Now come the latest changes: Sloppy Mama's, the old-school barbecue operation run by former high school history and philosophy teacher Joe Neuman, will take over the stall once occupied by the BBQ Joint in Union Market, a significant upgrade in the smoked-meat offerings at the trendy food hall. (BBQ Joint, incidentally, is in hardcore retraction mode, down to only one location in Easton, Md.) Neuman says the new outlet should improve his business in two important ways: He can afford to buy prime-grade briskets from Creekstone Farms, and his team can now smoke meats round the clock at Mess Hall, the culinary incubator in Brookland.
What does that really mean? It means fresher barbecue and higher-quality briskets.
It's a simple matter of supply and demand: At the start, Sloppy Mama's produced more meats in its 500-gallon smoker than the business could sell in a day, requiring the team to hold leftovers for a couple of days. “We're at a standpoint now … where we can move a whole load in a day, no problem. It won't take us two days or three days to move through a whole load,” Neuman says.
Neuman has no plans to stop selling barbecue at his other outlets, though there may be changes. He'll continue catering and operating the Sloppy Mama's food truck as usual, but he's thinking about retooling the menu at Solly's Tavern, where he hawks barbecue to patrons of the U Street watering hole. He's toying with the idea of scaling back the smoked meats and giving Solly's a taste of Sloppy Mama's original concept: handcrafted sausages.
Neuman's line of sausages includes a bratwurst, a sweet Italian link and a half-smoke. He's still tinkering with a hot Italian sausage that uses two Mexican peppers as its heat sources: “I'm kind of torn because the things I like that make it spicy aren't really Italian. So I'm like, 'Well, can I still call it an Italian sausage?'”
Don't start dreaming of those sausages just yet. Neuman doesn't plan to make any decisions about Solly's menu “until we are firing at Union Market for a couple of weeks.”
And when will Sloppy Mama's start selling brisket, ribs, pork, combo plates and sandwiches at Union Market (along with such grocery items as Sloppy Mama's pickles, pimento cheese, rubs and sauces)? Neuman can't say exactly. He and his pitmaster, Nick Giorno, the former chef at Steel Plate in Brookland, are ready to ramp up production, but Neuman says he's been playing the waiting game with the D.C. Department of Health.
But after days of delays and runaround, the department is now scheduled to inspect Sloppy Mama's Union Market space on Tuesday. Neuman hopes to be open late next week or early the following week.
Nothing, it seems, comes easy these days on the D.C. barbecue scene.
Sloppy Mama's will open soon at Union Market, 1309 Fifth St. NE.