Monday, September 6, 2010

Red Hot Heartbreak (Elliot's Adventures in Mid-Atlantic Barbecue: Vol. I)

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a Kansan. Aside from a mild inferiority complex and an adoration of everything midwestern, this distinction usually only lends itself to one thing: I know my barbecue. I know all the rules: I know how smoked brisket ought to look; I know how ribs should fall off the bone; I know the merits of dry versus wet-age preparation; I know sauce; I know that serving barbecue with any bread other than plain old white is blasphemous.

Why point this out? Because knowing what I do also means that I know what is not barbecue. The charlatans and impostors are all visible to me from well over a mile away. So when a friend suggested recently that we dine at Red Hot & Blue for dinner one night, I was immediately dubious. And over the course of our evening, it broke almost every rule. The first was simply part of the restaurant's nature. Rule one: no chains. Multiple locations within the same city are fine; that's about serving to a greater demand. But national chains? No dice. But still, I said yes. I was really aching for ribs and didn't have the ability to drive to any of the out-of-the-way spots.

When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was the decor. Gaudy colors, blues posters and the like were everywhere. Rule two: a real barbecue joint doesn't need to prove to anyone it's a barbecue joint because it is a barbecue joint. I know this probably seems like a very Zen-like way to look at things, but it's true. Had the Red Hot & Blue crew spent more time on their menu instead of finding the brightest colors of paint and the most "legit-looking" blues posters, things might have turned out much better.

Up first, we ordered onion straws. Not much the most traditional barbecue side, but we went with it. What arrived was a block of what could have been onions... once. It was overly fried and completely flavorless. Rule three: sides are meant to compliment the barbecue eating experience by providing alternate flavors and textures. This dish had neither flavor nor texture. Shuddering and praying for a miracle, I threw a Hail Mary and ordered the dry ribs.

What arrived was an absolute atrocity. Rule three: quality dry rub adds depth of flavor to the meet, but it also brings out the meat's natural flavors so that you know you're eating beef, pork, lamb, etc. This slab was completely coated, covered in a red powder that I can only guess was unadulterated cayenne pepper. I say that I can only guess because the only thing I could taste was pure heat. Not the meat. Not the other seasonings in the rub (if there were any). Only heat. My meal was over, a complete travesty. And I only had myself to blame.

I knew these rules. I knew these rules and did not follow them. So the next time I'm feeling the pull of true barbecue - and it's quite possible that I've been itching since I even left Red Hot & Blue - I'll have to spring for the extra money to drive to a legit establishment. Maybe I'm elitist. Maybe I'm too picky. But the real stuff is so good that I can't possibly care. There are more rules that I'll address in future posts (like the different schools of barbecue thought), but for this first excursion, it was all about the basics.

If you can, help a brother out. Let me know where I can get the good stuff. For now, I remain in withdrawal.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! I loved this entry - very funny. I wish I could suggest a delicious and legit BBQ joint around DC...but I don't know any I would recommend... Love your blog!