Gran'Daddy's BBQ is a standalone building that exudes old school country charm, from the checkerboard tablecloths to the antique furniture to the glass display case that houses many of the menu's available meats and sides. Service is over-the-counter; seating is comprised of tables and chairs spread across two separate rooms. There's no bar, but BYOB is encouraged.
The Gran'Daddy's menu features all the basics (pork ribs, pulled pork,
brisket, chicken) plus smoked hamburgers, hotdogs and sausages. An extensive
sandwich selection includes assorted permutations of pork, brisket, chicken,
cheese and bacon, with different breads (small roll, bulkie roll, pastry pocket).
Appetizers include smoked wings, a smoked steak chili, rib ends and sausage,
plus chowder on Fridays. Not officially on the menu but available are an
assortment of "smokehouse" items from fish to corned beef to seasonal specials.
I stopped in twice with friends well versed in barbecue for spaced out Saturday afternoon visits.
Rib ends were a little surprising. It's my fault for not checking ahead of time to make sure, but I was expecting rib tips and these wound up being simply ribs. The only thing that made them "ends" was that they were from the end of the rack. These unsauced babybacks had a decent bark and strong smoke content. Texture was a mixed bag, as the doneness was just about right (tender without falling off the bone) but moistness was lacking. I liked the flavor, which had some complexity from the rub in addition to the smoke. I'm aware that most ribs are reheated, not served right out of the smoker, but the reheat here was more obvious than most. Despite the textural issues, I thought this was a pretty good rib overall.
Wings were easily the highlight of the first visit. Served unsauced, these golden, slightly-crisp beauties had a pleasingly high smoke content and a very chickeny flavor. Yes, all chicken has a chickeny flavor, but not like these, which were amplified. Wings on the second visit had a crispier exterior but a drier interior. Flavor was high on smoke and somehow again tasted more "chickeny" than most wings. You get a choice of sauce on the side, which helps out the moisture, but I think flavorwise Gran'daddy's wings can stand on their own.
Chili had two completely different spice levels on the two visits: the first time it was tame, the second time it was tingly. Beyond the spice, the second visit's batch tasted more like chili than the tomato salsa of the first, so that's a good sign. The chili has beans and numerous chunks of smoked steak, whose firm texture both times made me think it was added to the chili late in the game to retain bite rather than succumbing to the broth. I liked the flavor of the broth but I thought it was too salty, and I'm usually the last one to complain about salt.
Pulled pork on the first visit was't much to look at (not to mention a surefire candidate for the overmashed protection program), and the texture pretty much followed suit, with a slightly mushy (and almost chalky) mouthfeel. But it tasted a little better than it looked: the meat was smoky, with an average amount of bark and a way above average amount of seasoning. It may have been lightly sauced but it seemed to be moistened with its own juices. Smoke took a backseat to the dominant rub, which may have been added even after cooking. The downside (if the mushiness wasn't already enough) of the distinctive pork is that on both visits it was even saltier than the chili.
Brisket was thick cut and served up in such large, odd shaped slices that I'm not sure if it's brisket or some other cut from the beef family. It's sliced deli thin, lightly brushed with barbecue sauce for moisture more than flavor, and loaded (overloaded, actually) with fat, which probably gives it more moisture than the sauce. On both visits the smokiness was light but noticeable. On one visit the edges were crisp; on another they had bark but a more soggy version. I mostly liked the flavor, which got a little boost from the restrained use of sauce, but I'd like to taste more rub and more smoke (and less of the blubbery fat). Texture was fine for tenderness and moisture, but there was a pot roasty quality to the meat.
Ribs are babybacks, served unsauced, and there's not much I can say about them that's different from the rib ends. Like the ends, they brought ample bark and strong smoke content on both visits (smoke level on the ribs far exceeded the other meats). On visit 1, they had good texture but were a little dry. On visit 2 the ribs were much fresher, with a faint but more noticeable glaze on the exterior and a super moist, juice-gushing interior. All things considered, visit 1's ribs were decent; visit 2's ribs were worth a drive.
A smoked burger upped the flavor ante from the usual griddled variety, but a tradeoff was the restriction that the meat be cooked well done. And that it was, with the juiciness from the usual griddled variety conspicuously absent. I'd still recommend the smoked burger, especially if split among a table of four.
This was juicier on the second visit, where other improvements included a more prominent smoke ring (yes, on a burger) and an Italian sub treatment of sauteed onions and peppers. The drawback was very underdone, very fatty bacon.
A smoked sausage was a satisfying take on a ballpark classic, with a superior sausage and better cooking method.
Sides didn't make much of an impression. Fries are standard industrial strength frozen crinkle cuts, jazzed up with a little dry rub. Sweet potato fries had a little more personality. Cole slaw, which I later learned was homemade, tasted a lot like storebought. Mac and cheese was extra mild and extra creamy. I forget what the greens tasted like; I know I didn't eat much of them.
Much more effort and love is put into the sauces than the sides. All are fairly thick, with varying shades of brown. The blueberry packs just enough fruit flavor in without overstaying its welcome, blending nicely with the base. The hot variety, while not tremendously hot, showed a lot of nuance and worked with just about all the meats.
Other Thoughts and Observations
The Gran' daddy's website is one of the most entertaining and informative of its kind, with excellent reheating instructions for the takeout meats. After a quick tour of the site (or a conversation with owner/pitmaster Ralph), it's obvious that there's a lot of passion for barbecue in that kitchen.
The bottom line: Although the passion is clearly there at Gran' daddy's, it doesn't always translate into results. It has its share of hits and misses, but there are enough hits (and
enough outside-the-box barbecue offerings) to at least warrant a visit. If you can catch
them when the salt levels (pork, chili) and fat levels (brisket, bacon) are low
and the freshness (ribs) is optimal, that visit has a chance of being a good
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