I am in love with barbecue.
It’s been an on-again, off-again love affair that began when I moved to Georgia in the late 1970s.
My new buds introduced me to a restaurant that specialized in Southern cooking. Conveniently, it was right across the street from our college newspaper offices, and we made a near-weekly habit of going there every Friday for lunch.
Strickland’s served the best down-home food I’ve ever eaten. Details are fuzzy in my mind, but I recall the Friday goat barbecue special, which was succulent and tangy – and exotic for this Yankee, whose idea of culinary adventure until then consisted of beans and franks on a Saturday night. The barbecue at Strickland’s was served with sides of beans, greens, okra, potatoes and gravy. I’m not much of an iced-tea drinker, but I recall coveting the sweet tea at Strickland’s.
That’s where I learned to appreciate the nuances of good food.
A series of moves across the country – from Georgia to Maine, to the Midwest and then back to Maine – made it hard to maintain a dedicated relationship with barbecue. There wasn’t much barbecue in Waterville when I lived there in the mid-’80s, and it took a long time for the restaurant scene to develop in the South Dakota city where I lived for more than a decade.
We’re lucky in Portland, because we have lots of authentic barbecue to choose from. Lately, I’ve favored Buck’s Naked BBQ on Wharf Street. I’ve been several times for dinner since spring, and when a friend celebrated her birthday earlier this summer, I ordered a party platter that included pork, beef, chicken, sausage, two kinds of ribs and enough sides to serve a baseball team.
I have been plotting my return for dinner, but settled for a quick lunch between an interview and a staff meeting.
As much as I crave the ribs and appreciate the tender chicken, I opted for a sliced brisket sandwich, with a side of baked beans ($9.99). When we had the birthday party, we ate everything, but people seemed to appreciate the brisket the most. It had a nice dry rub and was slow cooked to retain a woody flavor.
We didn’t fight over the last slice, but we negotiated it.
Dining alone, I knew I wouldn’t have to share.
The brisket was served on a soft brioche bun, and I added a healthy dose of the house barbecue sauce. I don’t need a lot of heat with my meat, but I enjoy a mild kick. The meat was tender and came apart easily in sandwich-sized bites. A knife and fork were not necessary.
My only complaint was a lack of flash. The sandwich was served with three small pickle slices and the side of beans, which were fine but on the bland side. I enjoyed the taste of the sandwich and I thought it was generous in size, but it lacked pizazz. It appeared small on the plate, and could have benefited from a presentation makeover.
And maybe some okra.
WHERE: 50 Wharf St., Portland; 899-0610; bucksnakedbbq.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
WAIT: I was in and out within 30 minutes, and my sandwich within 10 minutes.
HANDICAPPED ACCESSIBLE: Yes