February 10, 2013

Dine Out Maine: Buck's Naked has great barbecue, any way you spell it

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Buck’s Naked BBQ Steakhouse opened recently in the Wharf Street space in Portland formerly occupied by Havana South.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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50 Wharf St., Portland. 899-0610; bucksnaked-bbq.com


HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICE RANGE: $3.99 to $31.99; sandwiches in the $8 to 9 range; dinner entrees in the $13 to $25 range; large group platters available for $135 to $265, as are full pig roasts with advance notice

BAR: Full bar with specialty drinks


VEGETARIAN-FRIENDLY: Despite the focus on meat, a vegetarian could leave satisfied


RESERVATIONS: Yes, for parties of six or more


BOTTOM LINE: If you crave meat, Buck's Naked BBQ Steakhouse offers it in all forms. With a clear understanding of Portland's foodie sensibilities, Buck's expands the barbecue experience to include international influences, and the menu offers a few interesting options for the vegetarian and fish-loving crowd. The atmosphere is fun, kid-friendly (in a non-obnoxious way), and the staff is hilarious.

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.

Too heavy, too fast? Try the Grilled Romaine Salad ($10.99). Buck's adds to the growing trend of grilled lettuces, and this dinner-sized version includes a charred romaine head with roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, goat cheese and croutons.

Make no mistake, Buck's is about flesh, but vegetarians will leave satisfied and not just by the side dishes available in regular offerings and Jacked Up varieties. (Of particular note: Cheesy Cheddar Grits and the Baked Beans. Mmm.)

The "Global Wandering" section of the menu offers veggie-friendly items like the Falafel and Vegetable Dinner for $15.99 or Four Cheese Mac and Cheese for $12.99. This new menu section tips very close to "all things to all people" territory, but, ultimately, it felt less distracting and more interesting. (Those Grilled Korean Beef Short Ribs for $16.99 sounded good, as did the Citrus Soy Sesame Salmon with edamame for $18.99.)

But I came for the barbecue. In either seven- ($31.99) or four-bone ($22.99) quantities, the Buck's kitchen turns out dinosaur-sized and velvety tender beef ribs. The same is true for the pork ribs, in full- and half-rack sizes. While the difference between baby-back and St. Louis ribs involves an unappetizing lesson on porcine anatomy, the synopsis is that the Buck's kitchen does both right. Cooked low, slow and naked, the meat reaches its highest possible flavor potential. When the ribs arrived at the table, the Aussies were suitably impressed and this food writer was too.

It's the most tired of cliches, but the meat did, indeed, fall from the bone. Or, rather, it offered very little resistance. Packed with taste already, it seemed a sacrilege to squirt the ribs with sauce, and I suspect that's the point of naked meat enjoyment.

Noting the subtle addition of "Steakhouse" to the Buck's name, I had intended to sample the steak menu, especially the 16-ounce grilled Ribeye (market price) topped with chimichurri pesto, but Buck's food is so solid, the portions are so substantial and I was already nearing critical meat coma status. That noted, those thick steaks served to the table next to us now top the "to order" list for next time.

The cheeky "I ate naked at Buck's" bumper stickers? I will probably buy some of those too.

Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a Maine freelance writer and author of the novel "Show Me Good Land."


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