We're high on The Barbecue Factory. Here's a barbecue restaurant that doesn't have waitresses in frilly dresses or lights shaped like wagon wheels or garish salad bars or long cutesy menus dotted with words like "pardner" or -- most important -- that doesn't cover its food with thick, red, bottled-tasting glop that parades as barbecue sauce.
The Barbecue Factory gets right to the point: It has a spare, simple dining room, a short, straightforward menu, and it serves some of the most delicious smoky pork and chicken around.
The Barbecue Factory opened about a year ago in one of those ranch-sized shopping centers in Herndon. It's an offshoot of the nearby Tortilla Factory, but it serves far better food. The restaurant has a single, small dining room with nominal decorations -- some pretty country pottery, some South American fabrics, plain wood paneling. The most striking thing is the black-and-white linoleum floor, which reminds us of an old-fashioned school lunchroom.
For appetizers you can start with a bowl of chili or a generous platter of Buffalo-style chicken wings, neither one extraordinary. The chili's too thin and the wings are too spicy, without much taste. So why not go right for the fabulous big platter of onion rings? The only onion rings we've ever had this good are the rings downtown at The Palm. The Factory's rings are big and sweet, crisp with scarcely any batter; they're served slightly stuck together, in the shape of a loaf of bread.
The kind of barbecue you get should mostly be a matter of preference. They're all equally good (except possibly the beef, which is just a little drier than the others). All the barbecues taste smoky as if from real smoke, not from some phony sauce, and they're lightly smoky -- you can still taste the meat. Pork is wonderful, big shreds, oozing with juice; we like to slop on some cole slaw, take a big bite and let the mingled sauces dribble down our chins.
The chicken is exceptionally good. In fact, we've almost never eaten chicken this moist except when we've coddled it ourselves at home. The pork ribs are better than most, too. You can order them by the half-pound or pound, rubbed with onions and spices, tasting faintly sour from apple cider vinegar. Barbara, in her eternal quest for the perfect ribs, says these could be cooked just a little less, so the meat doesn't fall off so easily. Rib fanatics please note: Sunday is all-you-can-eat rib night for $7.95.
If you can't make up your mind, you can always order the sampler, which includes a decent portion of almost everything -- two ribs, shredded pork and beef plus a quarter chicken, a good deal for $8.95 (sometimes on special for $1 off). But we'd rather order one kind of barbecue at a time, and see a whole heap of ribs or a great pile of shredded pork on a platter, not lots of dainty servings.
You can also order any barbecue sandwich-style, or get a decent grilled hamburger or a couple crusty smoked sausages, which resemble half-smokes. Dinner platters come with a leaden biscuit and good homemade-tasting potato salad or excellent french fried potatoes.
Desserts at the Barbecue Factory are pretty good, not great -- a fudgie brownie, cheesecake and pecan pie. Before you go, order some of your favorite barbecue to take home. We had great fun opening the refrigerator door the next morning, pretending to look for the orange juice and snatching fingerfuls of smoky chicken and pork.