Sloppy Mama’s is the best barbecue place in the Washington area — at least in the DC-Virginia part of the area. I’m hedging because there are a couple of new all-wood barbecue places in Maryland that I haven’t tried. so stay tuned. I’m keeping my powder dry, but Sloppy Mama’s owns the DC-Virginia crown.
I went to Sloppy Mama’s as part of my continuing efforts on behalf of the Campaign for Real Barbecue to identify and publicize barbecue places in the Washington area that cook with wood and wood only: True ‘Cue. Thus, over the river and through the traffic to Sloppy Mama’s we went. It’s a relatively new place. Joe and Mandy Neuman made the shift from a food truck to a permanent location in 2018. Sloppy Mama’s was listed on the reliably unreliable Washington Post 10 Best list in 2019, but it also got some good reviews on Chowhound, including from the highly reliable Mississippi Snopes.
By the way, never trust a Washington Post food review. The Post managed to recommend the only two places in Paris where I’ve had a bad meal.
Sloppy Mama’s is a ways down Lee Highway, a busy thoroughfare that offers a tour of boxy 1970s office buildings intermixed with 1950s commercial architecture. It’s not the most prepossessing drive, but it was pleasant on a quiet pre-Christmas day, and real beauty emerged when we approached Sloppy Mama’s.
Feast your eyes — four cookers, lots of wood (oak), and that bewitching smoke, a combination that makes even a former Pizza Hut alluring.
Once inside, it’s a pleasant place, just rustic enough. You order your choice of meat(s), then your sides and drinks, and you pay. You take your tray to a table, with a side trip to the sauces bar. There’s a sauce for every taste. I tried some of each on bread, and found each well spiced, with the usual lean toward sweetness. My favorite was the Alabama White, which had the most vinegar and the least sugar. Your views may differ.
Nancy ordered a quarter pound of the brisket with potato salad and cole slaw.
As you can see, it came with home-made pickles, and it could have come with bread, but she refused it.
I ordered a quarter pound of pork and some ribs, a sausage, and some collards and macaroni and cheese. And I accepted the bread.
First, there’s something important you need to know. Joe Neuman is very, very serious about barbecue — real barbecue, not the faux barbecue that dominates this area. This is emphatically True “Cue. He is a great believer in cooking with wood and wood only: no gas or electric back-up, no electric rotisserie, just wood, heat, and smoke. He’s also serious about serving the meat properly. At Sloppy Mama’s, they slice the brisket and chop the pork right in front of you. Every serving is fresh-cut. And while most places around here pour on sauce to hide their mistakes before serving the meat, Sloppy Mama’s serves it up neat, and lets you add as much or as little of whatever sauce you might like. The meat stands on its own.
And it stands tall. The pork was very good, tender and moist with that light smoke flavor that oak imparts. This is the best pork barbecue in the Washington area, and the star of Sloppy Mama’s. The pork is good enough that it didn’t need any sauce.
The ribs also were good, tender but with some resistance — the al dente texture that reassures you that you’re eating meat. The ribs tasted of pork and smoke, and a highly seasoned crust. The sausage was very flavorful, as a sausage should be, and had a nice snap.
Nancy liked her brisket, and for good reason: it tasted good. The brisket was from the lean end. but it was tender and had a real barbecue taste. As ever with the lean end, it benefited from some sauce. Nancy chose the Alabama White sauce, and really enjoyed her meal. Washington barbecue places typically seem to cook briskets that don’t include the thick, moist end, based on what I’ve received after asking for “moist” brisket. Hats off to Sloppy Mama’s for having the moist end available for those who ask for it.
The sides were good, and the servings were large enough for two people to share. We did share Nancy’s slaw (crunchy and not overdressed) and her potato salad (potatoes maybe a tiny bit over-cooked, but spruced up nicely with some actual celery and spring onions.) Nancy doesn’t care for greens or macaroni and cheese, so we didn’t share my sides. The greens were good, studded with meat and enhanced by vinegar, and the macaroni and cheese was outstanding. It was enough for two, but I ate all of it. I shouldn’t have, but I just couldn’t stop. That happens.
Sloppy Mama’s has a case with desserts, and it was our destiny to an order some banana pudding. It was delicious, and Nancy was glad that I had forced it on her. I don’t know who makes their banana pudding, but they deserve a prize. Be sure to order some.
Since destiny was smiling on us, I also got some of their pimiento cheese to take home. I’m glad that I did. Sloppy Mama’s sells the only commercial pimiento cheese I’ve ever seen that doesn’t have too much dressing. You should get a container or three.
Sloppy Mama’s also has locations at Ballston Quarter in Arlington and Union Market in DC. Both of these are lunch-rush places in food halls, so the meats are cooked at the home store rather than on-site. I haven’t been to either, and my first choice is to eat within sight of the wood smoke. I’m confident, though, that they’re both worth trying, and I will try them if I find myself reasonably nearby at lunch.
All in all, Sloppy Mama’s is the best barbecue place around here. If you live in the Washington area, you owe it to yourself to head to Sloppy Mama’s, and try some real barbecue.
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