My husband and I used to liken Kenny’s BBQ on Maryland Avenue to Freddy’s place in House of Cards. It looked like some shady-ass political plotting was going on in there, or like you might need a tetanus shot just to enter. Despite my husband’s vaunted status as a brisket connoisseur, we had never been (we thought we had already found our usual BBQ spots). But when Kenny’s went through their recent makeover and their website advertised them as being under new ownership, we took the leap.
I have to say, it’s beautiful. Maybe too beautiful for a BBQ place, whose quality of food is usually inversely correlated with their physical attractiveness. The inside is even more so, with lots of kitschy knick-knacks and flowers on the tables (we wasted our time waiting for our food playing with an old typewriter and lamenting not having been born earlier). We also took this time to sample all of the sauces they offer and they were all great. The Kenny’s Mild was sweet and peppery, the Memphis had the great sweet-smoky flavor of traditional BBQ, Kenny’s Hot was a little thinner and not too spicy, and even the Carolina sauce was thick, savory, and not too vinegary. The Kansas City, on the other hand, was the perfect mix of tomato-y, molasses-y, spicy flavors, but despite its greatness, I continued to switch back and forth between all the sauces.
We decided to split the Kenny’s Invite-Only platter, which included three meats of our choice and three sides. They also have a decent selection of craft beers on tap and in cans. I got the Avery Liliko’i Kepolo, because I believe that there is no limit to how much passionfruit beer I can consume in one lifetime.
From top left, clockwise: brisket, pulled pork, Martin’s potato rolls, coleslaw, collard greens, mac and cheese, pork ribs.
First, let’s talk about the sides. The coleslaw was crunchy and creamy but needed more pepper. It was pretty bland. The mac was hot and cheesy but standard. However, and I feel weird getting starry-eyed over collard greens, these greens were so soft, so seasoned, so braised, so savory…I could eat this every day. This is what my collard greens want to be when they grow up. We were fighting over the last bite.
Now, the meats: we went for the ribs first because they tend to be both of our least favorite of the three. They were soft inside with a nice crust outside, and the meat mostly came off quite easily, although I would not call it “fall off the bone.” I mostly used the Carolina sauce on my rib, which added touch of flavor to what was otherwise fairly unflavorful meat.
Then, we started splitting up the mountain of pulled pork. For this reason alone, the $28 Invite-Only platter was worth it; a full 8 ounces of this pork. It was rich, soft, moist, and meaty, and the best part was that I could dip it in all of their delicious sauces, although I eventually came to favor the Kansas City more than the others.
We took a break from the pork to sample the brisket. This was sadly the most disappointing of the meats. It did have a pink smoke ring, but the bark was under-seasoned and lacked crunch. The fat distribution inside was uneven. Brisket should be fork-tender and melty-fatty, but this was merely plastic knife-tender and slightly globby-fatty.
Thankfully we had more pork, so we could end on a good note. I actually can’t say enough good things about that pulled pork, so long as it was drenched in sauce. We might be here all day, really. So for your benefit, I’ll just remind you that it was delicious and stop talking now.
Price: $20-25 per person
Bottom line: If the sauce is what makes the BBQ for you, Kenny’s is pretty okay. Every sauce is a standout, which is good because the sauce was necessary to give flavor to kind of meh meat. Just stick to the pork, don’t go anywhere near the brisket, get you some of those melty-ass collards, and gaze longingly at their many pictures of smiling, BBQ-eating Obama. Then go home and cry yourself to sleep because your collards will never be that good and Obama will never be our president again.