We went over to Annapolis to spend a Friday night with Sue and David Boyd, Michael’s parents and our, or Ella’s, co-grandparents, and to try out the Smokehouse, a barbecue place that also has live music on Fridays.
The Smokehouse has a sports bar ambience, with lots of televisions. I got excited when I saw a card on the table advertising dollar oysters on Friday nights. As it turned out, they had sold out of the measly 30 dozen they had ordered. That was both a disappointment (I didn’t get any oysters) and a harbinger: any place that only orders 30 dozen oysters for a happy hour has some skills missing.
Undaunted, we set about ordering. David started us off with a Korean barbecue quesadilla, which he graciously shared with me, and Nancy and Sue each ordered salads. The salads were nice and fresh. The quesadilla was good — interesting and very tasty.
Feeling duty-bound to try everything, I ordered a three-meat plate with brisket, pork, and ribs, with greens and fried corn. The place was pretty dark, and I took the picture with a flash.
David and Sue wisely shared a la carte orders of pork and ribs, which they divided onto separate plates. Here’s one of the plates. As you can see, they ordered greens.
Nancy ordered the smoked chicken with brussels sprouts and green beans.
I ordered way too much food, but I avoided overeating because much of it wasn’t very good. On the bright side, the pork wasn’t bad. It had a touch of actual smoky flavor, and the Smokehouse’s tangy white sauce helped to moisten it and to bring out the pork flavor. We all agreed that the pork is safe to order. (Besides the good white sauce, the Smokehouse also has a too sweet mustard sauce, a too sweet unlabeled (Memphis?) sauce, and a Kansas City sauce sweet enough to send a passer-by into a diabetic coma.) And Nancy’s chicken was not bad at all. It was not dried out and it had been well seasoned.
The brisket, on the other hand, was as dry as I’ve ever seen, and as bereft of flavor as moisture. One bite was enough. Actually, one look was enough, but I took a bite anyway. What I do for my muse. The ribs were promisingly tender in the center, but the edges had been heat-tempered roughly to the firmness of a baseball bat. The flavor of the edible portions was obscured by an ultra-sweet sauce that the Smokehouse had slathered on with enthusiasm.
The sides had some pluses and minuses. On the minus side the brussels sprouts and string beans had been overcooked a bit, but the beans had an interesting spice mixture and were tasty. Being from the South, I don’t value crispness in vegetables as much as some folks, and I liked them.
On the plus side, I really liked the greens. They were good, honest collard greens, cooked with pork. I had ordered some cornbread to go with them. The cornbread actually wasn’t cornbread but a wheat bread with a little corn meal. It tasted okay — after all, it was bread — but it fell short as a vehicle for the pot likker.
The fried corn was a surprise. Since they were on the same menu as greens and since we weren’t at a state fair, I blithely assumed they would be Southern style corn off the cob fried/creamed in a cast iron skillet. Silly me. It was two half-cobs of corn that had been breaded and deep fried. Here they are, larger than life.
I was kicking myself for ordering it until, after moping a while, I decided to try it. It was delicious. The corn was very fresh, obviously local, and, unlike each and every bit of restaurant corn on the cob I have ever eaten, it had not been overcooked. And the breading was very light and properly seasoned: someone in that kitchen really knows what they’re doing. The fried corn was a star. If you go there, get the corn.
We had come for the music as well as the food. The band was late getting started. When they did get going, they opened with, of all things, a Neil Young song. In a barbecue place! Not blues. Not country. Not Motown. Where were they raised? Actually, it was hard to tell what they were playing because the drummer banged away on his drums so fiercely that you couldn’t hear much else. Their second song was a Paul McCartney song from his Wings period. (Years ago — a good 20 years — I was walking down the street behind some teenagers and overheard one say, “Did you know Paul McCartney was in another group before Wings?” Honest.) By the end of the second song, we felt drummed out, and headed home.
But really, it was a great evening. We enjoy being with the Boyds. They’re really interesting and fun people. When two people get married, there’s always talk about uniting two families. Usually, that’s just talk. Recently I’ve heard a couple of sad stories of in-law friction. We’re lucky. There’s no jockeying about where the kids will spend holidays. We all get together and enjoy each other. And I was struck, later, by the fact that we had gotten together without Michael and Liza and Ella. I wonder how often that happens with co-grandparents.
Even with some disappointing barbecue, my life is a series of blessings.