Ladder 133 is a former fire station that in between was former barbecue joint Sticky Fingers (a local operation, not affiliated with the regional chain of the same name). As for now, it's a sports bar, supplying TVs in a lively and crowded bar area, a few more in the separate dining area (including individual ones in select booths) and a large screen in an alcove. The decor is a combination of sports and firehouse memorabilia, which combined with the bright lighting give it a Ground Round vibe. The Southern Pride smoker from the previous incarnation remains.
The restaurant has developed a following for its weekly specials (wings Wednesdays, burger Thursdays) and hand-to-hand combat sporting events (UFC, WWE).
One fun factoid about Ladder 133 is that it's supposedly under the same ownership as nearby strip club The Foxy Lady. According to a trusted source, strippers did double duty at both places shortly after the sale, but to my untrained eye this was probably no longer the case.
The menu has retained just two barbecue items: pork ribs, available as a
full rack only, and pulled pork, available as a panino only. No half
racks, no combos, no brisket, no other smoked fare. There are wings,
which are double fried and sauced with several heat levels of Buffalo or
a few other familiar flavors. Several of the usual pub fare suspects
are included as well.
A frequent barbecue accomplice local to the area joined me for a Thursday night visit. The bar was packed well ahead of the Celtics game; the dining areas were about half full.
Wings: An order of 8 wing pieces ($7.99) had decent size and a light but full coating of a Buffalo sauce a little more golden than typical. The midrange ("Captain") heat selection brought surprising heat that had a slight burn to accompany the vinegar tang and hint of sweet. The exteriors were crisp, the interiors were mostly tender and the wings as a whole were alright.
Ribs: A full rack ($18.99 with one side) billed as babybacks delivered two half slabs of what I believe were neatly trimmed St Louis cut ribs, buried in a dark, thick sauce. The few glimpse of uncoated meat showed more brown and crispy black than pink. Picking up a bone resulted in just that: picking up a bone, because the meat was cooked so long it remained on the plate, not even attempting to cling to the bone. The rib meat had a cake frosting consistency and a flavor mostly coming from the sauce—a mix of sweet, hot and tangy similar to store-bought. I didn't detect much rub or any smoke. Factoring out the sauce, the meat was moist but not juicy, as that ship had already sailed. Overall, some decent ribs if you like them extra extra tender, but a waste if you don't.
Pulled pork sandwich: Here it's on a "panini" sandwich ($9.99 with fries), with cheese cole slaw inside as well. The bread was an eye-catcher, possibly pressed but still domelike. This wasn't something out of the supermarket but rather something special, bringing good flavor, good freshness and good crunch. It turned out to be the star of the show. The pork had the same heavy saucing as the ribs but had a little more going on. Bark and pink color were a welcome inclusion. Tenderness was well past ideal but still within the window; there seemed to be a few bits and pieces among the mush that had a little more bite-back than the rest. This pulled pork had some flavor of its own, so while the saucing was heavy it wasn't a crutch. The cole slaw was barely noticeable and the cheese was left off per my request—regardless of religion, cheese and pork just don't play well and aren't meant to be together. So where does this sandwich rank among the rest? Hard to say. The pork was average at best but that bread made the whole thing work well enough that I'd call it a little above.
There's no barbecue sauce on the table and no choice of sauce style for the ribs or pork, but with the quantities already applied, extra sauce wasn't needed here. The house sauce tasted like your typical sweet-tangy-spicy bottled variety found at the supermarket.
Sweet potato fries: Long, dark, crispy crinkle cuts with more crinkle than most had nice flavor and good contrast between crunchy exterior and fluffy interior. If only the ribs had that working for them.
Fries: Thick steak fries served in a mini fry basket had a little less crunch but good fluffiness inside. Herbs helped out but these were nothing special.
I liked that the staff was friendly and the management was on top of things through the meal.
Be forwarned that the TVs are on the small side and not viewable from every table, so it may take a combination of early arrival and luck to get a good seat for the game.
The Bottom Line
Ladder 133 was versatile enough to work for families, the bar crowd and the sports crowd. As for the barbecue crowd, it'll do in a pinch, but even if you're a fan of their sweet and saucy style, you can do a little better at Rick's Roadhouse (Providence RI) or LJ's BBQ (Pawtucket RI).
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