The Oak Hill Tavern is one of those local haunts that is populated almost exclusively by people you knew from high school and never really wanted to see again. The dining area is so down-the-pub that it's almost nauseating. This is precisely what major chains like Smokey Bones are desperately trying to recreate when they cover their insides with schlock and shtick.
Like the atrocious Texas Roadhouse, the floor here is covered in the spent peanut shells of the army that has traipsed through over the past few hours. Unlike Texas Roadhouse, this isn't some nauseating gimmick meant to drive home the fact that "this is a real, Texas steakhouse! Huh'yuck!" Flat screen televisions litter the bar area, there's a dart board, and drunk locals yell a lot. Basically, it's a bar. A bar so genuine that it seems almost fake.
Like most local haunts, The Oak Hill Tavern succeeds heavily because it's the only game in town. Unlike most local haunts, The Oak Hill Tavern doesn't rely on this by producing acceptable but otherwise underwhelming food. On the contrary, they may be quietly cooking up some of the best food available in Rhode Island.
The Tavern's purpose as a tavern is evident in the menu. Appetizers are bar fare, such as buffalo wings and french fries. The wings are, um, buffalo, and if a basket of french fries could ever be considered gourmet, it's here. They season them in a way that you can't quite get anywhere else. Of note, their grilled pizza is better than you'd expect. A lot better. In fact, it's pretty good.
The bulk of the menu is standard offerings made special by the seasons and spices used on their meats. Their sandwiches are very good. Burgers are especially tasty. They season their meat very well. But this is all immaterial. The real food at this place is the BBQ. They've been doing it here since the mid-Cretaceous and it shows in a sauce without peer, ribs that are nearly unmatched, and chicken and seafood offerings that are great. Sides are pretty good. I'm a big fan of their baked beans.
Nothing surprising. Nothing inventive. Just very simple, BBQ dishes powered by a sauce and spice recipe that is nearly untouchable. If you're far away, I can't say to make the drive. It's excellent BBQ, but the offerings at Smokey Bones are somewhat comparable, and LJ's BBQ in Pawtucket is excellent as well. But, if you consider yourself a rib connoisseur, you absolutely, positively must make a journey to The Oak Hill Tavern.
The Oak Hill Tavern: ***1/2
Price range for two: $15-$30
Tuesday through Sunday 3:00pm to 12:00am (Kitchen closes at 10:00pm)
Kitchen closed on Mondays. Bar open.