Elsmere – South Portland BBQ

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Alone for the night and hungry, I made the short jaunt over to Elsmere, one of the Portland area’s very few BBQ restaurants. I found a convenient space to park on the side of the building, walked in, and took a seat at the bar which was backlit with a very cool neon sign. I quickly ordered a water and got to looking at the menu for some house smoked meats or whatever else might suit my fancy. The bartender noted that all starters except oysters were $2 off for another hour.

One of the Mama’s Plates – basically meat and sides – seemed sufficient to satisfy my hunger. I ordered one with two meats, two sides, and cornbread. I chose Bell and Evans BBQ chicken and pulled pork. My accompaniments were marinated cole slaw and mac and cheese. I was one of three patrons in the restaurant, but it was still early for dinner. I’d seen the place in varying states of busyness in the past, but this was the slowest yet.

All the food came out on a round platter separated by bowls for the sides, paper “baskets” for the meats, and foil wrapping for the cornbread. Two dill pickle slices flanked the rest of the food. I asked for a small plate in which to pour some sauce. I was handed a large plate which met my need, but might have taken up a little too much space. I got to work, squeezing the three bottles of sauce sitting by me into my plate – Texas red BBQ first, 1866 fiery BBQ in the middle, and golden mustard to the right. Now I was ready to eat.

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First, I took a bite of the pulled pork. I found it to be very smokey, more so than many of the type, but I liked it for that reason. Next, I went toward the chicken which I usually prefer to be pulled, but these were slices. One bite sent me to heaven. The sweet, smokey chicken – responsibly grown in PA and then smoked and grill finished in-house – was so magnificent I suspected it had been born from the loins of the Patriots Super Bowl comeback and Lady Gaga’s halftime show performance. It was just that damn good – among the best chicken I’ve had anywhere.

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The plain meat was really good, but I was on to the mac and cheese which was covered in a thick, flavorful cheese which I found to be very enjoyable. My initial thought about the slaw was that it had a permeating vinegar taste, but wasn’t offensive. The chopped veggie mix was uniquely fresh and acidic without being harsh. The cornbread was warm, but I found to be a bit dry, though I wasn’t overly concerned since I had more of the good stuff to eat.

After trying everything on my plate, it was time to sample the sauces. I mostly stuck to the pork for those, filling my fork with shreds and then dragging it through the chosen puddle of liquid flavor supplement. The Texas BBQ was fairly standard – sweet with a little bite to it, the 1866 fiery sauce had a mild to moderate spice with a lesser sweetness, and the mustard had a vinegar base. Though it changes based on what I’m eating it with, my favorite of the night was the 1866. I enjoyed its spice and thought it complimented the pork smoke quite well.

I finished all the food and a significant amount of sauce, at times even dipping my cornbread into the TX BBQ to moisten it a bit. I was nearly full and the blueberry crisp on the menu sounded like a Pete pleaser, but I didn’t need the additional sugar, so I tapped out. The two-meat mama’s plate was $20 before tax and tip. It seemed fair for the portion size and quality of food.

Maine’s not exactly the BBQ capital of the world, but Elsmere knows how it’s done. Their meats are magnificent and the sides are solid and seem to be much more than just an afterthought. The chicken in particular is astoundingly good, but the pork isn’t far behind and their sauces are excellent. The cornbread could use some help, but everything else is so good that it hardly matters. I’ve been to Elsmere a number of times and feel that they’re actually better every time I go. By the time I left on this visit, it was getting busy, so others seem to agree. I’ll be back for more. Maybe a double serving of that bird.

Stay hungry.

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Peter Blanchette

About Peter Blanchette

Peter Peter Portland Eater grew up in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from the University of Maine in Orono with a degree in English. After college, he left the state to work in Massachusetts, but the allure of a more comfortable life in his home state brought him back after eight years. Upon his return and after meeting his now wife – Mrs. Portlandeater, he slowly integrated himself into the Portland food scene by trying as many restaurants as he could afford. That and a desire to write for others again led him to start Peterpeterportlandeater.com where he reviews restaurants and blogs about whatever Portland/Maine food topics he finds interesting.