If you are one of those people (like me) who moved to Maine from the South, for a job or a relationship or whatever, you probably already do a little dance every time a new barbecue place opens here.
The latest is Moe’s Original Bar B Que, which says it serves “Alabama-style” barbecue. I’ll get to the barbecue later, but for now let me just cut to the chase for all you displaced Southerners out there: Order the fried catfish.
If you’re like me and occasionally find yourself pining for some good catfish, what they’re serving up at Moe’s is the real deal. South Portland, near the mall, is the last place I expected to find it.
The thin filets at Moe’s are crunchy on the outside and well seasoned, but moist and tender inside. I bought mine to go, and the fish was still hot when I got home. I will be back for more.
The accompanying hush puppies, however, need some work. Moe’s claims to make everything from scratch. If that’s true, Moe’s and other Maine barbecue restaurant owners need to know that hush puppies are not merely fried balls of cornbread. They should have diced onion in them, and it’s OK if they look a little irregular, uneven, even messy. That’s kind of the point of hush puppies. Moe’s weren’t bad by any means, but they looked and tasted like they came from a mix.
What I like about Moe’s is it’s more like fast food, so you can get a quick barbecue fix without paying fine dining prices. It’s also a friendly place. On my first visit, the woman behind the counter offered me a complimentary sweet tea while I waited for my order. On another visit, the owner was walking around the restaurant introducing himself and checking on customers, thanking them for coming in.
Sandwiches, served with two sides, are $9 and include pulled pork, smoked chicken, smoked turkey, Southern fried catfish, and a “Fried Shrimp Moe Boy.” Platters are $10 and are also served with two sides. Platters include pulled pork, a smoked half-chicken, smoked turkey, smoked chicken wings, Southern fried catfish and ribs. You can add more meat to any platter for an extra $3, if you want to, say, try a couple of ribs along with your pulled pork. You can also buy meat by the pound, rack, or whole bird in a variety of family packs.
Moe’s makes a lot of sides and also has special sides posted every day, so there’s a lot to choose from and it can be difficult to decide. The baked beans are reliably good, but similar to what you’d find at any barbecue restaurant. The cornbread (I liked it better than the hush puppies) has a crispy exterior and moist interior – better than I’ve had at a lot of local restaurants. The banana pudding tasted like banana-flavored whipped cream with a couple of vanilla wafers tucked inside – not nearly as good as homemade, but it works if you need a nanner puddin’ fix. Other standard sides are marinated slaw, potato salad and chips. Side specials may include collards, mac-and-cheese, sweet potato casserole, succotash, coconut cream pie, turkey white bean chili and creamed spinach.
How were the meats? The ribs were fall-off-the-bone delicious. I wasn’t expecting them to be so good.
The pulled pork? Well, here’s the deal. Before I give my opinion, let me just say that I realize a lot of people get sick of hearing me say this, but it’s true: When you’ve grown up on Memphis barbecue, you are destined to a life filled with disappointing pulled pork. I grew up a few blocks from the original Gridley’s restaurant, and my family ate there, or got take-out, many, many Sunday evenings. My friends and I feasted on ribs at the Rendezvous downtown, and tasted some of the first barbecue pizza in the country at Coletta’s on Summer Avenue. It’s a high bar.
I understand that it’s wrong to say you can’t have authentic regional “whatever” in other parts of the country, because often you really can. But the thing is, when you’ve had the best it’s awfully hard to forget it. Just last week I was talking with my brother, who lives in Georgia now, and he was telling me about a new local barbecue restaurant he and his wife had been dying to try. No surprise, they were disappointed.
“Well,” he said, “you know how it is when you grow up in Memphis.”
Yes, I do. It’s hard for anything to compete.
The pulled pork at Moe’s (I tried it twice) was exceptionally moist and tender – bravo for that – but I found it lacked flavor without the accompanying sauce. When you get take-out, you get a little squirt of sauce about the size of a quarter on the meat. So by all means, try the pulled pork, but make sure you get a side of that sauce, or ask for extra. (I’m sure there must be bottles on the tables if you’re eating in.)
Bottom line, Moe’s is definitely worth visiting for good, reasonably priced barbecue fare. I’ll be going back for the ribs and the catfish.
WHERE: 209 Western Ave., South Portland | 207-956-7623 | www.moesoriginalbbq.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WAIT: 5-10 minutes
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes