Smokin' Rock BBQ on Route 3 is a quick detour from I-91, offering a separate bar and dining room. The former was closed on my visit but the latter was rather ordinary for a barbecue joint, with three TVs in a boxy room that could easily have been a Ground Round in a former life.
Babybacks and St Louis cut ribs are both on offer, as are rib tips and hog wings. Other barbecue options include chicken, pulled pork and brisket. Combinations are limited to chicken and any other meat, or a Smokin' Sampler (ribs, pulled pork, brisket, a quarter chicken, two sides and cornbread). All of the boneless items are also available in sandwiches, as are fried chicken, grilled chicken and burgers. Appetizers also include quesadillas, nachos, wings and chicken fingers. Fried cod, fried clams and fried shrimp offer some seafood diversity.
All-you-can-eat rib tips are a Wednesday night special.
I visited on a weekday for a late lunch.
This was my second stop of the day and I knew I'd be ordering a barbecue sampler for the main event, so I limited my appetizer to a single Hog Wing ($2.95). It arrived beautifully plated, with the barbecue sauce drizzled beneath it and a small pile of corn-studded cole slaw to the side. The hog wing is an increasingly popular appetizer that's actually a pork chop cut to resemble a chicken wing. As for this one, I liked the char on the exterior, the tenderness and moisture of the meat within and the hint of flavor from the spicy sauce (you can choose mild, spicy or mustard). The meat itself supplied minimal flavor, with no sign that the meat was smoked. Overall, this was a nice start even though the barbecue component was unclear.
The Smokin' Sampler ($21.95) was the obvious way to go, supplying pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket, a quarter chicken, two sides and cornbread.
Like the hog wings, the meaty St Louis cut ribs combined an aggressive outer char with a perfectly tenderness inside. Like the hog wings, whether the ribs were smoked is a matter of speculation. There was absolutely no doubt that they spent some time on a grill, whose flavor dominated the meat. The overall flavor was still pleasant, with the basted-on sauce a supporting player. As a grilled rib, it was far better than anything you'd get at a chain.
The ribs were probably the highlight of the platter, but the brisket was better than expected: genuinely moist, tender and the only item that bore a smoke ring. Sliced deli-thin, it was quite different from the brisket I usually enjoy, but the flavor was pleasant.
Pulled pork, despite the photos that may suggest otherwise, was probably the lowlight. The taste was odd and it had a pre-chewed texture.
Chicken had rubbery skin, a good flavor from the tangy mustard barbecue sauce and a moist interior, but no smoke or real flavor aside from the sauce.
Mac and cheese presented a thick, Velveeta style cheese and a tight texture to complement the slightly al dente noodles. Cole slaw was crisp, creamy and offered the unique inclusion of corn kernels. Grilled cornbread seemed more of a dessert item, with a firm cakey texture and an intense sweetness that was amplified by some tasty maple butter.
Three sauces are available as preparations for the meat and as add-ons at the table. There's a typical sweet sauce, a spicier version of that sauce and a mustard sauce. All were pretty good, though I liked the combination of sweet and tangy from the mustard the best. I wish the trio of sauce bottles had already been on the table when I sat down.
The bottom line: Hard to judge from a lunch visit, and hard to tell if the meats are smoked. Despite some uneven execution there is some real promise—just not enough to justify a return visit anytime soon.
Urban Spoon reviews of Smokin' Rock Cafe