This past weekend was gloriously devoid of an agenda. My house-spouse XFE took care of most of the errands when he got back on Friday, so there was very little running around. Only one brief trip to Home Depot, which is pretty unusual since we moved into the house. I’m pretty sure that if we hadn’t at least stopped by, the folks at HD would have sent out a search party and plastered Missing posters over the greater Northern Virginia area.
We spent Saturday poking around places like TJ Maxx, Homegoods, and World Market looking for decorative items and pillows. We’re not really knickknack people. We don’t collect things. This, however, poses a slight problem when you have multiple large flat surfaces to decorate. Thus, the trip to Homegoods, et. al. We mostly came up empty, except for these very cheerful striped pillows to classy up our plastic Adirondack chairs.
My personal interior decorator XFE did order these gorgeous mercury glass candle holders from Gilt. I have a candle addiction (no, seriously. I have a stockpile. And I have a blaze going pretty much every night.), so these are perfect for the house. They came in Monday and will definitely fill some surfaces.
Personal chef XFE did a pretty good job of keeping my weight up this weekend by visiting his favorite man in the whole world, Steve the Butcher at Let’s Meat on the Avenue. The result was burgers with thick cuts of bacon, avocado, and cheddar and sriracha spiked mayo on Saturday.
Those burgers fueled my 3.87 mile run on Sunday (nope. Couldn’t make it one more time around the block for an even 4.) I started pretty late (around 9 am) and just about died.
Not really sure why I started my run so late. Oh yeah. Because this is the forlorn little cat face I have to tear myself away from when I go for a run. She sits at the top of the stairs and just watches me walking away from her.
After the minor heat stroke, I stayed inside the rest of the day, which suited my borderline agoraphobic/misanthrope personality.
We closed out the weekend with the inaugural Big Green Egg effort at the new house. Ribs, pork and beef, and corn on the cob. After dinner we sat on our cheap plastic chairs, lit some outdoor candles (I told you I have a problem), and finished off an Austrian red wine, called, I think, zweigelt (??).
I know there were other things going on Sunday night, including the closing ceremonies for the Olympics. I was fine with missing out on that until I found out that this awesomeness happened. That Kate Moss sure knows how to bring the fierceness.
Now that the Olympics are over, I understand there’s discussion of future events to add to the Olympics. One of the main contenders is pole dancing. Which brings us to this.
It’s a boiling hot Thursday afternoon. I’m wearing a white t-shirt (under a cardigan, so it’s subzero work appropriate). And I need lunch.
So it makes sense that I stopped by the BBQ Bus food truck.
It wasn’t meant to happen like this. I had a dentist appointment at noon, after which I planned on swinging by my favorite deli on the 4-block walk back to the office to grab a salad.
But I was engrossed in a writing assignment at work and totally blew through my dentist appointment. Fifteen minutes past the scheduled appointment time, I called to try to convince them to take me in anyway, but no dice.
So again, what better way to celebrate not getting one’s teeth cleaned than by eating stringy meats guaranteed to get caught in one’s teeth?
It was shortly after 1 pm when I trudged out to Farragut Square. But, since it was so late, a lot of the trucks didn’t have lines. I have seen lines in front of the little yellow BBQ Bus before, so I took this as a golden opportunity to try it without the long wait.
The menu was actually pretty impressive. They had all kinds of plates, sandwiches, meat by the pound, and sides. Some of the sides sounded divine, such as black bean and corn salad, potato salad, and on this particular day, fresh watermelon.
I ordered the BBQ Bus sampler ($9.50), which included pulled pork, chicken and brisket, beans, cole slaw and a roll. I had them add on a quarter rack of ribs for $5 more.
They had an official cash register and took credit cards, which is a plus. The drink selection was pretty standard: coke, diet coke, sprite, water.
The food came right out and I perused the sauce options, carefully reading the detailed descriptions. Finally, I just asked, “Do y’all have anything close to a Texas BBQ sauce?” The answer, “We don’t have Texas BBQ sauce, but the closest would be sauce #5, which is smoky and sweet.” It was described as “our tribute to Missouri” and also won an honorable mention at the 2011 Safeway National Capital BBQ Battle. I put some of that in one corner, and some of the sauce #24 –“a tangy sauce with a KICK”– in another corner.
But I was still annoyed at the lack of Texas sauce. How are you going to sell brisket and not have a Texas sauce??
I also noticed that they didn’t have any knives, only forks, which I thought was supremely confident on their part. You mean to tell me your meat is so tender, I’m not going to have any trouble cutting it with just a fork?
All my annoyances and raised eyebrows were soon sated, however, when the charming cashier handed me a wax paper baggie with two warm chocolate chunk cookies in it. “We want to show our customers we appreciate them, so we’re giving out free cookies today,” he said. Alarm bells went off immediately. “Why would you do that?,” I asked. “What do you mean,” he responded. “Well, if you’re giving cookies away, is that a cover for something else? Like, maybe you’re trying to butter me up because you know the food won’t be good?,” I queried. After assurances that there were no ulterior motives afoot, I warily shifted my hot plastic container of meat to my other hand and accepted the cookies.
I walked the three minutes back to my office, making sure to close my office door so no hapless co-workers would have to witness the carnivore carnage about to commence.
I started with the spicy chicken, which was really good. Moist, spicy, tender and already off the bone – a very good start. I know chicken can be notoriously difficult and dried out from the grill, so I was impressed.
I moved on to the pulled pork, which was also very, very good. It had a bit of smokiness, but probably could have used more. It paired the best with the #24 sauce, which was waaaay more than tangy. It was downright vinegary. I didn’t care for it that much, but when paired with the pork, it worked.
The brisket was just ok, but to be fair, I’m a super harsh judge on brisket (we make the best brisket at home on the Big Green Egg). It definitely could have used a thicker crust, but I like a lot of crust on my BBQ. The fact that they had it at all gave them some points in my eyes, and they included a nice fatty piece, which is where all the smoke is at. The #5 sauce was very good with it.
The ribs were a very mixed bag: they were definitely smoked tender and the meat crumbled under my fingers when I was just trying to pick it up. They were pork, obviously, since you can’t hardly get a beef rib in this area. The meat was really good and easy to eat, but this brown molasses-type sauce they slathered all over the top just killed it. It was too sweet and syrupy.
The sides were a mixed bag as well. The beans were horrendous. Overcooked and sickly sweet as well. Eating a spoonful of those right after the ribs could plunge you into a diabetic coma. The slaw was much better, a nice cool, crunchy accompaniment to all that meat, and you could see the little specks of celery seed in their homemade vinaigrette.
The roll was the worst. We won’t even talk about it, except to say store bought and totally soggy by the time I got back to the office.
But the cookies? The cookies were where it was at! They were amazing. I meant to only eat one and give the other one away, but I could not control myself. All that was missing was a glass of milk, but somehow, I made it through and scarfed down both of them.
So overall, decent BBQ, good portions, pretty good price (as far as food trucks go), and obviously, convenient. There aren’t any BBQ places near Farragut Square, so it’s nice to be able to get that.
On the negatives: I would have liked the option of picking my sides, but honestly, I probably would have picked beans and slaw in any case. It’s just nice to have the option. Also: They should ditch the rolls, and the rib sauce. And keep handing out those free cookies.
(Oh, and I somehow managed to keep my white t-shirt relatively clean, despite everything.)
I had really crappy barbecue the other night. I wish I could say it was an accident. I can definitely say it was a mistake and I should have known better.
I may not an expert at barbecue, but I’m not exactly an amateur either. I am from Texas, so I know good barbecue. My Pitmaster Extraordinaire XFE and I do our homework. We go back to Texas at least once a year and gorge ourselves. I’ve got sauce-covered clothes to show for our last trip.
What I’m saying is, we know the difference between hickory and mesquite smoke. We know our way around a Big Green Egg. No party at our house is complete without a couple of briskets. We’ve spit roasted a whole pig, for crying out loud!!!!
Fine barbecue is kind of a passion around the PoeLog household.
And of course, I know that you cannot get decent barbecue in DC and Northern Virginia. I know this. I know from experience. They use vinegar-based sauce up here, for grill’s sake.
But, I was lured into a false sense of hope. I recently went to lunch at Hill Country BBQ here in DC (a second outpost of the popular New York eatery) and well, I did not hate it. There were things I hated about it, sure, such as the stupid ordering and paying system, and they had the worst pickles I’ve ever encountered, and the side dishes were suspiciously fancy, but the meat? The meat was pretty good.
Plus, XFE was out of town. So I figured, if I was ever going to try Pork Barrel BBQ, it would be a good time to go.
XFE and I met the Pork Barrel boys a couple of years ago at a Beer, Bourbon and BBQ festival about three years ago. They were hawking their meat rub. We stopped and tasted and it was pretty good. They told us their story about how they both had worked up on the Hill and were turning a hobby into an occupation. It was a pretty neat story. We bought some rub, wished them luck and went in search of bourbon.
We saw them mentioned a few more times over the years: they were apparently on that show Shark Tank and got some seed funding. They put out a cologne called Que. Pretty funny.
Then, we heard that they were opening a restaurant. Uh-oh, we thought. Just because you make a decent rub doesn’t mean you know jack about smoking meat. It took them more than two years to finally open their restaurant, and when they did, it was in our neck of the woods, not far from our house.
We’d driven past a few times and it looked fancy. But it’s in a residential neighborhood, which means no smoker. Big warning sign.
Nevertheless, since last week was Meat Week here in the DC Metro region (don’t even get me started on how sad it is that there’s only a week to celebrate meat. Why not Meat Month??), which means that local barbecue places were having specials. So, Running Buddy Amy (now to be renamed Eating Buddy Amy, because, let’s be honest. Neither one of us has been running much, and certainly not together these days.) and her fiancé Leland picked me up and we went down to Pork Barrel.
The place was mobbed! We were there around 8:30 or so on a Tuesday night, but as I mentioned, it was Meat Week. I don’t know if they’re normally that busy. The main problem with the place is immediately evident – the bar area is huge. More than half the space is bar focused. So, I guess what it’s trying to be is a neighborhood bar where you buy some barbecue on your way out.
They have a sort of catering kitchen/expediting area at the back of the place where they are packing up orders (no sign of where the food is coming from), and then about seven or so booths/tables for those who stay in – no table service. If you want something, like a beer from the bar, you have to navigate through the long line waiting to order food and get your drinks at the bar.
We got the meat sampler, which was $21.95 and included brisket, Texas sausage, ribs, pulled pork, chicken and two sides. Tons of food, but no bread, no pickles. Weird.
Again, the sides were really fancy, including “monster” mac and cheese, skin on potato salad, redneck ratatouille, collard greens, and the like. They had a lot of things labeled “gluten free,” which is good for my delicate Eating Buddy Amy. She can’t even look at gluten, poor thing.
As I was ordering, I was told they were out of sausage but they’d substitute in another side. Now, a side dish is no substitute for meat, but whatever. I ordered the sampler plate with potato salad, mac and cheese and bbq beans.
It took a while for them to call our numbers. They were quite busy and seemed a bit overwhelmed. We got our BBQ sauces (sweet, regular and mustard), got our drinks and stalked some poor people until they finally gave us their booth.
Those people should have been slower. The food was horrible. The meat was so, so dry – especially the brisket. The ribs were inedible – charcoal black. I literally took one bite and threw the rest out. The pulled pork was not dried out, but totally flavorless. The chicken was the one highlight, but that’s not really a ringing endorsement. Oh, and there was a sausage in my bag. A dry, overcooked sausage.
Without tons of the very good BBQ sauce, you really couldn’t choke anything down. They just seemed to have rushed the cooking on everything and as a result everything was bone dry. It’s impossible for me to believe that these guys are going slow and low on anything. They can’t possibly be basting either.
The sides weren’t much better. I did not get my beans. Instead I got some collard greens. The mac and cheese had good flavor with cumin and jalepeno spicing it up, but it was watery and bland. Yes, mac and cheese with jalepenos was bland. I will say the potato salad was very good – creamy and tangy. Amy went TO TOWN on the collard greens, so they must have been pretty good.
It was all pretty disappointing, but I can’t say I’m surprised. I definitely won’t be returning or recommending that anyone else go there. Just buy the sauce online.
Also: Eating Buddy Amy wasn’t feeling too well the next day. She suspects gluten contamination. I suspect just bad barbecue.
Listen, I get that it’s hard to make large amounts of barbecue and have it all be consistently good. So maybe you just focus on one or two meats and perfect that? Let the fancy sides slide. There must be ways to salvage this place.
Thank the grill gods that XFE made ribs tonight for Super Bowl Sunday. Tons, and tons of delicious, smoky, made-with-love-and-patience ribs. That fell right off the bone, but not because they’d been charred into oblivious.
Those Pork Barrel guys are nice and all, but they should leave the barbecueing to real pitmasters, like XFE.