The Canopy

1314 E. Gude Dr.

Rockville

340-0584

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Most items $4 to $5.

Credit cards: None.

Ask 10 of your friends what constitutes good barbecue and where to get it, and you'll get 10 different answers, all uttered with heartfelt conviction. Given the difference of opinion, no restaurant is going to be a universal favorite. But the Canopy is so good it probably will please nearly everyone.

It's not just the barbecue that hits the mark here -- most of the ancillary items, from the rolls to the coleslaw, are better than average. And most of the prices are remarkably low. This is not a fancy place -- the floors are bare and the cutlery is plastic -- but it's clean and comfortable. Besides, at these prices, you don't expect many amenities.

The menu is simple: sandwiches of sliced beef, ham or pork roast, all slow-cooked in a pit; shredded pork, beef and chicken barbecue sandwiches; and platters of ribs or chicken. The meat (including a house-made jerky) also is served by the pound. Everything is available for carry-out.

The pit-cooked meats are treated during the process with a vinegary barbecue sauce. A second sauce, ladled on just before serving, comes hot or mild. Both versions, tart and pungent, are excellent, with hints of brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce. Note that the mild version seems less sweet and better balanced than the hot. Note also that the sauce is applied too generously. So specify easy on the sauce with your platter, and ask for the sauce as a side dip with the sandwiches.

The beef and pork sandwiches are outstanding, with tender, succulent, beautifully flavored meat, served on remarkably good rolls. And the price is right: At $3.75, the medium beef sandwich is a mammoth portion. Another good buy is the chicken platter, half of a big bird for just $4.95. Faintly permeated with a pleasant smokiness, this is delicately flavored meat and nicely juicy -- even the breast is moist. The spareribs are first-class. They're meaty, nicely lean and cooked so the outside surface of the rib is crusty while the interior stays juicy. Oddly, the baby back ribs don't come off nearly so well: They lack crustiness and taste steamy.

Lots of barbecue places serve good meat and forget everything else. Not the Canopy. The french fries are superb, cooked in fresh oil and firm-textured yet tender. The potato salad and coleslaw, made in-house, are excellent. The potatoes in the salad have some bite, and there are bits of hard-boiled egg actually visible in the mixture. The slaw is crunchy and neither too wet nor too sweet. The baked beans are unusually good, with firm beans and a light, brown-sugary taste that's nicely sharpened with vinegar. The crab soup is a decent version, but sidestep the cheese soup, which has the taste and consistency of the dressing on a baked potato. There are a couple of good desserts here: a chunky, nut-studded carrot cake and a brownie-peanut butter pie, a classy takeoff on a Reese's Cup.