It takes confidence to declare your barbecue "mouth-waterin'" and "butt-kickin'" in a region not known for the Southern staple. Thankfully, Little Mark's Big BBQ has the goods to back up its bold statement. The restaurant on Vernon's busy Route 83 is small, but like the name suggests, the portions – and the flavor – are huge.
The vibe: Classic barbecue joint, with red gingham tablecloths and large napkin dispensers at each table. Here, they want you to eat with your hands, and encourage you to get dirty.
The walls are lined with kitschy Western-style memorabilia: old "wanted" posters and guns, and a border of license plates from around the country circles the space. And it's all set to a rollicking country-music soundtrack.
The food: This is a carnivore's paradise, serving brawny plates of beef and pork ribs, barbecued half-chickens, pulled pork, brisket and burnt ends in addition to half-pound burgers and overstuffed sandwiches. Dinners – a hearty serving of one chosen meat or a combination of a few – are served with cole slaw, sweet corn bread and your choice of side dish (collard greens, fries, mashed potatoes, dirty rice, fried okra and the like.)
The restaurant smokes its ribs for 6 hours and its pork and brisket for 12, according to its website, and sauces and dressings are made in-house.
Appetizers stray a bit from tradition, with French onion soup, Southwestern egg rolls, three varieties of stuffed potato skins and "sloppy tots" – potato nuggets smothered with Texas chili, jalapenos and melted Monterey Jack. The gator tails ($7.99,) floured-and-fried bits of Louisiana alligator meat, were tossed in an intriguing zingy seasoning and served with remoulade, salsa and peppers.
Intent on trying as much meat as possible, we ordered the beef lovers' sampler (two enormous beef ribs, shredded brisket and burnt ends) and the half-chicken, adding a "killer BBQ pork" sandwich at the end. When the towering plates arrived and crowded the tabletop, we knew why our server had raised her eyebrows.
The beef offerings were substantial and moist, complemented with a bit of the 'sweet' sauce stationed tableside, and the baked beans were sweet, flavored with thick chunks of pork. The chicken was a marvel, with perfect white breast meat and tender leg meat under dry-rubbed skin, but the accompanying macaroni and cheese (a premium side, with an upcharge) was starchy and bland.
Most impressive was the sandwich, a soft submarine roll absolutely loaded with fork-tender pulled pork. At $8, it's one of the best values on the menu.
We found the draft beer list decent as well, with taps from locals Back East, Stony Creek and Olde Burnside along with regional options from Wachusett, Berkshire and Brooklyn Brewing.
If you still have room at the end of your meal – and you'd probably have to have been fasting for a day or two prior for that to happen – Little Mark's offers up sweet endings like bread pudding, Kentucky bourbon pecan pie, brownie sundaes and fresh-baked cookies.
The bill: Appetizers are $3.29 to $7.99; salads are $3.99 to $6.99; sandwiches and burgers are $6.99 to $8.99. Entrees and platters with corn bread, slaw and choice of side are $11.99 to $20.99 and desserts are $3.99 to $4.29. Sauces are sold by the pint at $4.99 to $9.99.
LITTLE MARK'S BIG BBQ is at 226 Talcottville Road (Route 83) in Vernon. It's open Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Information: 860-872-1410, littlemarksbbq.com.