Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The Turkey BLT at Wade BBQ in Somerville’s Union Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Union Square is quickly becoming a mecca (on this side of the river) for culinary excellence – Juliet, Bronwyn, June Bug, Barra, the old-school Neighborhood and The Eaves are here, to name a few. There are vast tastes, styles and price points in one tight locale boosted as a go-to destination by the recent addition of an MBTA green line stop. 

One new hot spot in the square – which feels more like a circle – is Wade BBQ, tucked away in the alleyway known as Sanborn Court with speakeasy-esque nightclubs Back Bar and The Jungle. The takeout joint not only covers all the barbecue bases of smoked brisket, beef ribs and pulled pork but also the less red-meat side of the food pyramid with smoked chicken, smoked turkey and even a pulled pork mushroom sando. 

Wade BBQ is open for lunch and dinner, but it is a takeout stop only. (It also sells meats in bulk.) The storefront is an open garage space with outdoor barstools and countertops, but when nor’easters such as the one we just kinda sorta didn’t have come through, even some very hot sauce and savory hickory smoked sausage might not be enough to withstand the weather. That said, owner David Wade has a nice rapport with The Jungle and Back Bar, so you are welcome to get grub and head on over to either drinking establishment. (They offer snacks and bar bites on their menus, but it’s not a fill-you-up, so for those digging the vibe and wanting something more substantial, this is your special secret.) When you come to Wade BBQ you can smell the smokers wafting their savory richness. The staff, standing at the exposed counter next to one of those heat-emitting smokers and a space heater under the counter, are ready, friendly and eager to aid.

Wade has bona fide barbecue chops. He grew up in North Carolina – the East Coast capital of smoked meat know-how – and cut his teeth at the now shuttered Village Smokehouse in Brookline. Of the chicken, sausage and turkey I’ve had from Wade BBQ, each has come with an engrained smoked hickory accent with a wonderfully sweet maple tang. The pit beans are boss too, more sweet and succulent like classic Boston baked beans than more Southern takes with large bits of lard or bacon. The thing that thrilled me most was Ward’s turkey BLT. The sandwich comes on thick slices of lightly toasted brioche with lean, hand-carved slabs of smoked bird, crisp lettuce, tomato, a wisp of mayo and crispy smoked applewood bacon. You can get it as a wrap, but I’d recommend going as described: It’s the turkey BLT comfort you know and want with some extra flourish (smoked and on brioche) that takes the flavorful experience to the next level.

Wade BBQ is down Sanborn Court in Union Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Natch there’s a chopped brisket sandwich and chicken three ways: Cajun fried, smoked chopped, and a classic grilled with cheddar and some of that pleasing smoked applewood bacon, as well as that pulled pork portobello sandwich that is high on my curiosity radar. For appetizers you can’t get most everywhere there’s fried okra and and pickles, and in addition to the beans a list of need-to-try sides that includes turkey collard greens, garlic mashed potatoes, sweet lime coleslaw and a hearty, rich potato salad that has just the right amount of egg and tater skin in the mix. The sandwiches come with your choice of fries or potato salad – do the latter and thank me later.

Wade BBQ also serves bowls, which are not your typical grain or salad bowl you’d get at, say, Sweetgreen, Cava or Life Alive. Here your base is garlic mashed, those amazing pit beans or macaroni and cheese topped with your choice of meat – chopped chicken, burnt ends, sausage, brisket and so on. If you hadn’t seen the trending piece in The Guardian by the British columnist Emma Beddington, who spent a month in Boston and described feeling “more foreign here than in places I’ve visited where I didn’t speak the language,” she was mesmerized, if not traumatized, by the wild toms holding up traffic in the streets and the fact she couldn’t find eateries not serving a grain, rice or salad bowl. Well, had she come to Wade BBQ, she not only could have eaten turkey, but turkey in a bowl, which would’ve been more in line with homestyle blood pudding than a kale cleanse.

Wade BBQ is in its opening infancy. The few times I tried to order online felt a little glitchy (it was through a third-party app that’s not Toast, so maybe it’s me); since it’s not too far from home, I was happy to peddle over, put in the order and swing into Back Bar for a beverage as my order was prepared. You can call in an order too.

Wade BBQ, 5 Sanborn Court, Union Square, Somerville


Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.