City Paper is not for tourists
This is what passes for photography when your camera’s broke.
I was aimlessly roaming around Beltsville, looking for an interesting place to eat, when I spotted a vision by the side of the road: a portable barbecue stand with a black-metal pit expelling smoke into the air, a smell as irresistible as I imagine the sounds from the Isle of Sirens to be. Only two words came to mind when I discovered this accidental treasure: “Fuck ya!”
I immediately turned the vehicle around and pulled up behind Griffin’s Barbecue and Catering. (I still curse my broken digital camera, which I haven’t yet replaced; apologies for no pics. But call Griffin’s at either 301-785-4550 or 301-785-5026 for details.)
Griffin’s is a two-person operation, run by Shaquana Hamilton and Jeffrey Griffin, who pulled up stakes in Fort Wayne, Ind., to start life anew in the D.C. area. Back in Fort Wayne, Hamilton and Griffin had a restaurant; here, they just have their mobile vending trailer and their smoker, which date back 11 years when the pair first started in the barbecue business. They pulled their portable equipment out of the mothballs for their fresh start on the East Coast.
Griffin’s specializes in pork and beef ribs, but Griffin, the pitmaster, smokes his meats in a style he describes as Midwestern. Which to him means no hardwoods like hickory or oak. Instead, Griffin applies a secret rub to his ribs and smokes them over charcoal briquets. Once the ribs are pulled from the pit, he slathers them in a homemade vinegar-based sauce. Like K.C. barbecue, the sauce is not an option; it’s an essential part of the experience.
I ordered a half slab of spare ribs and two sides for $15. I asked Hamilton which sides to order, and she suggested the collards and baked beans. I took her recommendations and took my order back to the vehicle, where I opened up the Styrofoam container and discovered — well, ribs the color of coho salmon. These babies had been liberally sauced in a pinkish liquid until the meat was tinted the color of salmon fillets; more sauce was pooled at the bottom of the container.
This was going to be a make-or-break moment: If I liked the sauce, I’d like the ribs. There was no way on earth to sample one of these ribs without a sticky film of sauce clinging to it.
I didn’t like the sauce. I found it too sweet. In fact, I found it strangely like the florescent sweet-and-sour sauce at Chinese-American take-outs. The pork meat, however, was moist and tender, if lacking in the kind of lusty smokiness I prefer. I suspect these ribs are a true regional specialty that may be lost on my Lone Star State-nurtured palate, which prefers spicy, more savory flavors.
I wonder, though, how many Indiana natives would make a pilgrimage to Highway 1, near Ammendale Road, just to get a taste of Griffin’s ‘cue?
Much more to my liking is the spare, Central Texas-style of barbecue produced at Hill Country in New York City, which was founded by Bethesda native Marc Glosserman. Glosserman, according to the Post‘s Tom Sietsema, will be opening a Hill Country in Penn Quarter in July 2010. That’s a long time to wait for some damn fine ‘cue.
Last year, I made my own pilgrimage to New York to sample the meats at Hill Country, a smokehouse modeled after the famous Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas. Which means your meats are ordered by the pound, served on butcher paper with no sauce, and you better not fucking complain about it. Just kidding about that; folks are nice in Central Texas.
I certainly liked HC’s take on big-city ‘cue, which is not easy to produce, particularly in NYC. I had the pitmasters at Hill Country show me their smokers, which are these massive wood-and-gas-fired units that handle hundreds of pounds of ribs and brisket and chicken, all of which are shot through with smokey flavor (with the exception of the brisket, which I wished would have had even more smokiness).
Hill Country also serves Kreuz sausages, which, unlike many brands, are mostly beef. These are spicy, juicy, and meaty links, and if Hill Country in Penn Quarter decides to offer these beauties, too, the sausages alone will make the place worth a trip.
Good God, can someone please wake me when it’s July 2010?