BBQ Bus

I’ll get right down to it because I don’t want BBQ Bus to steal any more of my time than they already have. I ordered the 3-meat sampler platter to split with my husband: halfsmoke, turkey, and brisket. Of these three meats, two of them had an up-charge. Why do you even offer a three-meat sampler if you’re going to up-charge me? Also, extra cost for turkey? Do they charge more for making things un-delicious now?

Before I get to the real horrors of this lunch, I’ll speak briefly about the sauces. I sampled four because I was in a time-crunch and that was all I could find. The “Spicy” sauce was…not. Why you gotta lie, BBQ Bus? The Memphis-style was decidedly the most interesting, the smoky-sweet was fairly standard, and Teriyaki…what is this even doing here?

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Does this look like $22 worth of food to you? No? Maybe that’s because it wasn’t $22; all the extra charges made this $25! I actually checked the bag multiple times because I was sure they had forgotten something. How could this be lunch for two people?

You will see on the left side, from top to bottom: turkey (remarkably un-smoky, this totally came out of your grandma’s Thanksgiving leftovers), brisket (passed the pull-test but unflavorful and again, not smoky), and the halfsmoke (okay, do I really need to tell them that this sausage has the word “smoke” in its actual goddamn name? It was a bratwurst covered in BBQ sauce). The collards were cooked down but meh in flavor–not even bitter, just overcooked, and the mac and cheese was like…mac and flour or something. No cheese. Just mac, bechamel, and yellow number 5. Super blah. Then I got two pieces of “Texas toast” aka soggy bread. So I guess BBQ Bus really is charging more money for making terrible food now.

Listen, guys. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head and forcing you to make BBQ. If you can’t make it right, don’t do it.

Price: $25 per person. Yeah. This was still only one person’s amount of food.

Bottom line: I haven’t had great BBQ anywhere in DC except, notably, DCity, but everywhere else is better than the Bus.

Jackie Lee’s

Tipped off by a friend about the burgeoning Kennedy Street/Manor Park/Super-Sketchville food scene, we ventured out tonight to Jackie Lee’s. A quick note: when anyone talks about the burgeoning Kennedy Street food scene, what they mean is “we have one restaurant that isn’t a front for a money laundering scheme!” That one restaurant is Jackie Lee’s.

Walking up, I felt like we were about to check out Freddy’s place in House of Cards. If anyone dares challenge me on my assessment of Kennedy Street, tell me one other restaurant that is even open. Exactly. But walking in, the vibe definitely changed. Was it divey? Yes, but in a manufactured way. It was dark and vaguely smokey-smelling. A vending machine at the back was selling candy bars but giving away condoms for free. We were the only people in there without nose rings. White hipster parents bounced babies on their laps.

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We sat at the bar and ordered a couple of drinks. I got the Sweet and Spicy rickey because it was a very reasonable price. They have no beer taps but a huge bottle list that includes some actually good beers. My cocktail was everything I hoped: nothing super fancy, but solid, strong, and spicy.

We ordered some barbecue from the food menu. I had the smoked turkey with collard greens and some hush puppies to share. My husband got the brisket (no big surprise) and coleslaw.

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Hush puppies: crispy and sweet, and not overly greasy. They served them with spicy mayo that was not really spicy. The turkey was incredibly moist and very, very smokey. I don’t know how they got it this smokey. It was maybe slightly over-salted but I am willing to overlook that. The collards were tender and juicy.

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Pulled brisket is not the best way to eat brisket, but this was still solid. Very moist, but somehow blander than the turkey. The coleslaw was really crispy and peppery. When we finished these, we were still hungry. So we had to hang our heads in shame as we ordered yet another meat/side combination (this time the pork with a single corn muffin). Yet again, the pork was second to the turkey, but still moist and flavorful. The corn muffin was incredibly sweet. Jackie Lee’s gives only one barbecue sauce with their meals–a very molasses-y tomato-based sauce that paired well with everything but was not unique (nor, I’m guessing, house-made).

Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: Not life-changing barbecue by any means, but still pretty good! I would come here again for a cheap, easy, solid meal and drinks of a similar nature. Just make sure you order more than one meat and one side; they’re smaller than you think!

Ivy City Smokehouse

I was not expecting much when we walked up. I’d checked out the menu online and waffled about coming here. I’m a barbecue purist, and when I saw that their back room is set up as a club, I got skeptical. It sounded like a set-up for one of Stefan’s club recommendations on SNL: “If you’re looking to combine loud hip hop and lox, look no further than the Smokehouse club across from Fish Pro Wholesale…”

They quickly redeemed themselves by seating us on the gorgeous roof deck and we were met with probably too many good options. Fortunately, I narrowed it down by deciding to try only house-smoked foods. But first–drinks!

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Despite being served in plastic (an unforgivable offense given that this is not a frat party), my cucumber mojito was a perfect, refreshing mix of flavors and still liquor-y enough. It was everything you would want when you’re drinking something on the roof of a building on a Friday evening. The draft beers are 12 ounces but at $5-6 each, still a deal in DC.

For the appetizer, we ended up with the salmon candy board, one of the five options of house-smoked fish. I couldn’t be happier with this. The fish itself was sweet and smoky without being overpowering, although it didn’t pack the spicy punch I was promised. The chive cream cheese was perfect. Even the tartar sauce, usually my worst seafood nemesis, was inoffensive.

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For my meal, I had the mixed greens salad and paid a whopping $9 to add house-smoked rainbow trout. Now, I love salad, and I will pay $20 for a dinner salad while feeling only a little stupid about it, but you gotta deliver.

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And deliver they did. They had me at candied walnuts and pickled onion. Not only was the salad itself interesting, they did not cut corners in adding this fish which was only slightly less delicious than the salmon we had in the appetizer. It was smoky without being too dry, and definitely not over-salted. As you can see, there is basically an entire fish on here. I was extremely satisfied after eating this.

Now, on to the more important story, and for this we have to backtrack about five years. My husband once went on a business trip to New Orleans, and on his way to the airport he stopped in to a Jewish deli and ordered a Reuben. Now, if you’re like me (aka a normal person), you don’t exactly associate New Orleans with good Jewish delis, but that Reuben became the stuff of legends. Also, personally, I can’t even remember what I ate last week, let alone five years ago. I think it may be time to let go. For years he tried in vain to find an equivalent sandwich in DC (and in Chicago at an actual Jewish deli!) and was so let down that he eventually gave up and moped around. After much argument and pleading, I convinced him to try Ivy City Smokehouse’s Reuben-style pastrami sandwich. It was smoky, it was piled with meat, the bread was buttery, and it had Swiss cheese dripping off of it. And after polishing it off, my husband declared it both “the best Reuben in DC” and “the best Reuben I’ve had besides that one in New Orleans.” Here it is, in all its glory:

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Oh yeah, the fries and slaw were pretty good too. Just get this sandwich.

Service was a little slow, but you’re sitting on a roof deck, so what’s the hurry?

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Ivy City Smokehouse’s unique and delicious offerings of all kinds easily earn it a place at the top of my Favorites list.

Fat Pete’s

Fat Pete’s is a Christmas Eve tradition for us. Well, first getting wasted while painting pottery. Then Fat Pete’s. We weren’t able to go two weeks ago on account of vacation and we had to finish some painting projects this afternoon (beware the large serving plate and the perfectionist engineer husband), so I was excited to mozy over to Fat Pete’s afterward. By 7, I was starving.

We decided to share the 3-meat platter, which comes with two sides. We got sliced brisket, smoked turkey, and pulled pork with collard greens and mac and cheese. We didn’t get anything special to drink because 1) they don’t have particularly special beers, 2) We’d already had two bombers to drink at pottery, 3) I’ve had Fat Petes’ DC Hurricane before and only barely lived to tell the tale, and 4) You’re not here for the fancy drinks, you’re here to eat a goddamn pile o’ meat.

And then, we waited. And waited. And waited. All while the servers brought out tray after tray of smoky meats and fried friedness. Realistically, we probably didn’t wait that long, but it always feels like a long time at a BBQ place because your food is supposed to come immediately, and also when you need something in your belly besides alcohol. Finally, it arrived:

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The collards are soft, bitter, and smoky; nice oniony flavor. The cheese sauce on the mac is thick and creamy in an addictive way. The sliced brisket was hit-or-miss: I was happy because I prefer the drier pieces generally. It had a nice smoke ring and solid bark, but maybe could have used more seasoning on the outside. There were fattier pieces too, but my pit-master husband holds brisket to an unattainable standard, so he was slightly disappointed. The smoked turkey was…weird. Maybe I expect a drier texture from cooked turkey? It was moist and all, and not to the point of nasty slimy deli meat turkey, but sort of reminiscent of it? Perhaps this is my fault. If I didn’t want turkey, why did I order turkey? I don’t even like turkey.

The star was the pulled pork, which was moist and porky. Definitely more my speed. For my sauce review, I will say this: Fat Pete’s has variety. I do not recommend the white sauce which is basically just mayonnaise. Where are we, Minnesota? No, you’re better than that. The vinegar sauce is thin but fine if you’re a Carolina kind of person. The mustard sauce is strong and yummy; it was great on the brisket, although I don’t recommend it for the turkey unless you want a risk a PTSD flashback to your brown bag lunch from elementary school. The mop sauce is very savory and interesting, but not interesting in a way that made me crave more. You can’t go wrong with a suicide of their sweet sauce and spicy sauce, though. Throw some mustard in there if you’re feeling crazy. This is a great complement to all meats.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: I think Fat Pete’s tastes REALLY GOOD when you’re at least a 7/10 level drunk. You’re not? Then get your ass in the car and drive to DCity.

Kenny’s BBQ

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.

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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.

20171007_193650.jpgFrom 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.