When planning the schedule for Meat Week, I had a few really tough choices to make. In some cases, it was a question of how far afield people would be willing to go for the inaugural edition of Meat Week DC. In other cases, the decision came down to what kind of impact a particular establishment has on the DC barbecue scene.
After opening Meat Week at Urban Bar-B-Que, one of the most widely praised among the newer ‘cue joints in the area, it was on to two of the veterans in the field. Both Rocklands and Red Hot & Blue have been serving up smoked meats in Washington for more than twenty years. In the process, they’ve expanded to several locations each around the DC area. To me, they embody (in very different ways) the “all cues to all people” mindset that tries to serve up a taste of home to ‘cue lovers from all traditions.
So how do they stack up against some of the newcomers? Check out some photos, some thoughts and a reminder about tonight’s big Pork Barrel BBQ event after the jump.
I‘ll admit it – I’ve got a special place in my heart for Rocklands that blinds me to some of the criticisms I’ve heard from others. Rocklands was the first barbecue I experienced in DC, a short(ish) walk from campus. And they were only too happy to help out with an annual barbecue-themed fundraising event I used to host, roasting a whole suckling pig in one of their massive smoker rigs and allowing us to reheat ‘cue from across the country in there, as well.
But Meat Week demands sterner stuff, and so I put aside my warm fuzzies in favor of my hard-ass judge’s demeanor. Then they went and put up a sign welcoming us and even came up with a few specials. Talk about playing dirty. And Rocklands was the only barbecue joint among our participants to proactively contact me and let me know that they were looking forward to celebrating Meat Week with us (I reached out to all the rest just to give them a heads-up that we’d be coming). You’ve got to admire a place that embraces Meat Week so thoroughly.
Since they offered a special, of course I was going to try it. A three meat sandwich? Yes please. Do I want some sausage sliced onto that as well? Why not! Add some cooked onions (that’s technically a vegetable, right?) and you’re good to go.
While I waited for my Frankensandwich I noticed most of my dozen or so fellow Meat Weekers had something in common – a smaller pulled pork sandwich alongside whatever they had ordered. A countrified amuse bouche? Not quite. It turns out Rocklands has a REGULAR Monday night special in addition to the ones they put together for us: buy a beer, get a pulled pork sandwich FREE. Genius.
I’m going to reserve my judgments on the various barbecues we taste until the end of Meat Week, but I joined Journeyman Jon (who intends to go the Meat Week distance) in noting the depth of flavor to Rocklands’ sauce. They slice plenty of onions into the sauce and then keep it warm. The results are worth a try all by themselves.
Snow be damned, we were going to hit up Red Hot & Blue tonight. I may have been an hour late, but I made it and was pleased to see a smattering of other Meat Weekers spread out throughout the restaurant. I tried to say hello to everyone who came out, but if I missed you I hope you enjoyed your ‘cue. We even had someone in from McLean tonight – talk about commitment.
It was interesting to see how Meat Week played out in a bigger, more sit-down restaurant like Red Hot & Blue, as opposed to the previous nights’ locations. Unfortunately, the person I spoke to last week failed to alert tonight’s staff that Meat Weekers would be coming, so they didn’t really know what to do with our folks when they arrived. We ended up with people eating at the bar, at a table in the front, and at a few tables in the back. Although we had nine or ten attendees, we didn’t have the same camaraderie we’ve enjoyed in tighter quarters.
That being said, the menu definitely showed that Red Hot & Blue is still serious about the ‘cue. Take a look at that picture: pork ribs, sausage, brisket, pulled chicken and pulled pork. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Five Meat Treat. It was enough food for two – trust me, I took my own advice and used the Buddy System to take it on with Journeyman Jonathan. Jonathan was also impressed that RH&B offers Brunswick Stew, a southern delicacy that’s surprisingly hard to come by here in DC.
A sign behind the bar boasts “The best barbecue you’ll ever eat in a building that isn’t already condemned.” That assessment of the premises is a real understatement. Red Hot & Blue has come a long way since it first opened in Arlington in the late ’80s. It’s an honest-to-goodness restaurant. Jazz and blues posters and instruments adorn the walls. They have their own in-house music channel, complete with advertisements for Red Hot & Blue. And one wall is adorned with faux bricks decorated with a big mural of their logo. I couldn’t help myself…the comparison to Friday’s or Ruby Tuesday popped into my head and just wouldn’t leave.
The food delivered, and the sauces ran the gamut from sweet (thick, with plenty of molasses) to vinegar (spicy AND tangy, a nice balance) to hot (damn hot…peppery through and through). But the basic mild was my go-to, and it worked with every meat on that platter. With that kind of consistency, it’s easy to see Red Hot & Blue celebrating another twenty years in the area.
In case you needed another reminder, here you go. Tonight is the special Meat Week Sneak Preview of Pork Barrel BBQ. It’s taking place at Mango Mike’s on Duke Street, and the fixed-price buffet is $15.95 per person. For a full rundown of the menu and some additional details, check out our previous post about it.
And here’s some additional info for Saturday’s Meat Week Finale. Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish is literally a bus and a trailer in the parking lot at the Safeway on Rhode Island Avenue. There are no tables, chairs or benches. They don’t sell drinks (though the Safeway does). And they are cash-only. If you keep these three items in mind and come prepared, you’re in for a good time. If you forget any or all of them, you’ll still have a good time, but it may be delayed somewhat.
Hope to see you tonight!