Along with roofers, road crews, lifeguards and landscapers, alfresco barbecue establishments continue to toil in the crazy-hot weather. A special tip of the hat goes to Stewart's Barbeque and Catering, at the corner of South Dakota Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE.
Driving by in an air-conditioned car, you can easily miss the operation. It consists of a large smoker, a big pile of hickory and cherry wood and a large white trailer, parked in the fenced-in lot of what used to be an auto body-rental shop. There are no big signs and no posted menu, but on arrival the aroma of slow-cooking pork ribs is reassuring. Owner Theresa Stewart will inform you of what's available, and if she's not there one of her two very polite teenage sons will.
The Bowie resident makes everything from scratch. She managed husband Alex's Suburban Seafood market in Suitland starting in the mid-1990s and catered in Calvert County for a few years after their business closed. She ran the cafeteria in the Prince George's County administration building in 2006. Stewart's barbecue was always popular; she was selling it in the Langdon Park area of Northeast Washington when she found her current location about a year ago.
Go early in the day for the full selection. We arrived one evening just shy of 6, only to find that many items had sold out. At 1 p.m., we had better luck. On busy days -- Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays -- the cash-only carryout goes through about 20 chickens and 60 to 80 pounds of ribs.
Our moist half-chicken, warm and deeply smoky ($6; $10 as a dinner with two sides), was quickly devoured in the car. The ribs, which we managed to hold off eating until we got home, were heavy with meat and fairly fatty ($25 per slab; $10 for four bones as a dinner with two sides). The fried crab cake sandwich, heavy with a mustardy-mayo binder, tasted fantastic ($10; $15 as a dinner with two sides).
The smoked meats benefit from a dunk in Stewart's tangy, habit-forming barbecue sauce. Our chunk of corn bread (comes with dinners; 50 cents per extra piece) was a bit dry; we wished we had been able to try a piece fresh from the oven. On the other hand, the collard greens were so vinegary and flavorful that we fought over the last forkful.
Other hits among the sides were the rich red-skinned potato salad; peppery green beans; and the creamy, faintly sweet coleslaw (all $2 for a small portion; $4 for a large).
In the heat, the wait can seem interminable, and Stewart's ordering system does not appear to move fast.
Behind the scenes, big things are happening. "I'm getting ready to open a fresh seafood and produce store inside that old auto body shop," Stewart says. She expects the addition to be fully functioning within weeks. Along with fruit and vegetables, she plans to stock fish, crabs and oysters on the half-shell, all of which she will gladly fry for customers.
-- Catherine Barker (Good to Go, July 2010)