Monday September 02, 2013 | 01:35 AM

At last count, new restaurants have been opening in Portland by the week.  Boone’s is fast out of the gate; Hunt and Alpine is opening in a few days and Damian Sansonetti’s "Piccolo" at the former Bresca space is just a few weeks away.

And now we have the long-awaited Salvage Barbecue from restaurateur Jay Villani (Local 188 and Sonny’s), which opened on Sunday.

You can't miss the sign as you go down Congress Street

On Saturday  I went to Salvage for one of those preview parties for the press, friends and family.  With sticky fingers everywhere, everyone sampled the finger-lickin’ ribs, Cole slaw, potato salad, hush puppies, chicken, pulled pork, brisket, baked beans, macaroni and cheese—the full gamut of barbecue grub. 

The room is dramatic and huge, with great light coming in from the tall windows

Tables are communal/family style and there are separate tables too

Owner Jay Villani with MaineToday.com content producer, Susan Axelrod

The ribs were loaded with dry rub and heavily smoked over apple and oak woods.  I was very impressed with their flavor, tenderness and meatiness. The kitchen is not afraid of spice and the spice rub can make or break ribs or other meats.  I admit, however, that I prefer the wet style of ribs where a sauce is put on during the last 30 minutes of smoking like a sweet, luxurious glaze. 

The crowd sampled excellent pulled pork

Slightly smokey corn on the cob in chilli lime butter

But there’s an excellent bbq sauce available on the side from a squeeze bottle.  It was very good--pungent, sweet, saucy.

In fact, so far, these have been the best ribs I’ve had from any of  the relatively new barbecue joints that have opened.  (I haven’t been to Elmsmere in South Portland yet)

Some excellennt collards and potato salad

The smoker out back

The room, the former site of Architectural Salvage (hence the name here), is tremendous.  Big windows, communal tables, a giant, welcoming bar—the space is like being in a real Texas pit barbecue emporium.

Though packed here with the evening's party goers, the bar is also going to be one heck of a popular place when the restaurant ramps up

There’s a custom built smoker out back and another in the shiny stainless steel kitchen.  As for parking, don’t make the mistake I did.  The lot adjacent to the building is not designated parking for the restaurant (I’m not sure why since it’s owned by the same landlord) but instead it’s behind the building on Gilman Street.

My prediction is that of all of Jay Villani’s restaurants  this one might be his over-the-top winner.  Though there are certain menu oddities that I encountered — nothing major but worth a mention.  There is no bread on the menu like buttermilk biscuits, corn bread or even a slice of white. Instead, excellent hush puppies are meant  as a bread stand-in. 

Another minor qualm was the baked beans. These were not New England, Maine style but smoky and a bit spicy, Texas derived. They were good but not what I’m used to.  The macaroni and cheese, however, was excellent.  It’s a recipe from long-time Villani chef, Trent Harris.  The potato salad was done in the vinegar style rather than mayonnaise based.  Not my favorite but, as I said, it’s all a matter of personal taste. Otherwise, we finally have some real barbecue in Portland.

Those zesty baked beans

Salvage Barbecue opened to the public on Sunday and I highly recommend to one and all that you check it out immediately.  The website is not up yet though they are on Facebook.  It’s located at 919 Congress St near St. John, 207-761-7909

No problem finishing the food!

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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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