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 is chopped into small bits and anointed with the restaurant's own sauce and 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.
Elvis has not left the building at Old Glory All-American Bar-B-Que in Georgetown. He's presiding over the downstairs dining room, and his bust adorns the bar. And, of course, that is the tail end of a 1959 Chevy Impala impaled over the front door.
Despite the theme-park atmosphere, the pulled pork ($11.95 a pound) would make Elvis proud. The large shreds of meat are moist and juicy and nicely pink. The conundrum is what sauce to choose: Memphis or Savannah, Carolina or Kansas City, etc., etc. One thing is for certain: You'll need more than the thimble-size amount provided of each.
The ribs ($19.95 a rack) are basted with the not-too-sweet Memphis sauce, but they are cooked too long; the meat falls off the bone. At least they aren't mush, and they taste pretty good. The slaw -- shreds of green cabbage, red onion, carrot and parsley -- is lightly dressed with a creamy rather than savory sauce. The potatoes for the salad are overcooked, too, and dill pickle -- yes, dill pickle -- is the main accent.
Old Glory All-American Bar-B-Que, 3139 M St., NW, 202-337-3406, www.oldglorybbq.com.
Capital Q Texan BBQ aims to glorify the Lone Star state's way of barbecuing with its offerings of beef brisket and Texas sausage. Nevertheless, the tiny storefront near Chinatown cooks up some mighty good pulled pork ($10 a pound). The large slices/shreds are lean and tender, with a smoky flavor enhanced by a hot but flavorful sauce. The meat is uniformly gray in color, instead of smoky pink, but the taste is clean and lean.
The ribs ($22 a rack) have a nice pink hue, but here, too, they are overcooked -- actually way overcooked -- to a point past dry and cardboard-like. Even the great sauce can't rescue this cowboy.
The coleslaw is best described as roughage with a soupy, slightly vinegary undertone. The potato salad -- well-cooked chunks of red potato with red onion, pickle and a touch of mustard -- needs salt and pepper to perk it up.
Capital Q Texan BBQ, www.capitalqbbq.com, 707 H St., NW, 202-347-8396.
Kenny's BBQ Smokehouse looks like my kind of barbecue place, at least for the middle of the city. It has a wooden screen door (though it's air-conditioned, and the solid glass door obviates the need for the screen) and some picnic/bistro tables on the sidewalk outside. But it doesn't smell of barbecue, inside or out. This is the original location of the Hogs on the Hill chain and it is operated by that chain's founder. But the thrill is mostly gone.
I ordered sliced pork barbecue($9.95 a platter), figuring it was closer to pulled than the minced, and what I got looked and tasted like smoked pork loin, cut into half-inch slices. Not even the Carolina-style sauce (vinegar with red pepper flakes) could make it even an imitation of pulled pork.
The ribs ($18.95), pink and juicy, tasted more like ham or bacon than the ribs I prefer, and their sauce was very sweet and fruity.
The chopped coleslaw was bland, as was the too-soft potato salad that was heavy on sweet pickle.
Kenny's BBQ Smokehouse, 732 Maryland Ave. NE (at Eighth Street), 202-547-4553.