Let’s cut to the chase. Rocklands sells the best pork barbecue in the District of Columbia. And there it was, right under my nose for years. Rocklands is just a few miles away from us, in Glover Park, just north of Georgetown. I had tried Rocklands a couple of times when it first opened nearly 30 years ago. I didn’t think much of it. Things have changed in the last 30 years, of course, and I went to Rocklands recently after hearing that they cook exclusively with wood, that they serve True ‘Cue, as I can now certify.
Nancy and I strolled in and looked around. It’s a pleasant place. They have complimentary peanuts in the shell and, more impressive, on our visit Rocklands offered a smoked turkey and lots of turkey slices, gravy, and cranberry sauce there for customers to sample.
The peanuts are a permanent fixture, but I presume that the turkey was a holiday season promotion. The turkey was dry, as if it had been roasted, but it had that leathery skin you get by smoking turkey. Could it have been smoked and re-heated in the oven? There also were complimentary pumpkin muffins (nice) and jalapeño corn muffins (very nice).
Before we started nibbling on the freebies, Nancy and I ordered at the counter. (Those are bottles of hot sauces below the counter (for sale)).
Nancy and I ordered a three-meat platter (pork, brisket, chicken) to share, with baked apples, collards, and potato salad.
From right to left, that’s pork, then beef (under most of the sauce), and then chicken.
And here are the greens and potato salad —
The pork was easily the best of the meats, as it by rights should be. You don’t eat beef or chicken belly for breakfast, after all. The pork came with some sauce, but not much (most of the sauce was on the brisket), and I was able to take that first test bite taste (and many others) sauce-free. The pork was moist and mixed with tasty bits of outside meat. It had some smoke flavor. This is real barbecue, True ‘Cue.
Actually, all of the meats were tender, even the lean brisket. The brisket had been sliced thin and tossed in the Rocklands sauce, which tended to mask the beef flavor. The chicken was finished on the wood-fired grill, which gave it some caramelization. Nancy liked it. I need to get to the ribs at Rocklands, which I expect will be good: if you can cook good pork, good ribs are easy.
For sides, Nancy chose to order the baked apples. I would never have ordered baked apples. One bite of them, however, reminded me again that I had won the lottery in marrying her. The apples were excellent, sweet and tossed with cinnamon and, I’m thinking, some sugar and butter. You might think of it as a dessert, but were I come from, banana puddings listed as a vegetable.
And my choices were good, too. The collards were quite good, with bits of meat and a nice rich pot likker that, in the absence of cornbread for dunking, I drank when Nancy wasn’t looking. And I enjoyed the potato salad. The potato salad tasted like potatoes, and bits of parsley enhanced it. And it wasn’t overdressed. It’s a solid potato salad — not Nancy’s potato salad, which no one can match, but above average.
A word on the sauces. The Sweet and Smoky sauce, which is what you see on the meat (above), is more smoky than sweet, which is a plus, but, as I said, it does tend to dominate — to overwhelm the flavor of the meat. I tried the Spicy Mustard sauce, too, and it isn’t all that spicy. I think that both sauces will appeal to people who like sweet or mustardy sauces, but please ask them to use it sparingly. Neither is the vinegar and pepper sauce that I prefer. as regular readers know. On my next trip I will ask them to hold the sauce. Rocklands has an array of condiments for those of us who like to mix our own sauce in a pinch.
You could even mix up a white sauce. Oh, and Rocklands also has a goodies bar.
The onions and jalapeños are a great accompaniment to brisket, and they go well with everything else, too.
How do they produce such good pork? I spoke with the manager, Carlos Vincente, a very nice and energetic guy, the sort of person who puts out all sorts of complimentary food and, far more important, produces better pork barbecue than anyone else in DC. You may consider that damning with faint praise, but he’s my kind of guy.
He confirmed that Rocklands cooks only with oak logs and coals, and showed me the fires below both the big cooker (below) and the open grill. And he introduced me to Mario, the artist who cooks the big pieces of meat.
Mario is very open and accommodating, even when faced with nuisance interruptions from bloggers while he’s trying to work.
If you want pork barbecue in DC, go to Rocklands. Rocklands also has places in Arlington and Alexandria, and Carlos assures me that they, too, cook meat the way it should be cooked — exclusively over wood. And certainly the Washington location does it well. Hats off to Mario for that pork, and to Carlos who knows how to run a restaurant. They have a good menu, the prices are good by DC area standards, and they make real pork barbecue. Give it a try.
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