WINTERPORT, Maine — True barbecue — or really any barbecue at all — isn’t easy to come by in mid-Maine. Slathering beef in A1 Steak Sauce or throwing pork on a bun, although sometimes delicious, does not a Southern barbecue make. For many Mainers, however, that’s often all that’s available, or even desirable.
A new Winterport restaurant might just change all that. 4Points BBQ and Blues House, at 145 Main St., has seen a rush of customers since its opening eager for real barbecue. And the food is so extraordinary the staff can’t meet the demand and sells out every day.
The restaurant is the child of John Ramirez of Oklahoma by way of Kansas City. Ramirez started barbecuing in 1994 in the same fashion so many others get their legs — in his backyard. He got into competition cooking, and it wasn’t long before he opened his first restaurant, a bar in Joplin, Mo., in 1999. Now he owns three restaurants in addition to 4Points — two in Kansas City and one in Texas.
4Points is small and unpretentious — Ramirez likes it that way. He came to Maine to start a shipping company in Mars Hill and decided to stay after falling in love with the state, its people and “the best school systems in the country.”
“Everybody’s so laid back” in Maine, Ramirez said, and so is the restaurant. Though the demand for his food indicates that 4Points easily could expand beyond its relatively humble location, Ramirez isn’t eager.
“I don’t want to do anything bigger,” Ramirez said. “I want to give people a real-deal place to eat.”
The small dining room, with just a few picnic tables, fills up quickly, and the meat runs out early. Since 4Points opened May 6, the restaurant has sold out of 1,000 to 1,300 pounds of barbecue consistently by early evening and has used more than 200 gallons of sauce. Although the official hours are 10:30 a.m.-midnight, the food often is gone by 7:30 p.m.
“We would definitely stay open till midnight if we didn’t sell out so fast,” Ramirez said. But the amount of food the restaurant can make is limited by the single smoker. There is no giant walk-in freezer and barely any refrigeration. Everything is prepared for almost immediate consumption.
And everything is real-deal. Eating at 4Points, it’s easy to see why the barbecue disappears so fast. The spare ribs and brisket are standouts, with distinct flavor from the wood Ramirez uses. Pit-cooked baked beans will make you wonder how Boston baked beans ever became so popular. And all that meat is tender and ready to be covered in sauce.
The menu features seven types of meat and four sauces. The different varieties of barbecue and sauces hail from different regions of the country with distinct styles and distinct history: Texas, Carolina, Kansas City and Memphis. While barbecue in those areas are prepared “sauced,” where the meat is continuously slathered in sauce while it smokes, Ramirez prepares the barbecue at 4Points dry, with just a simple rub, so that patrons can discover each style on their own.
“Pick your own point of the barbecue you enjoy,” Ramirez said.
The Texas sauce is tomato-based — a common crop in the arid region. The Carolina sauce is vinegar-based, rooted in the East Coast’s use of vinegar to preserve food. Kansas City sauce is molasses-based and quite sweet, originating from that region’s staple crop of sorghum. And the Memphis sauce is a combination of the all three, resulting in a sweet, savory and complex flavor.
The meat is smoked up to 30 hours in a custom-built smoker outside the building, where you can see staff tending to the meat and the fire ’round the clock — many live in apartments above the restaurant — and Ramirez can monitor the smoker from his iPhone thanks to a network of cameras around the building.
4Point’s customers have come from as far away as Nova Scotia and New Hampshire to taste the food that has been lauded by a wall full of stars such as B.B. King and Larry Thomas, more commonly known as The Soup Nazi on “Seinfeld.” And while Ramirez knows barbecue isn’t necessarily something people will eat every week, it’s certainly worth a regular drive out to Winterport to get some of the most delicious and most authentic food around.