Barbecue Country

14215-X Centreville Square



Hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: $2.95 to $13.95 (mostly $4 to $8)

Cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express

No separate nonsmoking area

George Hoffman has spent the better part of his adult life getting ready to run this barbecue restaurant.

Ever since he discovered the legendary Arthur Bryant's pit barbecue in Kansas City, Mo., 25 years ago, he's been experimenting and fine-tuning his cooking style in a succession of backyard barbecue pits. Finally, when he retired last year as an oil company sales manager, Hoffman and his wife, Mary, took the plunge and started smoking ribs for fun and profit.

A trip to their Barbecue Country can be a treat, if you know what to order and what to avoid. I'd make a wide detour, for example, around a couple of the side dishes, such as the mortar-like potato salad and the bland coleslaw that's heavy on the mayonnaise. On the other hand, the sweet and spicy chili and barbecue baked beans should not be missed. There's also a good corn muffin included with each platter.

The ambiance in this new, shopping-strip storefront is a far cry from Arthur Bryant's down-home, "it's been here for ever" look. But the lack of character does not discourage fans from lining up early in the dinner hour or, for that matter, as early as 9 a.m. when the doors open.

The main menu is in the form of a chalk board behind the counter where you place your order, and the star attractions are the meats, which in order of preference are chicken, turkey, ribs, sausage and beef brisket.

All the meats are handled with care; they are slowly smoked -- the pork ribs for an average of 10 hours -- and none of the meat is stored on a steam table, where the flavor could be lost. To maximize freshness, meats are diced or sliced for sandwiches as they are ordered, a good strategy except that the unrelenting sound of the cleaver hitting the chopping board was not music to my ears.

Mary Hoffman's sauce is not as thick as some, but the tangy-sweet mixture adds the right zip to the meaty pork ribs, which are a good deal at $7.95 for a half rack, and $13.95 for the full portion. It's also great on my favorites, the moist chicken and turkey, and even on the fennel-sparked sausage. But the sauce didn't quite rescue a lean but tough brisket.

There are a couple of combination sandwiches worth trying, such as pork with chicken, and pork with beef.

Beverages are limited to soft drinks and a few beers, including Lone Star.