Ore Nell’s Barbecue on Badger’s Island in Kittery. Photo by Bob Keyes

KITTERY — There is much to like about Ore Nell’s Barbecue in Kittery, and top of the list is the quality of its meat. The restaurant takes its name from the grandmother of chef Will Myska. She and her kin are Texans, and Myska cooks much of his food based on her recipes and inspiration.

I’ve had my eyes on Ore Nell’s since the beginning of the year, when I began making regular trips to Portsmouth and passed by the restaurant during my drive. It had been open barely two years when the pandemic hit in March, forcing the restaurant into survival mode.

The restaurant is on Badger’s Island in Kittery, in the shadows of the Memorial Bridge that separates Maine from New Hampshire. It’s a beautiful spot, and Ore Nell’s offers outdoor dining, with heat lamps, on a deck overlooking the river. Aware of my reluctance to venture inside for dining because of the pandemic, a friend tipped me off to this place during the summer, because of its deck and the possibility of outdoor dining. I still haven’t taken advantage of the deck, though I would like to. The heat lamps look inviting.

The chopped beef sandwich, with a side of Vermont-style mac and cheese. Yum. Photo by Bob Keyes

I finally ordered takeout last week and was pleased with the quality (and quantity!) of the sandwiches, as well as the overall cleanliness of the restaurant and efficiency of the staff that answered the phone, processed the order and prepared the food.

The chopped beef sandwich, made with brisket ($11), was amazing, truly. The meat was crisp and tender, and I appreciated the not-too-sweet barbecue sauce. Served with pickles and onions on a chewy potato roll, it was a two-fisted sandwich – thick and weighty and full of flavor. My wife had a similar experience with her pulled pork sandwich ($9), though to my taste the pork was a tad dry. She also had coleslaw added to her sandwich, for an additional $1, and that caused some of her roll to fall apart.

But in both instances, the winner was the big taste. The smoky flavors of the meat came through above all, and not the barbecue sauce or the other add-ons, like the coleslaw or pickles.

We each ordered one side. I asked for a small serving of the Mac ‘N Vermont cheddar cheese ($5) and my wife ordered the loaded deep-fried baked potato ($5.50), which was loaded with cheese, chopped green onions and sour cream. She expected and had hoped for bacon as part of the “loaded” mix, but no such luck. For another $3.50, we could have added meat to the baked potato. The mac and cheese was creamy, rich and straightforward.

The only negative aspect of the experience was the timing. We live 30 minutes from Kittery, so by the time I arrived home with the food, it had lost some of its heat and zip. My car smelled good, though. There is no way around that reality, and it does not reflect badly on the restaurant.

It just means we need to get back to that outdoor deck before it’s too cold.

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