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Starters: A smoked-out sampler at Boone's Hillside BBQ

Expanding a small but growing category in the greater Buffalo area, Boone’s Hillside BBQ is throwing its hat in the ring as a new smokehouse contender in Cambria.

Operating out of a quaint white-washed building on a rural northern hillside, it’s an inviting and rustic environment that says “BBQ," though the smell alone should put you in the mood.

There’s a variety of starters to pick from on Boone’s menu, but what better to whet your appetite for a pile of smoked meats than deep fried meat? The idea seemed to make sense at the time.

The deep fried pork belly is a textural test of will for anyone squeamish about fat, but it pays off with big flavor and addictive snackability. (Phil Wagner/Special to The News)

Served with a side of honey maple bourbon butter, deep fried pork belly ($7) is thick-cut nuggets of crispy meat and fat served hot from the fryer. Though they could have been fried harder or paired with something less exorbitant than butter, I unconsciously and somewhat shamefully finished the order.

They’re not making any weight-watchers lists and are not for texturally fat-averse, but an oddly addictive item nonetheless that’s probably better enjoyed as a bar snack with a cold beer than a kick-off to a full meal.

If you’re a newcomer to Boone’s BBQ and want a taste everything, the BBQ Guru platter ($29) is the way to go (featured image of this article). A hearty sampling of every meat out of the smoker, the platter comes stacked with pulled pork and chicken, brisket, smoked wings, and ribs. Sadly, no sausage to speak of at Boone’s.

Aesthetically pleasing sides, but not much of a "wow" factor to any of them. (Phil Wagner/Special to The News)

Each platter on the menu comes with a selection of two sides and corn bread with the option to tack on additional sides for $2-$2.50 each. I’m a traditionalist for barbecue side options so I opted for the baked beans, cole slaw, and macaroni and cheese, none of which were noteworthy.

The ribs at Boone's have a great bark, but don't hold up where it counts. (Phil Wagner/Special to The News)

I believe ribs to be the gold standard in the barbecue world. On that front, Boone’s has some room for improvement. Although its rub and bark are well-smoked and flavorful, the texture of the meat was tougher than it should have been, and the cut left too much of the fatty cap towards the loin for my taste.

Smoked wings are an under-appreciated twist on the classic wing, and Boone’s does a fine job with these. Left long in the smoker to form a thick bark, it covers the tender inner meat with a chewy and crisp exterior that’s a nice contrast on a typically soft wing.

Big bold flavors in the smoked chicken, though a little dry. (Phil Wagner/Special to The News)

Unlike the smoked wings, the pulled chicken didn’t hold up as well. Deeply smoky and a little dried out, it’s a great candidate to soak up the sweet or spicy variants of Boone’s barbecue sauce, though judged on its own, I’d rather opt for the pork.

Boone’s pulled pork is excellent. Gently pulled but not shredded, the pork is moist and flaky. The most tender and flavorful bite on the platter, on a second visit I’d swap it in at the center of attention. Boone’s has this down.

The pulled pork was a highlight of Boone's offerings because of its great flavor. (Phil Wagner/Special to The News)

Brisket is a notoriously finicky cut to keep tender and moist. Boone’s has done a great job at achieving both those feats. A close second to the pulled pork, losing out mostly due to preference, it’s unctuous and supple with a prominent smokiness. A must-order.

About a 40-minute drive north from downtown, if you’re a BBQ fan looking for another stop on the all-too-short smoked meat circuit of WNY, Boone’s may be a worthwhile experience.

Though there’s some misfiring on a few of their staple meats, I’d certainly recommend it as a must-try for any brisket or pulled pork lover.

INFO: Boone’s Hillside BBQ, 3997 Lower Mountain Road, Cambria. Phone: 531-1287. Hours: 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday. Noon to 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Closed Tuesday.

A fitting exterior for a BBQ restaurant, Boone's sits on a beautiful rural hillside in Cambria. (Phil Wagner/Special to The News)

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