You may think it is damning with faint praise, and it is, but the Federalist Pig is the best barbecue place in Washington. Note: that is based solely on their ribs. Stick with the ribs.
In a triumph of hope over experience, I went to try their barbecue with Doug Jacobson, the Kansas City Barbecue Maven and our Senior Roving Correspondent, and Doug’s father-in-law, Bob Klayman.
The Federalist Pig is situated on the eastern edge of the Adams Morgan commercial district, which is good. It actually is possible to find a parking space there if you go at the right time.
The Federalist Pig is popular. There was a line outside when we arrived. It moved pretty quickly. (The large object at the end of the line is me. Bob’s right in front of me.) There’s some seating inside, but it was a nice evening, and we took an outside table.
The Federalist Pig has an extensive menu. They serve half-pound portions of brisket, pork, pork belly, rib tips, turkey, chicken, wings, and by the rack or half rack, spare ribs. And they have some signature sandwiches (some skin with the pork, onion rings on the brisket, etc.) in addition to the predictable sandwiches. Take a look at their menu. They also have special sandwiches from time to time, including smoked bologna, a tofu bahn mi, and pastrami short ribs.
We ordered the brisket and a sausage with chipotle garlic green beans and macaroni and cheese;
and pork and pork rib tips with potato salad and slaw;
All were served with Texas Toast and home-made pickles and onion.
First, the good news. The ribs were pretty good. They were fairly tender and had some smoke taste. I would eat them again if I needed some barbecue in a hurry here in DC. And the chipotle garlic green beans were quite good, despite the absence of any pork in the cooking, as was the buttery Texas Toast which comes with just about everything.
Things went downhill after the ribs. The sausage was pretty good, but sausage usually ranges from not bad to sensational, so they don’t get many points for that. The rib tips had some flavor, being essentially all outside meat, but they were very tough. The brisket was very fatty. The Kansas City Barbecue Maven pronounced it “horrible.” It would be more charitable to say it was very fatty and tasted like a mediocre pot roast. I don’t even want to talk about the pork.
The cole slaw was okay, as was the macaroni and cheese. The potato salad had a mustard taste, and seemed to be a German style, but vegetarian-friendly. (All of the sides are vegetarian. It’s that sort of neighborhood.) Not bad. They have a variety of sauces, none of which add much. The Carolina style was light on the vinegar and lighter on the taste. How hard is it to put red and black pepper and vinegar into a bottle?
But their ribs are the best barbecue dish in the DC area, and they are worth eating. The secret (drum roll) is that they actually pay attention to the meat during cooking. DC barbecue typically is cooked in a box on the crock pot system: put the meat in the box, push some buttons, and come back later. Rob Sonderman, the pit guy at the Federalist Pig, pays attention. He’s working within the considerable limitations of a Southern Pride Smoker, but that attention makes a difference, and gets him the gold star.
If you need some barbecue in DC and I’m not cooking, go to the Federalist Pig and order the ribs. And order before 8:00 p.m. They run out pretty often, usually about 8:45 or 9:00.