MANY OPTIONS A selection of the barbecue at Buck's.
At Buck's Naked BBQ the meat is cooked plain — without being infused or coated with in any particular sauce. This is meat we can relate to. What is any one of us Americans, really, but a warm pile of flesh lacking any particular piquancy? We don't even move around much anymore. We just sit there at a desk or on a couch. All that is missing is the plate underneath us. Is it so surprising that the Jamestown settlers ate that girl?
At Buck's you can splash your meat with any of various sauces, housed in red squeeze bottles at your table — just as we, lacking the deeper qualities of character, try on different personalities, and their accompanying clothes, skin markings, and facial hair. This works better for Buck's than it does for the rest of us. Though they call the meat "naked," most of Buck's barbecue has been rubbed with a subtle mix of spices that mingles nicely with the smoke of the cooker and the meat's natural flavor. We didn't need to reach for those red bottles too often.
Buck's, which first established itself in Freeport, has taken over the huge space formerly occupied by Havana South in the Old Port. The space is filled with huge booths and tables — the better for families and large parties to gather around massive platters of meat and lots of sides. There is some kitschy décor around, but wherever you are sitting most of it is far away. Inside your high-walled booth you will focus on the food. The servers are relaxed and convivial, but they also take care of your meal.
A salad consisting of a grilled head of romaine had some appealing smokiness and got off the heat before wilting. It was served with a mushy mix of grilled squash and peppers. A lamb appetizer came with a terrific salad — lively bitter greens enhanced by a mix of feta and black olives, with a light dressing. The lamb was great too, tender and a touch fatty with rich earthy flavor. But the mint sauce had more sugar than sour, which pushed it in the direction of toothpaste. But sauce-schmauce with meat this good, which is the general theme at Buck's. On the other hand, we relied on a spicy sauce to enliven the fried okra. Since it was the day's special side dish, it was surprising that it seemed pre-frozen.
The actual barbecue, on the other hand, seems beyond reproach. The pork ribs in particular were spot-on, with a great char, rich flavor, and just-right tender, fatty moistness. The pulled pork had the right texture, but lacked the same depth of pork flavor, and here we used some of the sauce to good effect. The best of these was a vinegary-peppery version with a black stripe on the red bottle. The beef brisket had a deep rich flavor and was expertly cooked just past any hint of stringiness. The house sausage was more sweet than spicy, with a pleasant smokiness. The chicken was the only disappointment — just a touch dry, with the spice rub stopped cold by the skin. A side of cheesy (and peppery) grits was terrific when piping hot, but the texture went south with cooling. The braised greens were expertly done, with a nice touch of vinegar and pepper, and just the right tenderness.