As Summer winds down, with just a few prized weekends left to get outside and enjoy the weather, you have to choose your outings carefully. After reading the writeup on Portland Food Coma, I knew that Shaw’s Ridge Farm had that little something extra I needed to sway Jillian in the direction of barbecue. In this case, that extra incentive she needed to drive a half an hour out of town to watch me eat ribs, was miniature golf. It worked like a charm.
Shaw’s Ridge Farm is exactly what you want out of rural Maine: after you get off the highway, and wind your way through about 15 minutes of modular houses, each with a pristine ’72 Corvette for sale on the lawn, the woods give way to some sweeping farmland. Perched on the side of a hill, Shaw’s Ridge Farm has converted what was once a dairy farm into a full-time ice cream emporium/miniature golf course/barbecue barn. It’s an imaginative repurposing of the acreage, and each element of the business is run efficiently by, oddly, a bunch of teenagers. Seriously, in an afternoon spent on the farm, I’m not sure we saw a grownup.
The miniature golf was fine. A tough course in full sun, low on cement dinosaurs and fiberglass windmills, but high on challenging rough patches and cups that seemed to consistently break at close range. At least, they did for me. That, and Jillian is an absolute animal on the mini golf course. This was purely a warmup, though, for what was about to transpire in the Barbecue Barn.
Before I talk about the barbecue, I should explain that I am, by no means, an expert in barbecue. In fact, my take-out barbecue experiences can be boiled down to only three other memorable experiences:
- The “Texas Pit” Barbecue Truck in Red Hook, St. Thomas, a barbecue truck that would appear on the weekends and dish out incredibly sweet, heavily-sauced styrofoam containers of chicken,
- The Rib House, located in East Haven, CT, where wonderfully used-up waitresses serve giant loaves of fried onions with a grimace, and
- Mo Betta Barbecue, in the parking lot of the Shell station in Tallahassee, Florida, who served some mean ribs and even meaner cups of red Kool-Aid.
Obviously, I am a bit of a barbecue rookie. There are a few things I know to look for, like the smoke ring around the inside of the meat, the difference between the vinegar sauces in North Carolina and the sticky, sweet sauces in Memphis, and anything else the Food Network had to say on the subject. In essence, I think I know enough about barbecue to know that I’ve never really had “the real thing.”
The barbecue I had today at Shaw’s Ridge Farm is some of the best I have tasted. I ordered the half-rack of ribs (with an eye to ordering ice cream later, a move that turned out to be a near-fatal error), with a side of baked beans and cornbread. The consistently-diminutive Jillian went a little lighter, opting for a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and a pickle. I have been searching for what each item cost, but as I think back, I’m not sure prices were listed, and my receipt isn’t itemized. The whole shebiggle cost around $27 bucks.
[pullquote]The baked beans were flavored with similar restraint: instead of a heap of melted brown sugar, you could actually taste the flavor of the bean shine through…[/pullquote]The ribs were served dry, with a thick black char all around the outside, with tender, dark pink meat on the inside. The bones pulled straight out with no resistance, and I swiped each whole rib in a combination of the two barbecue sauces provided on each table, one spicy, one sweet. I found the combination of the two to be about perfect, dabbed on the meat as to not overpower, and to allow the incredible smoky flavor of the meat to shine through. The baked beans were flavored with similar restraint: instead of a heap of melted brown sugar, you could actually taste the flavor of the bean shine through, and the big chunks of bacon added a textural element I really enjoyed. The cornbread was also a star, prepared in a way I had not had before: Each brick-sized slice is brushed with butter and honey and then seared, which puts an incredible thick sugar crust on two sides. Each item on my plate was outstanding, and had I really wanted to hurt myself, I could have easily pushed myself past normal levels of comfort and restraint to finish my whole plate.
Jillian’s pulled pork was a little less impressive, but tasty nonetheless. Served with more of a vinegary sauce on the side, and piled high on a buttered hamburger bun, my only complaint was that it was a little on the dry side; a problem easily solved with the ever-present bottles of barbecue sauce. The coleslaw was bright and delicious, but definitely of the heavy-mayo variety (which, incidentally, is just fine by me).
We began to question whether the miniature golf was really physically strenuous enough to justify the pounds and pounds of sticky, rich heywowicecream? Shaw’s Ridge is, as mentioned, primarily a homemade ice cream shop, serving up over 6,000 gallons of incredible ice cream each season. Jillian wisely declined, but I pushed ahead with a “small” cone of pistachio that was so comically oversized, it took my whole face to keep it under control. A tip: order the “kiddie” size, at $3. The pistachio was silky and creamy, and jammed up with about a pound of pistachios. I think they overdid it a little on the pistachio extract, though; by the time I worked my way to the end of the cone, it was definitely tasting pretty boozy. Or maybe I had actually gotten drunk on food, a feat not achieved since my first tango with a 1700 calorie Sonic burger back in 2005.
Overall, Shaw’s Ridge BBQ Barn far, far exceeded my expectations. Their sauces were incredible…in fact, I think Shaw’s Ridge is missing out on a pretty critical revenue stream here, since I didn’t see the sauce for sale anywhere, and it seems like tacking a “farmhouse store” onto the compound somewhere would be a natural fit. I would definitely have come home with a bottle. I was drawn mainly by my natural instinct to eat barbecue in a barn, and instead discovered a place that is cranking out some mean barbecue, some even better sides, and ice cream that is some of the best I have ever had.