MASSENA — Last month, a reader told me there was a new barbecue restaurant in Massena. I asked some of my Massena friends — no one had been there. Actually, no one had even heard of it.
Even the know-it-alls at Google didn't know about Bistro Barbecue.
But we found it. There it was on East Orvis Street, just past Frenchie's car dealership. The sign hanging out front was a prelude of things to come: "Chicken, Ribs, Pizza and More."
We climbed over a few piles of unshoveled snow on the sidewalk, walked up a few steps and we were inside. We decided on a round of drinks at the dimly lit bar before heading to the small dining area.
The place had a biker feel to it. Some motorcycle parts for decorations. A real snowblower in the corner a few steps from the door. And a bearded biker-dude bartender who looked like one of the guys from ZZ Top. Who served top shelf mixed drinks in throwaway plastic cups.
And there was no one in the place. No one. Not even the chef, we were told as we headed for a table. "He's out on a delivery," our bartender informed us.
So we seated ourselves at a table and waited for a server. We were chatting away, so 15 minutes went by like nothing. And it gave us a chance to look over the menu.
It was almost hard to find the barbecue stuff. Baked ziti. New York City-style pizza. Chicken hero. NYC-style chili cheese dog.
Oh there it is. Barbecue beef ribs. Barbecue chicken. Barbecue stuffed shells.
Barbecue lasagna. Shrimp sauté barbecue. Sautéed barbecue spaghetti.
You can't make stuff like this up.
Our bartender was also our waiter. He finally lumbered over, pen and order pad in hand. The cook still wasn't back, but it couldn't be much longer, he figured.
Appetizers consisted of zucchini sticks, chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks. Just to be nice, we ordered the mozzarella sticks. They were out of them.
Beer battered onion peddles ($4.95) — I think that was supposed to be petals — sounded interesting: "chopped onion cloves battered in light beer." They were nothing more than commercial breaded and deep-fried pieces of onion, served with a tart mayonnaise/horseradish/cayenne sauce.
Here's an appetizer that would show off the skill of the chef: chicken rice bowl ($3.95). It was a bowl of overcooked Minute rice with a chopped up chicken tender on top, smothered with some kind of nasty chicken gravy herbed up with too much dried thyme.
It reminded us of something you'd make with leftovers in your fridge that you'd have to use up in the middle of an ice storm because your power went out sometime last week.
We tried the house salad ($1.95), a bowl packed with crispy iceberg lettuce, large wedges of tomato, onions, carrots and cukes with the house dressing of "Italian barbecue." Quite possibly the highlight of the night.
Barbecue pulled pork lion (I think they meant "loin") is a staple at a barbecue joint. Unfortunately, there were out of pulled pork. So we got the quarter-pound barbecue classic ($8.95), basically a hamburger with a mound of lettuce, a slice of tomato, a healthy slab of tomato and barbecue sauce dripping from the bun, and a side of pickles in a little plastic cup.
We ordered it well done, and it was cooked perfectly, not a stitch of red but still nice and juicy. You can do that with cheap, fatty meat.
Our waiter neglected to bring the "house fries" that came with the burger. A quick reminder from us, and a steaming hot order of commercial frozen fries was delivered.
What the heck is sautéed barbecue spaghetti ($7.95)? The menu said it was "sautéed, marinated barbecued shredded chicken with pasta." What it turned out to be was cut-up spaghetti mixed with a little barbecue sauce dotted with some little pieces of chicken that, all together, might have filled a soup spoon.
And despite the coating of barbecue sauce on the pasta, I could smell that something was "off" with the noodles.
"Homemade garlic bread wedges" were good, a piece of white bread cut in half, doused with oil and garlic powder and nicely grilled.
Shrimp sauté barbecue ($14.95) was identical to the spaghetti dish, except five small shrimp were sautéed and placed in a little pile on top of the spaghetti. The shrimp might have overflowed a soup spoon, but not by much. At least not enough to make the dish cost $7 more than the other spaghetti dish.
It was a far cry from the "six jumbo shrimp in house barbecue marinara sauce over a bed of sautéed butter smoked pasta" specified in the menu. Now that I read the menu description, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, either. Barbecue marinara sauce? Butter smoked pasta?
We tried both the barbecue beef ribs ($16.95) and the barbecue chicken ($9.95), hoping this would be the real deal.
The beef ribs were actually pork ribs. The ribs weren't smoked or slow roasted. They were grilled and coated with barbecue sauce. Same with the leg quarter of chicken. The house-made barbecue sauce had a sweet/spicy flavor that was quite good.
The downside was, the ribs should have been fall-off-the-bone tender but needed to be attacked with a serrated knife. The chicken wasn't cooked nearly enough, bloody raw down by the bone. There's nothing worse than overcooked chicken. Except, maybe, undercooked chicken.
The only other table now occupied in the dining room had the same problem when they cut into their chicken. I saw fear in the lady's eyes, but she was very nice about sending it back.
Back at our table, the smell of the ribs near the bone was like something that had been in the refrigerator way past its prime.
We ordered salt potatoes for a side. What came on the plate looked like an old baked potato. Very old. Gray and squishy with a big black spot on one corner.
It was cooked in very salty water, which qualified it as a salt potato, I guess.
We were a bit disappointed to hear that there were no desserts, but not totally surprised. Actually, a little relieved.
With dirty dishes all over our table, including the plastic cups from our bar drinks, we were left with the bill. Food for four came to $76.
As far as the food goes, it seemed like the chef had Italian intentions but was trying to give it a twist by doing a barbecue thing. He lacked even the most basic barbecue skills.
About the only thing that made this place a barbecue joint was the fact that they served absolutely everything with barbecue sauce. By the time the evening was over, we discovered that some things were just not meant to be served with barbecue sauce.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
273 E. Orvis St.
Chicken, Ribs, Pizza and More
HOURS: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday
Noon to 11 p.m. Saturday
Noon to 11 p.m. ("I think") Sunday