Pine Shed Ribs & Barbecue
17730 Pilkington Rd, Lake Oswego, OR 97035
Rating: 2.0 / 5.0
I dropped in on Pine Shed Ribs & Barbecue as part of the Portland BBQ Tour to find out if their smoked meats live up to the reviews I have been seeing on Yelp. If you can’t stand the suspense, check out the “Quick & Dirty” section below where I serve up a quick summary of my visit. Otherwise, see the “Long & Winded” section for a fuller account of my time at the Shed.
The Quick & Dirty
I came to the Pine Shed in search of a good plate of BBQ, but left disappointed. They do a nice job with the Santa Maria style tri-tip and the bacon mac & cheese is delicious, but most everything else fell flat and flavorless. Perhaps it was an off day, but in the restaurant business, you can’t afford off days. If you still insist on dropping in on the Pine Shed, grab a pint of beer and order up some tri-tip, mac & cheese, and corn bread. Everything else isn’t worth your hard earned dollars.
The Long & Winded
As I drive up on this chilly Saturday afternoon, I can see that the Pine Shed anchors the left end of a small strip mall at the edge of a quiet Lake Oswego neighborhood. An outdoor sitting area flanks the left side of the Shed and they have an indoor bar a couple doors down to the right. Run by Matt Ramey and Jennifer Peterson, the Pine Shed produces a mix of the Santa Maria and Texas styles of BBQ. The specialty here is the tri-tip, but they smoke ribs, brisket, and more over Sherwood oak. Locals give this place top marks, so I am excited to give it a try. After snapping a few pics, I walk inside. It’s a cozy little place with a wood fired stove just off to the right of the door. I see that you order at the bar so I step up to browse the menu and place my order.
I decide to go with the full sampler plate: tri-tip, a spare-rib, a beef back rib, chicken, and a sausage. I also ordered a 1/4 lb of their brisket since it doesn’t come with the plate. Sadly, they are out of the sausage, so I substitute in their chopped pork and request the bacon mac & cheese and coleslaw for my sides. I grab a table and wait, noticing that the place is suspiciously empty for a weekend lunch hour. Not long after settling in, the food arrives.
I start with a quick taste of the sides. The coleslaw is alright. It has that vinegar bite and a subtle sweetness I look for, but is a bit on the soggy side and missing that crunch that gives a nice textural contrast to the tender smoked meat.
Unmoved, I push the coleslaw aside and give the “bacon” mac & cheese a try. A gooey homemade cheese sauce hugs perfectly cooked penne noodles and the whole thing is crowned with delectable pork belly croutons. It’s creamy, sharp, smooth, and delicious, perhaps even amazing. My only nitpick is that they call it bacon mac & cheese when the “bacon” is clearly uncured smoked pork belly.
The corn bread is delicious. It’s a sizable piece of moist, cakey, bread with a pleasant corn meal grit and has just the right amount of sweetness and good cornmeal flavor. It would have been even better if served hot with some butter. Instead it is lukewarm and the honey butter stone cold. I take another bite of the mac & cheese and direct my attention to the meat.
Oh the brisket, the poor, poor, brisket. Whatever bark had been holding on to the fat-cap side of the brisket must have been abandoned on the cutting board, because one side of each slice is devoid of any bark. I prefer a thin layer of tasty rendered fat on my brisket but there is little to be found here. The flavor is reminiscent of an under seasoned pot roast and is screaming for sauce just to make it palatable. It is an unfortunate piece of meat but I tell myself that this place is not known for its brisket and move hopefully on to the tri-tip.
The tri-tip looks beautiful. It has a gorgeous smoke ring and I can tell it’s juicy, so everything is off to a good start. However, much to my chagrin, when I attempt to take a bite, it is tough and chewy. In horror, I examine the piece of meat only to discover that it has been sliced with the grain rather than against it. This is a shame, because the tri-tip is actually pretty good. It has a nice oak smokiness that pairs nicely with the garlicky rub and would make a great sandwich. However, bite after stringy bite of tough tri-tip proves to be too much to enjoy. I can feel the dismay welling up inside me as I shift gears and try the chopped pork.
Moist and smoky, the chopped pork holds promise, but I cannot see any of the barky bits that usually deliver the kick of flavor. The pork is tender but needs a hit of vinegar sauce or salt to perk it up. If I were to toss it on a bun and slather it with sauce, I could see myself enjoying it. With that thought in mind, my gaze shifts to the pork ribs.
Lacking in flavor like most everything else I’ve tasted so far, the pork spare rib is at least juicy. The ribs also need more time in the smoker because the meat is clinging to the bones like a kindergartener to their mother on the first day of school. I turn the rib over and notice the membrane is still attached. It doesn’t bother me much, but others might find this disagreeable. I can’t help but be disappointed since I was expecting more from an establishment with the word “ribs” in its name. With my hope dissipating, I pick up the beef back rib.
The beef rib is tender with a gorgeous ebony bark, yet somehow still manages to lack any flavorful kick. It’s also depressingly sparse on meat. The menu promised “extra meaty” beef ribs, leaving me in a state of cognitive dissonance.
Finally, I try the chicken. It has a crisp chestnut brown skin, but there is little flavor and the chicken is dry. It appears it is possible to smoke a chicken leg quarter until it is rendered dry as the Sahara, because this chicken might as well be a smoked sandbag. At this point, I nibble on the mac & cheese a bit more, finish my beer, and call it a day.
Confused, I pack up my things, wondering how my experience could be so different from all those Yelpers that rave about the Pine Shed. Perhaps I came on a bad day, or maybe they are training a new cook. Either way, the restaurant business is unforgiving and you cannot afford inconsistency.