The Bull & Barrel seemed familiar because it was. Virginia and I had visited when it was called the Grape & Growler, a casual dining restaurant with memorable marinara sauce, way at the end of Wade Road.
The Bull & Barrel opened in October 2014. It’s independent and locally owned by the same people who have the Philly Bar & Grill, also in Latham.
The main dining room looks pretty much the same: bar straight ahead, large screen TVs, a long banquette, wooden tables and chairs, and a platform that serves as a stage. The wagon wheels mounted on the wall and the cowboy boots on the staff remind you that it’s barbecue.
Bull & Barrel Smokehouse Grill
WHERE: 155 Wade Road, Latham, 785-7111, www.Bull-&-Barrel.com
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $39
MORE INFO: Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Children’s menu. Wheelchair accessible.
We passed on appetizers, as the descriptions (heaping piles, mounds) or the prices forewarned of large portions. Brisket, chicken or pulled pork sliders and Buffalo chicken mac and cheese ($12) seemed too much like dinner, and pickle chips just don’t do anything for me. I’d try the smoked shrimp cocktail ($10) next time, though.
If you’re aiming for something healthy, there’s the chop salad ($8) or the house salad ($7). Meats are extra. Sandwiches, served with a side, sound pretty good, like the smoked prime rib sandwich ($13), with caramelized onions, cheddar, and maple horseradish sauce. A half-pound steakhouse burger with fries and a pickle is $11.
The smoked stuff
But you’re probably there for the smoked stuff. Our server recommended the Beginner ($24), with a half rack of Kansas City spare ribs, pulled pork, and a quarter chicken.
Go all in with the Pitmaster ($34), a half chicken, half rack of ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and Texas house-made smoked sausage. Entrees include fried catfish, fried seafood, and fried chicken. Combination platters and entrees come with two sides, which you pick from a long list.
The restaurant was quiet early on a weeknight, and I enjoyed a cold pinot grigio ($5) while Blondie sang “Call Me” and we examined the four sauces in the condiment pail. We didn’t wait long.
Virginia ordered the brisket platter with barbecue baked beans and green apple slaw ($16). It was an attractive plate, with plenty of slices of sauce-topped brisket, a bonus corn muffin and chopped parsley over all. She said the sauce kept the brisket from being too dry; I liked the flavor, but missed the fat.
The apple slaw was delicious. The dressing was light and slivers of carrot brightened it up. Virginia enjoyed the baked beans and the jalapeno cornbread, which she said had flavor but not heat.
The rib and wing combo ($23) featured half a dozen hefty smoked chicken wings at medium strength, and a half rack of ribs that came right off the bone. It didn’t need the mustardy slather, the seasoned rib were good on their own. There was some fat, and a lot of flavor.
The wings were so hot I could hardly eat them. I mentioned it to the friendly server, who replied enthusiastically, that yes, their sauces are extra hot, just so you know. The meat had a pink cast from smoking, but the hot sauce overrode that flavor. The corn muffin was standard issue, and I wished for some butter.
Mac and cheese
You should not miss the award-winning mac and cheese, with its broiled top and extra-curly cavatappi pasta. It had just the right amount of creaminess and lots of cheese flavor from the extra stuff on top.
Desserts are available but not made in-house, so we skipped. The server brought us boxes for leftovers. The tab was $39 for food before tax and tip.
The Bull & Barrel Smokehouse Grill turns out everything you’d expect from a barbecue place, and not-to-be-missed mac and cheese.