Chicken Barb - Gastro Obscura

Prepared Foods

Chicken Barb

This pulled chicken sandwich has a cult following in the Massachusetts towns of Methuen and Lawrence.

The chicken barb is a fast-food favorite among locals in the towns of Lawrence and Methuen. Unknown to visitors, the barb uses chicken simmered in a pressure cooker (not barbecued, as the name might suggest) as its base. Pulled and shredded with secret seasonings, the warm chicken is served on a toasted sesame seed bun with lettuce and a healthy dollop of mayo.

Well before national chains entered the Merrimack Valley area, the barb (pronounced “bahb” if you want to sound like a local) provided both comfort and sobering-up benefits to locals. The origins of the sandwich are frequently traced to Herman Marggraf’s Tally Ho Inn, located in Methuen. The Tally Ho was a hotspot for drinking, dancing, and dining in the 1940s, and the chicken barb was its star menu item. Word about the hearty, hot sandwich spread and it soon popped up in the neighboring town of Lawrence, most notably at Jo Gile’s Bungalow. The Bungalow, which started operations out of a 1920s-era car converted into a chuck wagon, has since closed. But an offshoot of the Tally Ho, Norm’s White Horse, still serves the original chicken barb.

It has been said that the seasoning for the barb is a closely-guarded secret. Restaurants throughout the Merrimack Valley sometimes run chicken barb specials or bury it in the long sandwich section on their menus. Uninitiated diners will order the chicken barb thinking they’ll be getting a mass of BBQ sauce–soaked meat, only to find a tamer yet comforting, satisfying sandwich.

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