Far, far away (well, for most of us) from the white linens and wine lists of the South End, there's a place called Davis Square, and there, nestled among the soy-laden radical coffeehouses and the vegan macrobiotic Indian restaurants is one of the best damn BBQ places you're going to find north of the Mason-Dixon Line - Redbones BBQ.
I grew up in a BBQ culture, and have fond memories of day-long grill-outs, entire tables of just sides, and establishments with names like "Fat Boys," "Woody's," or "Bubbalou's Bodacious BBQ," so it was a bit depressing for me to move to Boston, knowing that the yankee culture wasn't exactly versed in the ancient art of sitting around and smoking meat. Thankfully, this all changed when I found Redbones.
The main dining room is tight, but cozy, and southern/BBQ mementos of yesteryear adorn the walls (admittedly, some of these are just for show, since the restaurant has only been open since 1987), while the open kitchen smokes away for all to see. Don't go to Redbones expecting a fine dining experience - the napkins are piled on the tables, held down with a bottle of McIlhenny Tabasco, and soft drinks are served in mason jars (speaking of which, get the sweet tea - it's the only place in Boston so far that I've found it the way it's supposed to be).
One thing you'll have to prepare yourself for is the menu - it's overwhelming. If you're a BBQ fan, you may well have to put it down and take a breath, as you're going to want to order everything listed (God knows I did). Everything you'd want from a down-home BBQ joint is here - ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken, brisket, catfish, steak, sausage...on and on.
The first thing to concentrate on is the sides/appetizers. This could be an entire menu in and of itself, with more than thirty items, like fried okra, dirty rice, collard greens, hushpuppies and a house-made sausage of the day.
My only gripe is that for this library of traditional sides, baked beans are nowhere to be found. It's a small complaint, but I've always been a big fan, and each time I've gone, I ask about it to see what the response is. A testament to the fact that most of the servers - while excellent and friendly - are likely from Boston, the answer is usually "Oh, no, we don't, but the entrees all come with black-eyed peas," as if it's an appropriate substitute for a crock of beans smothered in butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and pork.
On a recent trip, a friend and I ordered the fried okra, a side which I've never been rabid about, but many people swear by it. If you haven't tried this, it's a green, stalky vegetable that's sliced and fried up, with a taste and consistency of the love child between asparagus and zucchini. Redbones serves it with a tangy salsa zip, which Zach went crazy for, devouring the majority of it, while I had two or three pieces.
I decided to pass on the appetizer, as my entree that day was the full rack of BBQ baby back ribs (right - okra in background). It should be noted that from a ribs perspective, Redbones has it all covered. Their menu includes Memphis (pork), Texas (beef), Arkansas (pork), St. Louis (pork - smaller) and Baby Back (pork - large). Zach chose the full rack of Memphis ribs, which come pre-separated, and are thicker cuts of meat. I should also point out that the service here is lightning-fast. I've eaten at Redbones for both lunch and dinner, and each time the entrees come out just a few minutes after ordering.
I think I sawed through my entire meal in about five minutes flat, with Zach finishing shortly after. My ribs were cooked perfectly - tender, with some sweetness, and literally falling right off the bone. Zach's were also just right - thick, meaty and cooked all the way through.
All rib dishes are served with four sauces - vinegar, sweet, mild and hot (which, for the record, is), though each of the four come in a tiny cup that you're likely going to have to ask for seconds and thirds of if you're going through an entire rack (I used three full cups). While you're at it, make sure you have the napkins at the ready - this is messy food (left), in the best way possible, though you're probably not going to want to bring a first date here. Along those lines - don't bring any vegetarian friends, because they'd likely be horrified. There are vegetarian options - portobello mushroom sandwich, and a veggie burger - but quite honestly you'd have to hang your head in shame to order something like that at this celebration of carnivorousness.
If you're a beer fan, Redbones is heaven for an entirely separate list of reasons - twenty-four of them, to be exact. The restaurant boasts a twenty-four tap system that mixes classics and microbrews, with the beer menu switching up on an almost daily basis.
Whether you grew up on BBQ, or just love great food, Redbones is worth the every step of the trek up to Somerville, but just remember, if you get lost...don't ask for directions from the vegans.
Redbones BBQ is open seven days a week, and is located in Davis Square, at 55 Chester Street (off of Elm) in Somerville, MA. More information, operating hours and a full listing of menu items at www.redbones.com.
(Photos via my crappy camera-phone, with the exception of the pig-pulling, from Redbones.com)