District of Columbia
Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Co. has been a hit since it first opened its doors in Glover Park in 1990. The storefront has about a dozen seats, a wooden screen door and a big bowl of peanuts on the lone table -- a little diversion for the hordes waiting to place or pick up an order. It's got all the hokey signs that people think southern barbecue places are supposed to have and a wall of hot sauces for the truly brave.
Real wood burns behind the grill where the meats get their finishing shot of heat. The pulled pork ($8.99 a pound), chopped into small bits and anointed with the restaurant's own sauce, is worth all the attention it gets. Smoke permeates the meat, enhancing the flavor without drying it out. The sauce has a good, spicy taste.
But other items have been a disappointment on recent visits. The ribs were fatty and overcooked, and the Rocklands versions of coleslaw and potato salad were almost inedible. The coleslaw is chunks of cabbage and carrots and peas. Don't bother. Ditto for the potato salad, sliced red potatoes that were entirely bland.
Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Co., 2418 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-333-2558; 4000 Fairfax Dr., Arlington, 703-528-9663; 25 S. Quaker Lane, Alexandria, 703-778-9663; www.rocklands.com.
The Rib Pit is the real thing. A wood-fired smoker built of white glazed brick dominates this tiny carryout on 14th Street NW, in Petworth. The immediate neighborhood looks a bit rough, and a bulletproof partition separates employees from customers. But these are perhaps the best ribs ($16.90 a slab) to be found in the District. The meat is a dark pink from long smoking, but the smoky flavor isn't overwhelming. Still, the meat is dry and overcooked, though not to the mushy stage. The ribs are helped considerably by the great tomato-based sauce that has just enough fire to keep things balanced.
The pulled pork (sold only as sandwiches at $4.65 each) is better, chopped into chunks and moistened with the same tangy sauce, which nicely complements the sweetness of the meat. The coleslaw is finely chopped and very white, with just a bit of carrot and sweet pickle among the pale, pale cabbage. It's dull but not offensive. Much the same can be said about the potato salad. It lacks excitement, the heavy presence of pickle notwithstanding.
The Rib Pit, 3903 14th St. NW (at Randolph Street), 202-829-9747.