The Refinery (Andover, NH)

This summer, after a particularly brisk and windy hike up with our friend Alex to Mount Cardigan from the AMC Cardigan Lodge, we decided to stop on our way home for an early dinner. Since our route took us right through the Potter Place part of Andover, NH, we decided it was a good opportunity to stop in and visit The Refinery.

Opening back in 2019, The Refinery moved into what used to be the Belletete’s Home Improvement Store Showroom (Belletete’s has since expanded their operations across the street), and immediately made waves in the local food scene for having good food and a nicely remodeled dining room. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to check them out in 2019 or early 2020, and then the Pandemic hit. We actually visited The Refinery a twice in 2020, but just for light snacks and outdoor dining (indeed, my first draft beer I had after the initial Pandemic shutdown was in Refinery’s outdoor tent), and we’d been meaning to get back for a full review. In particular, I’d been hearing more than a little good discussion about their barbecue.

This is where I always have to be a little bit careful; those that know me, know how much I adore good barbecue, and how I’ve several times gone on extended weekend tripa around Austin, TX in search of smoky goodness. And I’m always getting various recommendations for places all over New England for places with “great barbecue”, and while a handful of those places have served up some good barbecue, there are dozen more that serve up truly mediocre barbecue; overcooked meat, slathered in cloying sauce, that only vaguely resembles real barbecue. It’s happened to me enough that my first response to any sentence containing both “New England” and “BBQ” is skepticism…. extreme skepticism.

But a trip by The Refinery has shown one promising sign that’s been notably lacking at a lot of other places: smoke. A nice, rich smoke, especially in the morning when we’ve driven by on our way to various hiking spots. So, allowing a modicum of hope to guide me, we decided to check them out after our hike.

As we enjoyed some beers from their reasonably-stocked tap list that focuses on nearby breweries (603, Litherman’s, and Smuttynose, with a few other regional and national brands), we started with an appetizer of Carolina Nachos. Sweet potato waffle fries topped with pulled pork, Carolina-style mustard BBQ sauce and green onions, this combination actually worked out nicely as an appetizer for three. Let’s start with the pulled pork: it hit all the basic notes: soft and tender, smoky, not overly greasy or stringy, and just enough smoke perfusing the meat to give it some great flavor while not burying the shoulder pork notes. The rest of the dish worked well: the sweet potato waffle fries were crispy and delicious, and the perfect vehicle for scooping up the pork and the lightly-applied vinegar sauce.

Next up, I went all in and decided to get their hot brisket sandwich. Smoked beef brisket served up with melted sharp cheddar, a light dash of BBQ sauce, coleslaw and pickled red onions on a toasted brioche bun. The star here was the brisket. Brisket is a notoriously difficult cut of beef to smoke; it takes more than a bit of trial and error to learn the art of get brisket smoky, tender, meaty, and moist all at the same time, but this brisket had it all. A nice, deep beef flavor not buried in the smoke, a good moderate smoke taste throughout, a nice moist interior, and a clear bark and smoke ring around the perimeter.

Building up the rest of the sandwich around it was basically adding some heft and tang without burying the meat flavor: the onions and slaw added a nice bit of crunch and tang, the sauce just a slight bit of tomato and vinegar note, the cheese adding some nice flavor and texture and the bun nicely toasted for that final bit of crunch. Adding on a proper potato salad (one that primarily tastes of potato and not egg or mayo), and this was a very, very satisfying sandwich. If there was any mistake here, it was in my getting a sandwich instead of the entree, where I could have enjoyed that great brisket by itself.

Carol’s pulled pork sandwich was basically the same excellent level of barbecue and sandwich-craft applied to pulled pork instead; the same pulled pork from the Carolina Nachos, with a different cheese (American, I think… a bit of an odd choice, but it worked) and straight up pickles instead of pickled onions. But again, a solid performer.

One of the other great surprises was dessert. When coming in the restaurant, I couldn’t help notice the pastry case, whose top shelf was filled with some giant puff pastry profiteroles. I adore profiteroles, especially with ice cream, but these were filled with chocolate cream instead. I was skeptical of these, since a profiterole (like it’s tubular cousin, the eclair) has a very, very short shelf life in a pastry case before it starts to get limp and stale, but this was a nice, firm, and still crisp puff, filled with a delicious, creamy chocolate filling with a hint of amaretto, and, most importantly, very little sugar. I usually find chocolate creams and mousses to be almost cloying, but this was instead smooth and rich. I’d definitely get one of these again, despite the likely massive calorie count.

In an land where “it didn’t suck” is usually about as high a praise as I have for most of the barbecue places, The Refinery truly surprised me with both brisket and pulled pork that were quite nicely executed and served. The restaurant is pleasant, the staff friendly and competent (our server made the desserts, even). I definitely need a few more trips back there.

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