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The last time I visited Mr. P’s converted school bus in the back of a Safeway parking lot, the aging senior responsible for this mobile barbecue operation was nowhere to be found. Perhaps that’s not unusual for a 74-year-old pitmaster trying to quit the smoke business. But if I know anything about barbecue, it’s this: If the pitmaster is AWOL and his first lieutenant is nowhere in sight, either, you should get the hell out of there. I, however, decided to stick around, even though I couldn’t spot joint namesake Fate Pittman or his No. 1 apprentice, Victor “Preacher Man” Wilson, who apparently has taken a job at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It didn’t matter. Mr. P’s spareribs were as satisfying as ever, with just the right amount of smoke penetration, seasoning, and chew. I even sampled the chopped pork — not a common shoulder cut but a variety of hacked-up pork parts, the woman inside the bus told me — and it was sour, smoky, and slightly spicy. It’s not my preferred barbecue style, but I kept wolfing the stuff down anyway. The secret to a pleasurable Mr. P’s experience is simple: Unless you’re from Western North Carolina, like Pittman, or enjoy a ketchup-based sauce, eat the ribs straight-up, sans that sticky-sweet coating. Oh, and skip the sides altogether, with the exception of the collards.

Safeway parking lot, 514 Rhode Island Ave. NE, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays

Photo by Darrow Montgomery