Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY
Summer in Maine means road trips up the coast, and if you find yourself craving barbecue in the Ellsworth area, I suggest a detour to Mainely Meat on Main.
Inside Mainely Meat on Main in Ellsworth, the decor is a welcoming blend of contemporary and country-casual.
MAINELY MEAT ON MAIN, 193 Main St., Ellsworth. 664-5239; facebook.com/MainelyMeatOnMain
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
PRICE RANGE: $8 to $20, with most barbecue plates in the $11 range
CREDIT CARDS: Most major
BAR: Full, featuring Atlantic Brewing Co. products
VEGETARIAN: Yes, surprisingly
KIDS: Yes; dedicated children's menu
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes
BOTTOM LINE: Mainely Meat on Main is for those seeking straight-up, no frills, grilled and smoked meat with hearty, homestyle sides and cold local beer for a fair price. What the menu lacks in complexity it makes up for in taste that includes, surprisingly, a fine veggie burger. Ambiance has a clever, welcoming vibe, and there is a commitment to live performances.
Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:
*Poor **Fair *** Good **** Excellent *****Extraordinary.
The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.
One of three locations (two others are in Bar Harbor), Mainely Meat on Main is a welcome, leg-stretching presence after a few hours in the car. The building itself is nondescript: A squat edifice tucked back from the street with a large sign advertising the space above smaller, marquee-style letters noting five Atlantic Brewing Co. beers.
Farther down the driveway, a less subtle "BBQ" shines its enormous three letters in neon red above the side entrance. A metal-roofed smokehouse in the parking lot gives the space a roadhouse atmosphere, and Mainely Meat looks like a joint.
I love a good barbecue joint.
Live local music is advertised Wednesday to Sunday, and while the chalkboard warns that it might get loud, this Sunday was particularly quiet despite the dedicated stage area. (Musicians and music lovers take note: When a venue commits to a dedicated stage area, it's generally a good space for a good time.)
Raised wooden booths dominate the room, separated by a unique set of clear-glass windowpane-style dividers. Industrial ductwork ceilings are softened by orange draping. With an occasional old-fashioned metal advertising sign, the place offers a strange blend of contemporary and country-casual.
Bar Harbor artist Helen Douglas plays a role in this ambiance, through her series of contour drawings (pigs, chickens, cows) that hang along the side walls and appear on souvenir T-shirts and notecards. The art itself is a little unsettling -- black-and-white animals with evocative splashes of blood-red -- but her drawings are also refreshing, cartoon-like and cute.
Dining tables are fashioned from old doors and topped with vintage black-and-white family snapshots, while table condiments are presented in repurposed cardboard Coors Light six-packs against an upright roll of paper towels.
Simplicity is the theme here, and the menu is true to its name, focusing on a half-dozen or so primarily meat preparations.
Choose between a Pulled Pork Dinner ($10.98), Half Chicken ($11.92) and a Full Rack of Ribs ($19.39) or taste all three, plus sausage, with The Sampler ($14.96). Or upgrade to The Max Plate for $45.33 and receive four times the standard amount. (This is a huge value for takeout or large parties.)
Slow-cooked, tender and unadorned, Mainely Meat's kitchen produces succulent, flavorful meat on a plate. Boneless chicken thighs were my personal favorite, squirted with alternating house-made sauce flavors -- also fitting the theme with just two basics, Sweet or Hot.
The Sweet is a standard tomato base with the tiniest hint of smoke, and the Hot is a jacked-up orange Tabasco sauce reminiscence. Both are delicious. (Note: Sauces are available for sale at $8 per jar on your way out the door.)
The chicken thigh, cooked well but in no way dry, had a pleasant exterior char, and I happily picked my way through the portion. Ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, and the pulled pork equally so. Sausage tasted salty and spicy.
All of these meats, while in no way complex, showcased the best kind of simple: Meat in its purest form. Pork tasted like pork, and chicken tasted like chicken. While I appreciate the subtleties of marinades and rubs, this experience is not that. Instead, imagine your dad's at-home smoker or grill running strong on the Fourth of July.
The Small House Salad ($3.04) is plenty big, but there is a Large House version for $6.32 (add grilled or fried chicken for $3.97). While the salad presents like the lettuce-in-a-bag variety -- complete with individual plastic tubs of dressing and pre-shredded cheddar cheese -- it is certainly substantial, and if expectations are managed, quite tasty.
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