Words and Photos by Amanda DeJesus
Boston is a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to barbeque. We are known for shellfish, Italian food, and baked beans. Our Northern “realist” attitude is almost the polar opposite of Southern hospitality. The number of successful, reliable barbeque joints here can usually be counted on one hand (Sweet Cheeks and the Smoke Shop, anyone?) But none of this means that good-old Texas barbeque can’t thrive here.
This is where Shed’s comes into the picture: Siblings Shawn (SH) and Edward (ED) Wilson were born and raised in Texas--barbeque was part of their upbringing. They broke into the Boston restaurant scene in 1999 with Viga, an Italian eatery and caterer that now has three downtown locations. Shed’s opened at Downtown Crossing last March, inspired by the sibling's Mammie’s love for “good company and great bbq.” The Wilson heritage is tangible throughout the restaurant: they use old family recipes and feature menu staples, such as Sammy’s Sandwiches and Lucille’s Bowls, named after Edward’s children.
Perhaps the best strategy implemented at Shed’s is adapting to the local market. When one thinks of barbeque, the image of giant meat platters and heavy sides comes to mind--not ideal for a quick workday meal. Shed’s prime downtown location brings in crowds of business people at lunch, but they generally don’t come for the giant platters of ribs. The menu does a brilliant job of converting the taste of Texas barbeque into customizable formats. Lucille’s Bowls, for example, begin with a hot (mac and cheese or quinoa) or cold base (two different blends of leafy greens). Guests then choose a protein, three toppings, a cheese, and a dressing. The varieties are endless here: go healthy with kale, smoked turkey, and edamame or be indulgent with mac and cheese, brisket, and bacon. In order to appeal to more than just carnivores, Shed’s can also accommodate most dietary restrictions.
I went to Shed’s with my Advanced Marketing class (two teams are working with them on a semester-long project) and was greeted by a team of smiling, inquisitive workers. As soon as you walk in the door, you are in Texas. The space resembles a rustic barn (or a shed!) decorated with the Texas flag and tin roof paneling.
You begin your order at the counter by choosing the format of your meal. I was immediately overwhelmed by choices, but decided on a plate with one meat and two sides. Next, you choose the kind of meat from six mouth-watering options: brisket (sliced or chopped), pulled pork, smoked turkey, pulled chicken, and Texas hot links. Sensing my indecision, the man helping me told me that the most popular choices are the brisket and the pulled pork, which was his personal favorite. Knowing that Texas bbq is focused on beef, I chose chopped brisket.
The plethora of sides didn’t make my life easier--not only was there mac and cheese, there were fried mac and cheese balls, fried pickles, collard greens, roasted corn, two kinds of coleslaw, baked beans, potato salad, and more! I resisted the urge to stuff myself with cheesy pasta (my lactose-intolerant self would not last long) and got collard greens and roasted veggies.
I slowly slid my tray (a quarter sheet pan) down the counter past the dessert displays, which included rum cake and what appeared to be s’mores rice krispy treats. At the register, I grabbed a piece of still-warn cornbread (Shawn and Edward’s grandmother’s recipe) and a ramekin of honey butter. The condiment station, located between the cash register and the dining room, features several different types of homemade barbeque sauce.
The brisket was tender and smoky, the collard greens were indulgent without being over-the top, and the veggies were garlicky and sweet. The cornbread was phenomenal, especially with the room-temperature honey butter slathered on top. While I ate, I glanced around at what my classmates ordered, already making mental notes for my next visit (pulled pork and ribs!)
The concept of barbeque is a simple one, yet Shawn and Edward have managed to adapt the old fashioned values for modern, urban lifestyles. Gone are the days of post-bbq siestas… we have to eat quickly and get back to work, but the restriction doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the same flavors and hospitality.
32 Bromfield St., Boston, MA