When the planned community of Reston was started back in the 1960s, it centerpiece was Washington Plaza on Lake Anne. The plaza, with its residential-commercial mixture, was designed to bring an urban setting to the suburbs.
Today the plaza is showing its age, but it is still a pleasant place to while away an hour or two. There are boats to rent, ducks to feed, a small art gallery and a delightful used book shop to browse through and other stores worth a look. And now, there is a new place to go for a snack or a meal: Sam's Barbecue.
Without getting into a discussion of the merits of various regional barbecues, it should suffice to say that Sam's version is good enough to write home about. This barbecue is a hybrid -- a little bit of North Carolina and Virginia, with maybe some Tennessee, Georgia and Texas thrown in.
The meat is cooked right on the plaza. A couple of times a week, Sam Legard, who also runs a catering service in Lovettsville, rolls out a curious-looking contraption: a mobile barbecue pit that consists of a rectangular frame with a metal bottom, attached to a boat trailer. There Legard smokes fresh hams and top rounds of beef for about six hours over charcoal.
The restaurant is located in what was once a coffee house. When our family was there, there was no sign outside, but we homed in on the outdoor tables. Inside, the restaurant resembles the old-fashioned cafes you can find in almost any small Southern town.
Actually it's a bit rough and ready: just a plain room with about 10 tables. One wall is brick and one is covered with paneling that has seen better days. Ah, but the food is what counts.
Patrons may order at the serving counter or be attended by a very young but friendly waitress.
There are no printed menus, only a sign on the wall, but the selection is quite limited anyway. You can get a regular or large sandwich of barbecued beef or pork, a barbecue platter, or a hot dog, which at 35 cents must be one of the best bargains around. There are also side orders of "sour slaw," made from sauerkraut and a tasty addition to the barbecue sandwiches.
Those sandwiches, at $1.50 and $2, are jumbo. The pit-cooked meat, a cross between sliced and shredded, is piled on soft, unheated hamburger buns until it spills over the sides. Saucing is left to the diners. The homemade sauce, tangy with vinegar and not too hot, comes from a big plastic squirt tub. Tabasco is available for pepper fans.
The same sauce is used for the beef and the pork barbecues, both of which have a distinctive smoky flavor. The beef is good, but I preferred the pork, since where I come from in North Carolina barbecue means pork and only pork.
The platter, $3.25, includes a mound of barbecue, warm baked beans, cole slaw and potato salad. Be warned that none of the vegetables is homemade, but the sweet, mushy cole slaw and the potato salad, flavored rather heavily with mustard and celery seeds, are refreshing accompaniments to the barbecue.
The restaurant does not serve dessert, but if you have a sweet tooth you can stroll across the plaza to Lake Anne Grocery, a mom and pop establishment that usually has a platter or two of homemade cookies for sale.
Even counting the cookies, a family of four can sample the pleasures of Washington Plaza and dine out for less than $10.
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Atmosphere: Down-home plain and friendly. Price range: Barbecue sandwiches, $1.50 and $2; platters, $3.25; carryout beef barbecue, $4.40 a pound, and pork barbecue, $4 a pound. Reservations: No Credit cards: No. Special facilities: Carryout; parking in shopping center lot; accessible to the handicapped.