On a highly commercial stretch if Route 9 in Hadley sits Wildwood Barbeque, a 2013 addition to the barbecue scene that poses an alternative to the longstanding Bub's for both families and UMass types. It's a refurbished coffee shop with dual counters for ordering and pick-up, a pastry case in between, roomy high-backed wooden booths against the opposite wall and wooden tables and chairs tightly scattered in the middle. In warmer months, additional picnic table seating is available outside. Around the back, the Southern Pride smoker is housed in a protective shed. There's plenty of parking in front and further back.
The barbecue menu features St Louis cut pork spare ribs, pulled pork, sliced brisket, smoked chicken and smoked links, available as individual platters with one or two sides, or as a 3-meat combo with two sides. Chicken and ribs is the lone 2-meat combo. Sandwiches feature the boneless meats, plus grilled chicken, house made pastrami, quesadillas, burritos and burgers.
Appetizers include soup, chili, smoked wings, nachos and a loaded (with pulled meats) sweet potato.
The menu is very accomodating to vegetarians, with three different salads (with or without meat), BBQ tempeh (as a stir fry or burrito), roasted root vegetables (burrito), a veggie quesadilla, a quinoa veggie burger and a veggie special of the day. A gluten-free menu is also available.
I tried Wildwood for a Sunday lunch with three other barbecue enthusiasts.
Chili: I passed on the chili, as I learned that it's a straightforward ground beef version, as opposed to a BBQ version with smoked meats.
Wings: We split a dozen smoked wings ($10.95) as half sauced with Classic and
half unsauced. All, including the sauced ones, had a nice crispness to
the skin courtesy of some fry time pre-service. The smoker's
contribution was still evident, with faintly pink meat and faintly smoky
flavor. Some of the pieces were fully moist and tender; others were
less tender and borderline dry. The unsauced wings were okay but didn't
have enough of their own flavor to make them compelling. Overall, some decent enough wings that I'd probably get again but probably wouldn't consider for the next Wings List.
Ribs: These were tried in two installments. A half rack ($16.95 with two sides
and cornbread) delivered not six but eight ribs, arranged in two rows.
I'm not sure whether that was because the St Louis cut ribs were a
little on the small side—though still plumply meaty—or because two
of us were taking food photos. These ribs felt like a reheat, which is
not surprising for a Sunday lunch, but they felt like a good reheat.
Aside from just a hint of dryness, the texture was perfect, with good
tenderness (requiring a bite but pulling off the bone with minimal
effort) and good doneness. Now these ribs had a lot of
rub—reminiscent of Daisy May's for those 100 miles southwest and early
SoulFire for those 100 miles northeast. And while that high rub content
can be a delight fresh out of the smoker, it can sometimes have sooty,
ashen results on a less than careful reheat, but these came out mostly
crisp without resorting to being grilled into oblivion like some joints
do. Flavor was very potent rubwise (no shocker there), with a strong
cookie spice component that was either allspice or cloves, along with
lesser representations from salt, pepper and heat. Oh, and smoke: also
very light, but noticeable. The second batch, on a 3-meat combo ($19.95 with two sides
duplicated the first in size, generosity (four ribs instead of three),
flavor and texture. Overall, some good ribs (disclaimer: I like a lot of
rub and that particular profile) that could be even better than good on
a night visit with more juiciness. For me the ribs were very enjoyable and the highlight of the visit.
Pulled Pork Sandwich: An impressively fluffy brioche roll came stuffed with pulled pork ($8.95 with pickles) that was light of color (think khaki), mostly light of sauce (enough to keep it moist but only got sudsy in a few spots), lighter on smoke (similar to the ribs) and very light on flavor. The irony, as one table mate put it, was that the flavor was basically the same as the ribs, but where the ribs came through with impact, the pulled pork was extremely diluted. I called it chickeny, in both flavor and feel. The pieces were mostly soft chunks with some smaller bits, some darker bark and a few near foamy sections. All of it was tender and all had the consistency of having been smoked and then subjected to a crockpot-like environment sometime after to keep everything soft and moist, if at the expense of flavor. Now don't get me wrong, this was still a pleasant enough sandwich taken as a whole: meat, bun, added sauce. Just not anything that screamed pork or barbecue or that would inspire an intense craving for another one.
Brisket: Also on the 3-meat combo and also generous was the sliced brisket, which arrived in long, narrow strips with the thickness and precision of deli meat. While the ribs had plenty of flavor but no moisture and the pork had it the other way around, the brisket had neither. There was a light sweat to each slice, but the dry interiors suggested that it might have been from a quick immersion into beef broth just before serving. On the plus side, doneness and tenderness were both perfectly fine and fat was minimal enough that the entire piece could be popped without trimming. But dry and tasteless don't win any fans.
Sausage: This item on the 3-meat combo included two links, surprisingly both spicy sausage (smoked kielbasa is also available). It represented a comeback of sorts in that flavor and moisture were both present in the same bite, and this time the moisture was all meat juice, not trickery. Grilling got the casings slightly crispy without overcharring them. I liked the coarseness of the grind and the slippery/crumbly mouthfeel that had a nice mix of meat and fat. Spiciness came through more as flavor than as overbearing heat. Bouncy fresh and juicy, this was my second favorite of the meats.
A self serve pumping station has three standard sauces (Classic, Spicy, Mustard) and one rotating sauce, with previous 'guest" sauces sometimes also available in squeeze bottles. Aside from the difference in heat, the Classic and Spicy are very similar if not identical, with a full bodied texture, ketchupy base kicked up with spices and a smoky component. Mustard is thinner, with a deeper, more nuanced flavor than plain yellow mustard.
BBQ Beans: These tasted and felt very much like a canned version that was slightly doctored. The promised meat component was there but not super plentiful.
Cilantro Black Beans: These tasted much more home made and were more satisfying. Scallions also made an appearance.
Collard greens: Cooked well past wilting, the folded-over leaves were large and tasty, sporting a light heat to the accompaniment that still let the vegetable do most of the talking.
Kale: If you're expecting a sautéed version similar to collard greens, you may be disappointed. If you're looking for more of a salad gently kissed by the heat source and lightly dressed with a vinegar based condiment, you'll like this more. Smoky onion slivers made for an interesting and enjoyable supporting player.
Mac and cheese: Ordered a la carte ($3.95) because it's in a different category from the sides available with platters, this arrived in a separate cup with multiple, multicolored cheeses and a consistency about halfway between the tight Southern version and the creamy Northern version. Sharpness was about halfway too, so it's one everyone should at least like a little.
Cornbread: A mini loaf similar to a Twinkie in texture but a little coarser and a little less sweet than typical.
The staff was friendly and attentive.
The desserts in the display case looked good.
Comparisons with Bub's are inevitable. Bub's has better personality and better overall value; Wildwood has better barbecue.
The vegetarian and gluten-free options can't be emphasized enough.
The Bottom Line
A mixed bag with some ups, some downs, some creativity and some promise, Wildwood Barbeque is one of those joints that I'd give two stars out of four, two and a half out of five, five out of ten or five million out of ten million. Nothing was horrible (though the brisket came closest), nothing was stellar (though the ribs came closest) and nothing other than the ribs was really noteworthy. The Sunday lunch timing probably didn't give Wildwood Barbeque its best chance to succed texturewise, but flavor knows no clock and could benefit from a little more oomph across the board. Still one to watch.
Valley Advocate profile of Wildwood Barbecue
Yelp reviews of Wildwood Barbecue
Urbanspoon reviews of Wildwood Barbecue
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