Good barbecue in the Northeastern U.S. is hard to find. It’s like to trying to find a real New York style bagel anywhere outside of New York. That’s why I’m always excited when I hear about new openings in or around Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In this case, Durk’s Bar-B-Q opened up on Thayer Street in Providence, RI, which is a well known strip of shops or restaurants frequented by locals and Brown University students.
Thayer Street is eclectic in that it is home to old businesses as well as new, more modern ones. It showcases a movie theater, eat-in or take-out restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores, and various other shops selling unique clothing or goods. It’s somewhat fitting that Durk’s would open up on Thayer Street, because it is a bit of a mash up of old and new as well. It has the tradition of casual counter-style barbecue combined with the modern atmosphere of a swanky, dimly lit bar and restaurant.
275 Thayer St.
Providence, RI 02906
Service and Atmosphere
Stepping in to Durk’s off the brightly lit street is a little jarring because it is so dark inside. The only real significant lighting comes from the counter where the food is prepared and some neon lighting towards the back of the restaurant near the bar. Once the eyes adjust, however, it’s easy to make out that there’s more to the restaurant than just the counter. There are tables for a more formal dining experience as well as a full bar in the rear of the restaurant. The hanging menu over the counter helps, but there are paper menus available at the host stand that are easier to navigate. As I wasn’t prepared to eat-in, I opted for take out and received instructions on how to make that happen from the hostess. She handed me a card that essentially had the menu items on it that I was to fill out with quantities of what I wanted. After doing so, I took my card to the counter, handed it to a staff member and they promptly started making my order. The staff asked me some questions about preferences regarding spiciness, fattiness of certain cuts of meat, and whether I wanted any extra bread. I thought these small customizations really helped to make sure I was getting exactly what I wanted.
Perhaps I got a little over-zealous with my order, but I really did want to try a little bit of almost everything. I ended up ordering brisket, pork ribs, sausage, a pulled pork sandwich, a brisket sandwich, coleslaw, cornbread, and mac and cheese. This provided me with a great sense of what Durk’s has to offer as well as a pretty hefty stomach ache from over-indulging. Needless to say, we had leftovers for days with no regrets.
Sides – Coleslaw, Mac and Cheese, and Cornbread – Side dishes are the overlooked portion of many barbecue restaurants and yet, they can truly make or break a meal. Durk’s offers some pretty good side dishes. Their coleslaw is light on the dressing, so it retains it’s crunch and is a nice way to break up some of the fattiness of a lot of the smoked meats. The macaroni and cheese was pretty basic in that it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had at a barbecue restaurant, but it also wasn’t anywhere near the worst. It was solid and I liked that the macaroni didn’t dry out even after getting it home. The cornbread was definitely a highlight. The circular individual portion wasn’t too dry or undercooked, so it had a nice balance. The best part was the pat of butter on top that also had a drizzle of honey over it. That finishing touch really amped up the cornbread.
Ribs and Sausage – Any barbecue place that hasn’t mastered baby back ribs has no business operating, so it’s a good thing Durk’s has a handle on it. Their ribs are tug off the bone tender and very lightly sauced. I thought they did a good job with them overall. The sausage had some really good flavor and a light smokiness. In general, it’s a nice homemade sausage, but I felt the casing could have benefited from a bit more snap. Instead, it was a little chewy, which is either because of the casing itself or simply because the sausage wasn’t grilled up enough after smoking.
Brisket – Any barbecue restaurant that features brisket also knows that this one element is the touchstone by which the quality of their food is judged. Durk’s takes their brisket seriously and offers patrons a choice of lean or fatty slices of brisket. I asked for a little of both and they obliged. Watching one of the chefs slice into the brisket before my very eyes was heavenly. I could see the juices seeping out of the tender meat, which was a very good sign.
Durk’s isn’t messing around either when they say fatty or lean. The fatty pieces were very fatty, while the lean pieces were a little bit more my style. In general, I like fatty brisket, but if I had to choose again from Durk’s, I’d go with the lean because it showcases the tender smoky meat a bit better. Overall, the brisket was pretty good and I felt comfortable that if they could make a good brisket, then the rest of the food is in good hands.
Ridurkulous and Dirty Durk Sandwiches – Last, but not least, as a sandwich lover, I had to try a couple of Durk’s sandwiches. Both the chopped beef and pulled pork sandwiches come with pieces of sausage in them. They are also topped with onion, jalapenos and some Durk’s BBQ sauce. The pulled pork tasted tender and heavy, but the onions and bread helped with some of the fattiness. I asked for the jalapenos on this side, but loved them with the pulled pork. The same goes for the chopped beef sandwich, which I thought was excellent. I really enjoyed the caramelized bits of beef combined with the sausage. The onions really went a long way to adding some flavor and breaking up some of the texture as well. My go-to order at Durk’s after trying everything would be another Ridurkulous Chopped Beef Sandwich.
Durk’s is a good, solid barbecue restaurant. While I wouldn’t call it the best in Rhode Island, I would say it’s the best in Providence by a good margin. They do a great job across the board, which means it’s hard to go wrong, so try everything. The chopped beef sandwich was a personal favorite that I would recommend along with some delicious cornbread. Durk’s definitely hits the spot to satisfy when you need a barbecue fix in the Providence, RI area.
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