Chili Head Barbeque Co. in West Bridgewater is practically the region’s textbook definition of Southern comfort food.
I had been there in the past, goaded to travel the 45 minutes from Duxbury to the strip mall-like restaurant tucked subtly off Route 106, and last week jumped at the chance to sample more of the menu.
Walking into the restaurant feels like coming home. The cozy dining room and small bar seem more like a buddy’s backyard barbecue than the place for a foodie’s night out.
Plastic tablecloths that evoke the feeling of picnics lay across every table, while the sound of Memphis blues played overhead.
Owners Paul and Kristen Bello typically have the place packed. Paul’s Georgia roots and Kristen’s New England spin have developed an array of both the classic barbecue staples and the bizarre (kangaroo and alligator specials, anyone?) that usually draw a crowd.
Yet on a Tuesday night, stage empty of live music, there weren’t many people in the local haunt. My picky eater and I got a table quickly, and, like daring gamblers, selected a slew of classic dishes to try that we’d never had in the past.
I will mention the last thing I ate first, because I truly want you to save room. The fried Oreos ($7) were complete and utter bliss. Fried dough wrapped around warm, gooey Oreos covered with ice cream and whipped cream morphed into an ambrosial dish, reminiscent of a homemade chocolate chip cookie.
The dessert wasn’t even on the menu, but offered through word of mouth via our attentive and spunky waitress.
Speaking of wait staff, they never disappoint. Friendly and knowledgeable, the servers seem more like old friends. Paul Bello, too, makes the rounds even when the place is packed.
The menu’s options can seem overwhelming, but our server steered us toward the sauce- slathered Thai peanut chicken wings ($12) and dry rub Caribbean wings ($12).
With 12 wings per serving, the appetizer could easily be a meal for two, though you may not want to share the sweet Thai wings that leave a lingering heat, or the fragrant Caribbean wings that sing with rosemary and thyme.
The picky eater and I had trouble restricting ourselves to one or two each.
The Chili Head Chili Cup ($4.50) is also worth the try. Thick chili was crowded with beans, peppers, and chunks of brisket. While I am not a brisket fan, the picky eater gobbled it up.
The Southern pizza ($13), a new addition to the menu, also boasted of big Southern flavor. Calling it a nacho may have been more accurate, but the dish was savory and loaded with pulled pork, bacon, tomatoes and cheese on a crispy tortilla.
I would have preferred a pizza crust to the thin tortilla, which almost wasn’t enough to stand up to the hearty pulled pork.
Any true barbecue place offers ribs, and Chili Head doesn’t disappoint. A dry rub lends a lingering flavor to the tender meat of the Carolina ribs ($17), which took a little goading to get off the bone.
Though we ordered half a rack, the dish was too big for the baskets the food came in. Large portions are a recurring theme.
Perhaps my favorite entrée of the night was the Mills burger ($11). The dish isn’t one I’d normally try, but the picky eater favors anything that comes with two types of meat.
The burger, stuffed with barbecue pulled pork and cheese, was a revelation. Cooked to perfection and topped with the bright texture of tomato and lettuce, the dish danced in my mouth.
For the less adventurous, the jerk chicken sandwich ($9.25) was a classic standby. Intensely seasoned chicken placed on a fluffy, bulky role was filling and enjoyable.
Chili Head also offers a number of sides well worth trying in any combination, $3 for an 8-ounce serving and $5 for 16 ounces. The French fries (an additional $1.50) are some of the best in the area, specially seasoned with a Cajun-like topping. Moist and crumbly corn bread and sweet and spicy coleslaw also top the list.
If you’re feeling particularly hungry, the macaroni and cheese ($2 additional) is prime comfort food; tiny shells hugging warm, gooey cheese.
We weren’t particularly hungry when we ordered dessert, but we nearly finished the dish whole. Did I mention we liked the fried Oreos?
As we left with two bags full of leftovers, it was easy to remember why I keep coming back to West Bridgewater. When it comes to barbecue, there is no place quite like Chili Head.Jessica Bartlett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.