GOOD BBQ ribs in Indian Head (long)
Spending time at my friend's cabin in Hollywood MD this past weekend, I decided to range a little further afield in my search for BBQ shacks.
I found a gem, I think. Dale's Smokehouse, 4645 Indian Head HWY in Indian Head, MD 20640. Phone is 301 743 6777. It's on the left (east or north at that point?) side of RT 210 (Indian Head Hwy) just a few blocks before the Naval Station gate.
I got the ribs, and I SCORED. These were wonderful ribs - moist, nicely "dry rub" crusted, lovely smoke ring, and "just out of the smoker" hot - no trace of heat lamps or microwaves on these. The other thing I liked was that they left it up to me to put on the sauce or not - there was no slather of sauce to hide mediocre ribs behind. The sauce was nothing special, but with these ribs, it didn't need to be. This was how the rib/sauce relationship is supposed to work - the sauce gently highlighting the star of the show, not covering up shortcomings.
To be fair, I think I lucked out. It may be that had I come at a different time, the ribs might have spent some time in a warming oven or under a heat lamp, or even being nuked to reheat - most places have to do such things in "rush" periods. But at around one o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, I got the real deal, the way it was meant to be. That hog did NOT die in vain!
I'd love to see a taste-off between Dale's and Andy Nelson's, with both products fresh out of the smoker. I think that Dale's would come away as at least a peer, if not a victor, and I don't make that statement lightly, being a HUGE fan of A.N.'s fare.
Dessert was a wonderful piece of blackberry pie. If this stuff came out of any bakery, I hope that the next time I'm in that area, there will be signs in the heavens to direct me to that bakery. It's sad that a simple fruit pie should seem so rare a treat, but this was pie the way that people used to bake them at home, before all the premade pie crusts, premade canned fillings and all the other trappings of quick and easy mediocrity took over our lives.
Please, folks, whether it's at Dale's or someplace else - go seek out a "made by hand" fruit pie, made from fruit that hasn't spent the last couple thousand miles in the back of a truck. You'll be glad you did.
I didn't try anything other than the ribs and the pie, so I can't speak to the quality of the other offerings, but if the things I had were any indication, I'd expect the quality to be similarly high. The attitude seems to be that if they can't do it right, they simply won't do it.
The only downsides I can see is that the menu is a bit more limited at Dale's than at some BBQ places - ribs, chicken, sliced beef or pork, and minced pork BBQ. Sides include Potato Salad, coleslaw, baked beans, sweet potatoes, green beans, and collard greens. No sign of pulled pork, or of different regional variant sauces. In some sense, this may be a blessing in disguise - focus on doing a small set of things well is no sin.
In starting out, I had intended to try several places, but after Dale's, I decided to quit while I was ahead on ribs (their "half slab" was a VERY generous portion) , but I still had a hankering for a pulled pork sandwich. I went back up the street to George's, another litte rib shack on the same side of the road. I pulled in, and while I did see a smoker and a woodpile, when I stepped inside, there was a weird olfactory experience awaiting.
It seems that in addition to BBQ, George's also does fried Whiting (AKA "lake trout" for those from Baltimore). Somehow the smell of fried fish and the smell of wood-smoked 'Q just don't mix no matter how much one may love both. The fish smell wins the battle, hands down, or should that be "fins down"?
Alas, no pulled pork here, either, so I was once again on my way. If anybody has a review of George's, I'd love to hear it - I don't want my walking away to be a black mark on their reputation, and I'd love to know if they are worth a return visit, whether for the 'Q, the fish, or both.
The last stop was around the corner on 225, down in a little hollow at the SW corner of the intersection of 225 and 224. There's a liquor store down there, and behind the liquor store is a BBQ pit. I went down, and again, the menu was pretty much ribs or chicken. The smell of the smoke, the look of the place, and the friendly (but serious about his BBQ) attitude of the pit boss (Fred King, phone number 301 399 9528) made it seem to this BBQ scout that this was another place where one might possibly find some righteous 'Q.
I believe there is another store-front BBQ/rib place further up 210, but I did not venture up there. If anybody has a name, address or a review, that would also add to the collective knowledge.
I guess my whole point in this is that there does seems to be a viable cluster of 'Q shacks down in the Indian Head area, and I don't recall seeing them mentioned in any Chowhound discussions. While they may be significantly "out of the way" for many on this board, for some folks, these might actually be closer than the places that normally get mentioned regularly. If that's the case for YOU, dear reader, please check these places out, and report back!
Great reconnaissance! I agree with you about the sauce issue... Unfortunately, even serious bbq places have gotten into the bad habit of pouring raw sauce over the bbq, so I always ask for it on the side. I regret it when I forget to ask.
Also, I agree that timing can be everything. Repeat visits to the same place can produce different results.
I've been meaning to post about a place down that way, I can't remember exactly where, but it's off 210 on the right as you head away from the bridge. There's a little spray-painted plywood sign, "RIBS" with an arrow and maybe an exit number. You go a couple of miles off of 210 and there it is, next to an old Elks Lodge or something, a half-screened plywood shed with a chimney. Worst ribs I ever had when I wasn't on an airplane. Maybe worse than the airplane ones. Obviously boiled and reheated on a grill. I mean. I cook good barbecue myself and this was one of those times when I bought a half-rack of ribs and I wanted to just take one look at it and throw it in the garbage untasted, just to see the look on the face of the charlatan that insulted me with this dreck. Some day I will do that.
Just curious - are you sure that was on 210? Your post sounds very much like the signage, directions to, and physical description of a place on the east side of 301, just over the Potomac River bridge as one comes into Maryland from NoVA on 301 (going toward La Plata). Note, I'm not saying agree entirley with the assessment of the ribs at that place (though I was not particularly fond of them, either - the sauce was the odd reddish-pink color of the "sweet and sour sauce in a bad Chinese restaurant, with similarly not-what-I-expect-on-ribs taste), just noting that it might be the same place.
If you really are meaning 210, and not 301, I presume that the bridge you mention is the Wilson bridge, with one presumably taking the 210 split off the beltway shortly after getting into Maryland. I've not been in that area, so I can't say - maybe there's another place there. I only comment because other than the 210/301 difference, it sounds suspiciously similar to that place just over the 301 bridge.
I thought so - the description seemed too accurate on too many details to be coincidence. There were really nice people running the place the times I've been there, but I'd definitely stick to the sandwiches (which were much better in my opinion) and pass on the ribs. But as always, BBQ is a "personal taste" thing, and what I don't like, others may love.
Was that Johnny Boy's on 301 ? This place gets rave reviews on this board as the best Q in the area and I've been aiming to go there. Let us know if that is the place. It is a little north of the bridge on NB side of 301. It is supposed to be set up with picnic tables. Hope it is some other place.
Johnny Boy's is right on 301, and is pretty good. When they're on their game, they're very good, and even when they're "off", in my opinion they are still pretty good.
The place being referred to in the previous posts is actually off of 301, but I don't remember what street it's on.
That said, if I was in that vicinity, I would probably go the extra distance to Dale's, unless you are like me and wish to try *every* rib shack in the area, just for completeness.
And as always, but especially with some items like ribs and pizza, your tastes may differ from mine.