Published November 10. 2011 4:00AM Updated February 28. 2012 10:50AM
Pawcatuck's newest restaurant is about as basic as it gets: a bunch of square tables in a small square room, with metal folding chairs, plastic dinnerware and a fish tank.
But the atmosphere is really beside the point in the welcoming hands of its owners and when those tables are full of tender, sticky barbecued meats.
Just having a roof over their heads is probably enough for Kit Kat's Smoked BBQ, which opened in September in an out-of-the-way spot on Mechanic Street, after its owners upgraded from selling barbecue out of a cart from their Rhode Island house.
Hilbert Gibbs and his wife, Tracie, who named the place after their daughter, painted the walls a bright green and have a small stage for live music, but they are clearly focused on their food: homestyle, Southern barbecue.
The menu is just as straightforward as the decor, offering only what they do best. There's pork, ribs, chicken and brisket and all the sides from baked beans to potato salad. And the best part is, you can choose one of their "specials," an order big enough to feed a whole family: ½ lb. of pork, ½ lb. of beef, a rack of ribs, 4 pieces of chicken and a bunch of sides, all for $46.
That, of course, is what we did on a recent Friday night. A group of us pushed some tables together and ordered one of everything, which Tracie was happy to accommodate. The restaurant was oddly quiet, save for a sort of country-gospel one-man band, but our "feeding frenzy," as Tracie put it, quickly added some energy.
The meal started with complimentary nacho chips with pulled pork, which came with a nacho cheese that was a little heavy on the smokiness but an interesting alternative to chips and salsa or bread.
In our very brief wait to be served, we reflected on one of the best parts of eating barbecue: even though it cooks for hours and hours in a smoker behind the building, allowing all its deliciously fatty flavors to develop, to a customer it's like fast food, quickly served but a thousand times better.
It's also perfect to eat family-style, passing dishes and sharing food, and it goes pretty great with beer (Kit Kat's, by the way, is BYOB).
The biggest hit in our group was the beef brisket, though their version was somewhat non-traditional. It was pulled like pork and lacked some of that charred exterior, but was tender and flavorful, with some added crunch from onions and banana peppers. The peppers, which Gibbs told us he came up with himself in place of green peppers, added some nice heat and may be popular with those Westerly folks who like them with their calamari.
For those who like more heat, Kit Kat's has a "Kit it Up" habanero-based hot sauce, and other homemade mustard and sweet and sour sauces.
The pulled pork was equally succulently sweet and smoky, with a little more of that charred flavor, while the ribs gave us the chance to get our hands dirty, pulling meat off the bone with our teeth. While the meat was tasty, they seemed a bit over-smoked. The pieces of chicken on the bone were too dry, but we enjoyed the chicken wings, which, while not super-meaty, were very crispy.
Our favorite sides were baked beans - nothing unique but nicely sweet - and the cornbread - somehow crumbly but still moist. Our batch of collard greens were sadly too salty.
But we ate more than enough and chatted with Gibbs, who is humble but proud of what he does. We joked that the place only needed one thing: cots in the back. Take-out and delivery are recommended if you think you may need a couch after facing happy barbecue overindulgence.