains why only four bones were presented, but when you say a half rack, that means six ribs. So the question now is: when order a full rack at Full Rack Smokehouse, do you actually get a full rack?
The first bite felt rather soft and just shy of mushy; then a few bites into that first rib, it happened: all of the meat plummeted from bone to plate right under my hand in a gray pork canoe. Flavor for the most part was as gray as it looked, but that surface was not without rub. Every other bite or so brought a faint tingle of heat from what was a light application reminiscent of Shake 'n' Bake. The sauce added some sweetness and some needed moisture (the meat wasn't dry but wasn't juicy either), though not with any real pizazz.
Overall, this was a bland effort from a joint claiming to have the best barbecue within a hundred miles of Boston. Best? Nope. One of the best? Nope. Above average? Nope. Average? Keep going. Okay, I'll simply say this: the ribs were at least better than I expected, which wasn't much.
Pulled pork: I ordered this separately ($9.95 with one side) because they don't do combos. Hell, they don't even do pork (or brisket) except on a sandwich. And it's quite different, served on a toasted bulkie roll with voluminous, lightly-sauced, fully-barked, highly-charred, tightly-packed meat that appeared chopped rather than pulled. The end result was a little meatloafy, but a tasty one. There was no gray meat here, and the smoke component (with some grilling or pan finishing, I think) as well as overall flavor easily surpassed the ribs. Tender, yes; overtender, no. Juicy, no; dry, no. Usually the sweet sauces like this one overpower the meat, but not in this case.
Okay, here we go again. Best? Nope. One if the best ? Probably not. Above average? Even though it's not my style, I wouldn't rule it out. I like the novelty and I liked that sandwich.
They don't put any on the table and they don't ask what kind you want; it's a one-size-fits-all approach that recalls the sweet-tangy-spicy sauces of decades past. A good fit for beer.
Cole slaw: This creamy concoction looked a little like store bought, but definitely tasted homemade. The thicker-and-stickier-than-usual condiment was interesting, but an overly bitter component made this a no-go for me.
Fries: Frozen, but well executed: plentiful, crisp, hot, and with none of the artificial coating you often see.
Potato salad: Very simple, with the firm potato minimally but adequately dressed and seasoned.
The Bottom Line
Despite the less than stellar ribs, Full Rack Smokehouse wasn’t the horror show I expected, though the "best BBQ food within 100 miles of Boston" claim is more ludicrous now than it sounded when I first read it.
Still, I might just revisit, but not right away. I’ll think of it as an adventure and I’ll think about trying some of the grilled items and stuffed smoked potato. I know I’ll try the smoked wings.
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