Down Home at Famous Dave's
Many restaurants in Maine have attempted to appropriate the essence of barbecue with only middling results, generally perpetuating a sorry world of flabby ribs and overly sweet sauces.
Case in point is Famous Dave’s, a national barbeque chain with 170 restaurants in 37 states, which operates locally next door to the sporting goods behemoth Cabela’s at the Gateway Shopping Center in Scarborough.
From the outside it looks like every other formula restaurant — the façade a pile of stone and shingles, some stucco and an imposing arch framing the front door. Inside offers a different visual entirely. Very much a penny-saver sort of down-home western ski-country chalet, its motif is rife with lots of wood siding, a gas fireplace in the middle of the room, perpetual Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling and a hostess station that reminded me of a 4H trophy kiosk in a rural bus depot.
When you walk into a barbecue joint the first thing that should hit you is the aroma from the sweet smell of fruit woods smoldering in the smoker oven, mixed with the scent of spices that signal the pit master’s signature rub.
All I could detect was a whiff of beer on tap at the bar.
I was shown to a booth in the back of the room and greeted by a waiter who looked young enough to be playing hooky from high school to work the lunch shift.
The first thing I was asked if this was my first time at this legendary outpost. Indeed it was and my waiter aspirated with such glee that I thought the lights would flash and the moose head on the wall would break into song.
All the booths and tables are sensibly outfitted with industrial strength paper towels and a tray holder of barbecue sauces in plastic squirt bottles with names like Rich & Sassy, Georgia Mustard, Texas Pit, Sweet & Zesty and Devil’s Spit (no kidding).
It was then that I noticed the women in the booth in front of me “from New Hampshire by way of Sacramento, California,” were being showered by complimentary tidbits that their waiter ceremoniously served to them because it was their first time too.
I flagged down my waiter to ask why I wasn’t be regaled whole hog. He immediately returned with a small bowl of chips and dip.
The menu has the requisite delights that one should expect at a BBQ emporium. From colossal hamburgers to every shape and size of ribs, chicken, brisket and the ubiquitous pulled pork, baked beans, and other tantalizing extras, this was a total barbecue environment.
My waiter sensibly suggested that I look at the back of the menu for the lunch specials. These were smaller portions than the main dishes offered a la carte, and for $8.49 I could have two meat selections and complimentary sides. I chose barbecued St. Louis style ribs and Texas beef brisket, which came with corn bread, thick cut French fries and corn on the cob. No substitutions.
My plate arrived in a matter of minutes and included three glistening ribs, four slices of brisket, a corn muffin, a pile of potato wedges and the corn. Corn on the cob this time of year? Didn’t corporate realize that Mainers like to eat local?
The ribs were fall off the bone tender, with a hint of smoke and shiny from a sticky glaze. I slathered the different sauces over my potatoes, which weren’t classic French fries but more like wedges baked in the oven. The brisket, as expected, was dry, the corn muffin fell apart as I removed its paper wrapper and the sauces were insipidly similar. Even the Devil’s Spit — the killer sauce in the lineup — was anemic.
All in all, if you’re really hungry, looking for cheap eats and on your way to Cabela’s, give Famous Dave’s a passing glance.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinion. If you'd like to share yours, email him at email@example.com.