Ed. note: Buck's Naked BBQ's Portland location has closed.
Buck's Naked BBQ came to fill the space left open by Havana South on Wharf St. in Portland's Old Port. While I didn't enjoy eating at Havana, I did enjoy their bar space. So I was happy to see a place like Buck's take over, figuring that the well established, mass appeal of their BBQ has what it takes to fill the cavernous space.
Recently, I met some friends for dinner at Buck's, and a Bloody Mary (dubbed a Bloody Buck here), even though these are usually brunch drinks to me. I was urged to order one because the drink comes topped with a rib. Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed by this novelty, and the appeal of the thick tomato drink was lost on me after dark. Buck's does offer a wide draught beer selection, and I moved on to Portland Lager.
A fried pickles appetizer ($7.99) always draws me in, and Buck's version has thick chips coated in a cornmeal batter. The thickness of the pickles and the breading prevents the snack from being greasy, and I think this version is at the top of the list of those around town.
I hear the wings at Buck's are "better than Binga's" (I'm skeptical), and can be ordered so hot you're required to sign a waiver before digging in.
The rib sampler (4 for $8.99) and the pulled pork sandwich ($7.99 with one side) offered mix of the BBQ styles available at Buck's - both are smoked with a dry rub and served "naked," or without sauce. The saucing options are a South Carolina style, mustard sauce, a North Carolina tomato-vinegar sauce, a sweet, thick Kansas City sauce, and a blueberry sauce.
The ribs were good, tender and meaty with plenty of spice and heat in the rub. The pulled pork sandwich fell short of excellent. I think the naked style fails here with the meat being too dry, then having to coat the sandwich with sauce to the point of saturation. The meat portion was small, and I'd prefer to have fries and slaw with my sandwich rather than one or the other.
Being no expert in barbecue, I can't begin to wade into whether this is authentic or how it rates compared to other regions. I can only tell you what I like, and I won't order the pulled pork here again (one of my favorite pit sandwiches), but enjoyed the ribs.
But the menu at Buck's veers far from barbecue (falafel sandwiches, fried shrimp platters, steak and cheese sandwiches), so there is something for everyone. The fried catfish sandwich I tried during another visit was excellent. The roadhouse vibe isn't as pervasive as it is in other Buck's locations, and with plenty of seating in the bar, I'm sure I'll find myself visiting again to try their wings and order some drinks (sans the rib topper though).