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Roadhouse Craft Beer & BBQ

Off to a (somewhat) smoky start
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  November 12, 2008
2.0 2.0 Stars

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ON THE FRY: The deep-fry baby-back ribs are a highlight at Roadhouse.

Roadhouse Craft Beer & Barbecue | 617.487.4289 | 1700 Beacon Street, Brookline | AE, DI, MC, VI | Open Mon–Thurs, 5 pm–10 pm; Sat, 4 pm–11 pm; and Sun, 4 pm–10 pm | Beer and wine | No valet parking | Sidewalk-level access 
So, about the long-awaited Roadhouse Craft Beer & BBQ, sister restaurant to the popular Publick House, which has finally been rebuilt, licensed, and is now open. The 40 draft beers — mostly American — are outstanding. And service is pretty good; noise only becomes problematic on weekends. They even deep-fry baby-back ribs ($9) — it doesn’t get any more extreme than that.

But in the end, I’m pretty certain they don’t actually slow-smoke the barbecue. I’m quite sure about this with the half-chicken ($14), which is a boned breast with blackened skin but powdery, overcooked white meat; the dark-meat quarter is only a little better. The loss is flavor, both of the meat and of the flame. The gain, more evident on other meats, is tenderness. A brisket sandwich ($11) is wonderfully tender and juicy, with satisfactory hickory smokishness in the sauce. The least smoky meat I sampled on two visits was the mixed sausage platter ($12), which looked and tasted like supermarket kielbasa sliced two ways. Though it’s listed as an entrée, this platter is actually more like an appetizer. It comes with some white toasts, deli mustard, pickles, and an excellent mesclun salad.

An actual appetizer, Roadhouse chili ($4/cup; $8/bowl), is decent, despite cooked-in tomatoes and onions (which tend to make it too sweet) and decorative tortilla chips (which are okay in my book as long as they’re just decorations). I’d like a bottle of hot sauce handy with this chili, but that’s an easy fix.

In fact, the smoking problem isn’t an impossible fix either — you just need someone to commit hours and hours to keeping briskets and chickens and ribs going at low temperatures so they stay juicy, concentrate more flavor, and develop that telltale red ring. Then again, you could drop the smoke-cooking entirely if you also drop the pre- or post-cooking; there’s a perfectly legitimate North Carolina/Boston black tradition of oven-baked or slow-grilled ribs. Until the restaurant makes a decision, my helpful but unhealthful suggestion is to order the fried baby-back ribs. If it’s not about cheap meat and live fire, it should at least be about crunch and grease and salt. The barbecue sauce with these ribs has a little smokage, a bit too much sweetness, and a nice layer of hotness.

All dinners, except for the sausage platter, come with cornbread and one side dish. The cornbread is white and sweet as birthday cake; save it for dessert, of which Roadhouse doesn’t have any. The most interesting of the sides was sweet-potato salad ($3), which had enough onions, celery, and fresh herbs to satisfy a cole-slaw jones while simultaneously subbing for potato salad. The French fries ($3), judging by the ones that come with the brisket sandwich, are good but not crisp. That may be because the fried baby-back ribs are wonderfully crisp and breaded, which requires a lower frying temperature than what you need to crisp fried potatoes. It’s the old fish-house problem — either the fried fish is great or the French fries are, but seldom both — transposed into the key of pork. So you’d probably be fine with fried chicken ($14).

Of course, for many customers the real news here is the beer. Forty taps is a wow, and they cover an outstanding selection of American craft brews, from half-wheat ales to barley wines, plus a few of the Belgian-style ales from the Publick House up the street. Brooklyn Brown Ale ($5.50) was rich and full despite having only five percent alcohol, and it had a clean aftertaste. I’ve always enjoyed the malt flavors of this brewery’s products.

There are about eight wines to choose from. The best looking was 2007 Cline “Ancient Vines” zinfandel ($8/glass; $24/bottle); the bottle price was very fair. Too much wine was served in too small a glass, though the red bramble fruit and a bit of oak come right through on the palate. I don’t know of a foolproof wine match for real barbecue, but this is a swell swill with fried ribs.

The room, which was formerly a Vinny T’s, is so large that a few tables are out of server sightlines, but all my orders came out fast and accurately. The oddities are mostly systemic: no takeout (but doggy boxes are available), no desserts, food served when ready (so some appetizers follow entrées). If your plan is just to sample some beers with food as an accompaniment, that will work out well enough.

Atmosphere is rather minimal. There was a long wait and lots of anticipation for this restaurant, but apparently the delay was about the licensing, while the internal work was mostly about removing vestiges of Italian-ness. Big pieces of wood trim are the only real décor, besides lots of television sets and blackboards with beer specials. The outside has the steak-house-Sandinista colors (red and black) and gloomy rows of picnic tables waiting for next spring.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at RobtNadeau@aol.com.

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