837 Second St., Manchester, N.H.Looking for a Mexican, Italian or Chinese restaurant? No problem. Looking for barbecue? That's more of a challenge. KC's Rib Shack stands out not only because it is one of the few barbecue restaurants in the Manchester area but because it is quite simply a fun place to go for a good (and large) plate of food.
KC's has been on our radar for a while, but it's not always easy, especially on a weekend, to get into the popular Second Street eatery. Recently, we were finally able get a seat at one of KC's butcher-paper-covered tables. Paper plates, plastic cutlery and a roll of paper towels are table fixtures. (And be sure to leave the nice clothes at home.)
Adding to the casual vibe is the décor, which includes Christmas lights, a number of license plates from other states, music memorabilia, and HDTVs (think elaborate man cave).
But don't let the trappings fool you. The menu is anything but simple. In fact, it is quite elaborate and offers a number of barbecue and comfort food choices, and some items we've not seen anywhere else including Bacon Sriracha Diablo Deviled Eggs, Brunswick Stew and Beef Brisket Chinese Pie.
To start, The Dining Companion ordered the Portobello Shroomie Fries ($8), long mushroom strips encased in a light and crispy beer batter and fried. Underneath the house batter, the portobello mushrooms were both meaty and juicy creating a palate-pleasing tender/crispy combo. They were served with a chipotle ranch dipping sauce that added a mild to medium kick. If you like portobellos, TDC definitely recommends these; if you've never tried portobellos, these are a fun first encounter.
I ordered the Jalapeno Popper Wontons ($9), described on the menu as Monterey jack and cream cheese, onion, diced jalapenos, and crispy bacon wrapped in a wonton and deep fried, and served with ranch dressing. I was disappointed when they arrived at the table. I wondered if the server had brought me the wrong appetizer as they looked like a traditional jalapeno poppers that are a staple at casual restaurants. They indeed featured flavors I expected, and they were tasty, but they weren't served at advertised.
I tried to talk the TDC into taking "The 6 pound Feedbag Challenge: The Shovel," in which you have to eat six pounds of barbecue goodness in under 45 minutes, so he could win a T-shirt. No dice. Instead he decided to choose from a selection of seven meats from the Build Your Own Combo.
The selections include chicken, beef, and pork. You can choose two ($17), three ($21), or four ($25) meats and two sides. TDC went with two: sliced Brisket Flat and Pulled Pork Barbecue.
The brisket slices were cut thin and topped with a strip of barbecue sauce, which blanketed a healthy mound of pulled pork. TDC said the brisket was tender, but not particularly flavorful. The pulled pork was soaked in juices and barbecue sauce, which imparted a perfect base flavor to mix with whichever barbecue dipping sauce you choose.
TDC's favorite thing about a barbecue place is the array of sauces, and KC's offers five for table use, ranging from hickory to applewood.
KC's Rib Shack is known for large portions, so wanting something a little lighter I skipped the entrée and "barbecue specialties" section and headed for the sandwich menu, which includes selections such as the Pulled Chicken Sammie and Beef Brisket French Dip.
I opted for the Cardiac Sam ($13), pulled chicken breast topped with cheese, pulled pork, bacon, roasted red peppers, lettuce and garlic and herb mayo. Piled high with pulled pork and chicken, there's nothing small or light about this sandwich. It's messy and overwhelming, but if you master it you are rewarded with great smoky flavors.
For dessert, TDC ordered the Campfire at Your Table S'Mores (4 for $8 or 8 for $11), because the only thing that can make dessert better for the TDC is serving it with a side of fire and sharp objects. At the center of the compartmentalized dish that looks similar to one you'd see holding a pu-pu platter in a Chinese restaurant, is an open flame. Using the wooden skewers, you can cook the marshmallows to whichever level of golden brown you like. The compartments also hold the traditional graham crackers and a Hershey's chocolate bar. This dessert is a lot of fun and is great for sharing, and I'm happy to report that no one in the restaurant was harmed by inadvertently catapulted flaming marshmallows.
After the appetizer and sandwich, I had to wave the white flag at dessert, a first for Our Gourmet. I had the server pack a slice of homemade Key Lime Pie ($6) for me to take home. While it made for a somewhat unusual breakfast choice the next day, it was a creamy slice of heaven. It was a bit sweeter than I expected because the whipped cream was twice as thick as the key lime layer, but the star of the pie was the crispy, buttery graham-cracker crust.
If you are looking for a romantic, quiet dinner for two, don't go to KC's. But if you are looking to have a good time and a good meal and don't mind getting a bit messy in front of your dinner companions, KC's Rib Shack is a great choice.