(04/07/10) (04/09/10) (05/01/10) (05/21/10) (06/09/10) (06/29/14) (08/22/14) (12/13/14)
Coincidentally, Po's Ribs and Barbecue happens to be owned by the former owners of Ginger Court, a now-closed favorite Chinese restaurant of one of my most prolific barbecue buddies, who ironically didn't join me here until my fifth visit. The interior, though rather stark, is a lot nicer than the over-the-counter joint I incorrectly imagined this to be. There's a long bar along the "hypotenuse wall" of the triangular-shaped room, with ten stools and nearly a dozen cozy four-top tables. The outside signage and menu both tout Po's as a sports bar, but the two flat screen TVs over the bar (and not large ones at that) form the extent of it.
The compact menu at Po's is mostly geared to bar snacks and mostly with an Asian leaning. Barbecue offerings include babyback ribs, pulled pork and sliced brisket. There's some flexibility with the ribs, available as 2 bones, 4 bones, 6 bones and as part of a 2-meat combo (also 4 bones). Boneless meats are available on sandwiches or combos; pulled chicken is available only in lettuce wraps. Appetizers also include fried items (spicy wings, spicy shrimp, calamari, pork chop with pesto), grilled items (beef, chicken or shrimp on skewer) and Asian style soup.
Several 2010 visits hit Po's at dinnertime only, scattered among Friday, Saturday and weekday nights, mostly with Young Bride. A trio of 2014 visits did Friday and Sunday dinners and a Saturday lunch. While the earlier visits surveyed the entire menu, the recent ones aimed to gauge the core barbecue items of ribs and brisket.
Shrimp salad: Tried in 2010, as was the case with all of the apps, this supplied a few grilled but mostly flavorless shrimp on a bed of overdressed salad.
Pulled chicken with pine nuts: This took a huge step up, delivering more flavor and more artistry. Overflowing in two large iceberg lettuce cups were ever-so-slightly moistened chicken bits augmented by finely chopped celery, onions, mushrooms and carrots, along with a nice dose of the mentioned pine nuts. I'm not sure how "barbecue" it is, and I originally wasn't sure if the chicken was smoked (it is), but on several visits this dish worked, delivering freshness, flavor, a good portion and the rare privilege of being able to eat healthy at a barbecue restaurant.
Spicy Wings: These were among the best I've eaten in a barbecue restaurant, but they're not smoked. Instead, the wings are deep fried and topped with salt and chile powder, then accented with sliced fresh chiles. The wings are fairly plump and have been hot, crisp, juicy and full of spicy flavor every time. Although these wings are hardly lacking in moisture or flavor, they are missing something: a dipping sauce would go a long way, whether designed for heat relief or as a complementary flavor.
Spicy Shrimp: These receive a similar treatment to the wings, only with a light batter. These were cooked to the right doneness but were greasy and would have benefitted from better draining before serving. Calamari are also similar; the one time I tried this dish, they were cooked and drained properly.
Babyback Ribs: Meaty babybacks are served unsauced even without having to request it. Four babybacks on a 2-meat combo ($13.95) seem pretty generous, and the results have been fairly consistent. The exterior has repeatedly had a crust and the cut sides were bright pink. The bark lacked both crispness and spice rub (it's more of a paste) in the early days, but there's been some light crunch recently. The bite is pleasant every time, made more so by the mostly tender, mostly juicy meat (one recent exception on a night visit was dry). The texture/mouthfeel has sometimes been very fresh, as if the ribs had recently come out of the smoker with no refrigeration before serving. The reheats were more obvious on two of the recent visits. Smoke is consistently light—almost nonexistent—but there's a nice flavor to the meat from either a wet rub or a more subtle form of smoke (I was told afterward that ginger and scallion are involved, in a paste similar to jerk methodology).
I used the word compelling when first describing the herbal flavor meat, but I can't say that now; over time it's devolved into a much more subtle profile. Still enjoyable and still well worth a try.
Pulled Pork: Tried on the 2-meat combo, the pulled pork provided enough meat for a sandwich and then some. It has a high bark ratio, with the dark outer chunks lacking crispness but not lacking flavor. The inner meat was graced with a good amount of pink and a LOT of flavor, possibly from an injection. There's a light heat in the backdrop and a light fruitiness that, like the ribs, made up for the lack of aggressive rub or smoke component. All of the meat was tender and extremely moist without being overcooked. A little steamy? Perhaps. The meat has a light accompaniment that I'd hesitate to call sauce, but it keeps the meat even more moist than what was already in the chunks themselves.
Brisket: Ordered only twice on the early visits and all three times on the recent ones, the brisket is more reminiscent of a classic barbecue joint brisket than the ribs or pork are to their counterparts. A smoke ring and bark have both evident, but the smokiness has been light; the flavorings that accented the ribs and pork weren't as noticeable here.
On the early visits, texture was dry one time, slightly moist another, with a firm but still-tender mouthfeel. The first 2014 visit's brisket was a game changer: crisp bark, meltingly tender and super moist meat with bolder flavor. It arrived sauced (no-saucing may no longer be the default), but no sauce was required. This serving was probably among the top 10% I've had in New England. The follow-up visits sought a repeat of this achievement, but it wasn't meant to be. The next one was pale, dry and old; the one after that was steamy moist but dry underneath. Neither had much flavor. Ah, but that one serving. That they could do it once still leaves hope.
Two sauces are available in squeeze bottles. The house sauce
seems to be a store bought Kansas City number. Even though it's not my favorite
type of sauce to begin with, I do enjoy this style on ribs at Tennessee's and
similar joints, but at Po's, the ordinary sauce snuffs out the uniqueness of the
meats. The spicy sauce has a Tabasco-like flavor with a little more sweetness and a smooth texture halfway between Tasbasco and the house sauce. At one time the owner was supposedly working on a signature sauce that's more
appropriate for the Po's style of meats.
Cole slaw: A departure from what's offered elswehere, verging on sauerkraut but more Asian. I think the cabbage may have been cooked, yet it still had as much crunch as you can get while still absorbing all the flavors of the condiment. I liked it and thought it complemented the meats very well.
Beans: Disappointing baked beans had the same style as the canned variety, but with a little more firmness and very muted flavor. Twice they were barely room temperature.
Asian noodles: These were not only different for a barbecue side but different for Asian noodles, with a light tartness to them.
Green beans: These are the Asian variety of stir fried string beans, and they were crisp, hot and tasty.
Cornbread: Not part of the equation here, either as an included combo item or even a la carte.
There are no free refills on soft drinks. I first learned that when I asked for a refill and the bartender told me it would be just a minute. She then asked, "Would you like another Diet Coke now?" You can guess the outcome.
The Bottom Line
I like Po's Ribs and Barbecue, mostly because it puts a different flavor spin on
things. Their brand of barbecue is lighter and healthier than most, and if you
don't care about healthy, their fried wings might be worth the trip alone. While I
wouldn't make it my go-to joint, it's a place I plan on returning to
and it's a place I'd recommend. Just keep two things in mind: the flavors are very subtle, and even though
the meats are smoked, if you're Jonesing for some hard core traditional
barbecue, this isn't it.
My 2010 review of Po's Ribs and Barbecue
Yelp reviews of Po's Ribs and Barbecue
Urbanspoon reviews of Po's Ribs and Barbecue