Somerville’s Wade BBQ Makes a Case for Boston Barbecue
From an alleyway takeout counter, the Union Square newcomer aims to define a regional style.
Somerville’s Union Square has become increasingly bustling by the day, from the arrival of the Green Line in 2022 to the ever-changing retail and dining options at Bow Market to new restaurants opening elsewhere in the square. Still, there are corners of Union Square that remain hidden in plain sight. Sanborn Court is one such space, a nook that hides intriguing dining and nightlife destinations along a driveway and set-back parking lot: Cocktail gem Backbar has been there for a dozen years, along with event space Warehouse XI; farm-to-table stunner Field & Vine arrived in 2017, with music venue the Jungle opening two years later.) Newcomers to the area might not realize what’s down the alleyway between the Independent and Bronwyn—although now, the wafting smell of barbecue on the smoker might tip them off.
“It feels like that hidden street from Harry Potter,” says David Wade, founder of Sanborn Court’s newest business: Wade BBQ, a takeout operation aiming to define and popularize Boston barbecue.
“This whole alleyway is so artist-centric, so creative-centric, that I fit in perfectly here,” says Wade, a musician who keeps a couple trumpets on hand in the Wade BBQ office. Barbecue is a perfect complement to the live music across the way at the Jungle, he says, or events at the rentable space Warehouse XI, or cocktails at “nerd-centric speakeasy” Backbar, as he puts it. Barbecue is also a comfortable match for Field & Vine; the two fit different niches—casual takeout versus special-occasion, sit-down dining—but both thrive on wood-fired cooking. “We’re able to not only appreciate each other’s similarities, but love each other’s differences and co-exist without infringing upon each other’s customer base,” says Wade.
“The alley is lively—the sun goes down, and man, the life comes out of every crack of the road and the walls itself—and it’s these little places that are the character of Boston,” says Wade. In short, it’s just the right spot for Wade to add a piece to the puzzle of the local culinary scene and tell the region, and the world, about why Boston’s take on barbecue shouldn’t be left out of the picture.
So, what is Boston barbecue? “It’s part attitude,” Wade says. “[Bostonians] will look you dead in the face and say, ‘We’re better, and this is why.’ [Boston barbecue] is that in-your-face pride. We’re bold.” Wade sees his signature barbecue sauce as a metaphor for our regional style: “It has a boldness to it,” he says. “It’s not super rich, but it’s definitely tangy. It’s not super sweet, but it is sweet. It has that lip-smacking effect.”
Most importantly, he says, Boston barbecue—or at least how his cooking defines the style—has the “soul, flavor, and love” that outsiders think New England barbecue usually lacks. “No dis toward other restaurateurs here, but a lot of Bostonians do not have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to the culture of barbecue.”
For Wade, that culture is a matter of community and family. Wade recalls growing up in Columbia Point in Dorchester, where his family was known for barbecue. “Anytime the Wades were smoking in the neighborhood, a party magically appeared,” he says, noting that it was a “dangerous place,” but barbecuing was a way to bring the community together. And that entire community “absolutely loved my father’s sauce,” says Wade—but his father made him figure out his own recipe. “I was pretty heavy into barbecuing, and I was trying to get the sauce recipe from him, but his thing was that I had to make my own. He gave me a bunch of arbitrary ingredients—brown sugar, molasses, all these common things—and said, ‘Now, make it work.’”
Wade experimented for years, he says, and each time he brought his sauce to his father, it’d be “too much of this, not enough of that”—very specific criticism. The end result? What Wade describes as “a very unique and delicious sauce,” but it was more than that. “As I got deeper into the cooking profession,” he says, “I realized that what he taught me was how to be a better cook, how to be able to learn my palate and describe food.”More than that, he says, his father taught him the importance of making everybody feel welcome. “He’s the master of it, and he managed to do so while he and my mom raised seven wild children—well, not wild, but not easy, that’s for sure—in Boston’s worst neighborhood. He and my grandfather were my childhood heroes growing up, because they were staples in their neighborhood for doing some of the simplest things.”
While Wade’s idea of Boston barbecue comes from that childhood in Dorchester, that doesn’t mean that it’s only for this region. “When I was doing my pop-ups [before opening in Somerville], I found I was curing people’s homesickness,” says Wade. “A lot of folks [in Boston] are from so many different places— a lot of those points south—and when they have my food, they’re like, ‘Reminds me of when I was in ‘Fill in the blank.’” He’s not aiming to emulate a particular regional style, but tap into barbecue’s overall roots: “It’s humble, come-as-you-are food,” he says, and it resonates no matter where you’re from.
“If I’m going to be putting out some good barbecue and breaking the mold of ‘Northerners don’t know barbecue,’ I’m going to do it my way,” says Wade. That means chicharrón-style pork belly burnt ends—“crispy, light, fluffy deliciousness up top and tender, bacon-y, smoked barbecue deliciousness on the bottom,” he says—served over a bowl of luscious mac and cheese. Or less-is-more brisket, with a simple salt-and-pepper preparation that “allows the beef to do all the work.” Or a sandwich piled high with pulled pork, sweet lime coleslaw, pickles, and barbecue sauce, with a side of crispy curly fries or fried okra. Or even a pulled-pork-inspired portobello mushroom, a vegetarian option and a nod to the previous tenant of this space, the vegan takeout restaurant and meal delivery service Littleburg.
It’s a wide-ranging menu—a way to be welcoming to all, just like Wade learned from his father. Don’t come to Wade BBQ for ‘Texas this’ or ‘South Carolina that’; come here for Boston barbecue, pure and simple. And some damn good pork belly.
Wade BBQ is open for takeout lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. (There are a few outdoor, uncovered counter seats available if weather permits.) 5 Sanborn Ct., Union Square, Somerville, 857-266-4628, wadebbq.com.