Do you like ribs? Of course you do. Here are what may be the best ribs in the Washington, DC, area.
My search for places in DC, Maryland, and Virginia that cook only with wood took Nancy The Real Trooper and me to Upper Marlboro, way on the other side of the metro area, to Rolling Rib Part II for lunch on a hot, sunny day. Here it is —
I deduce that Rolling Ribs started as a food truck (Part I). Now they have a brick and mortar place that at least for now is divided into two sections. There’s a carry out window where you order, and a place, the Fat Box, with room for, say, 20 diners — where you pick up your order. Outside, over on the west side of the building in a ribbon of shade, there are two high top tables. While we were there, everyone else grabbed their food and left, but Nancy and I snagged a table and ate right there. After waiting while bathed in an aura of pork cooking over hickory, I couldn’t wait.
When we ordered, I resisted the siren song of the euphonious Fat Box Special (ribs and two fried chicken wings with sauce and a corn muffin). In deference to Rolling Rib’s name, I adjusted my standard pork-and-two-sides order and got a rib plate with two sides, greens, and macaroni and cheese.
There’s another rib under there.
Nancy got a barbecued chicken plate with cole slaw. Since each plate comes with two sides and she’d told me she didn’t feel like potato salad this time, she ended up with two orders of cole slaw. (Only one person at a time goes in to order.)
As always, Nancy had immediately pulled the skin off. Such a waste.
Let’s get back to those ribs. There were a lot of them, and they were really good. There was a deep, delicious smoky flavor and a very good char on the outside, the best char I’ve seen in the Washington area. The ribs come with a sweet-spicy sauce that is well seasoned, but not really to my anti-sweet taste. (I’m a vinegar-based sauce guy.) But then these ribs are perfectly good without sauce. That hickory smoke is all the sauce you need.
The greens also were very good, with lots of delicious and ultra-nutritious pot likker, more than the corn muffin that comes with the plate can absorb. But then they give you a spoon. And the macaroni and cheese is real, by God church supper macaroni and cheese. It took a strong will and a very full stomach for me not to eat it. Instead, I saved it for my granddaughters, Ella and Lily, both of whom are major macaroni and cheese fans.
Nancy’s chicken also was a large serving — a half chicken — and it, too, was permeated with hickory smoke. Excellent. The breast meat, of course, was drier than the dark meat, and it wanted some of the sauce for moistness. Anyway, Nancy did full justice to it. She also spoke so highly of the cole slaw that I felt compelled to eat one of the two orders. It really was good, fresh, crisp, and perfectly dressed. And eating the slaw saved the macaroni and cheese for Ella and Lily.
A word of advice: place your order on line, especially if it’s a hot, sunny day. The Rolling Rib folks will tell you when your order will be ready, usually in about an hour, I understand. You can sit in air conditioned comfort in the meantime, sipping lemonade, rather than standing out in the hot sun. If, as I did, you fail to order ahead, you will end up standing in line (a very safe, masked, and socially distanced line) to place your order, and then longer waiting for your number to be called. All the while you’ll be listening to the names of people who ordered online, and watching them emerge with bags of delicious food. But even then, the wait is worth it.
The resident geniuses behind Rolling Rib Part II are Ivory Davis, Jr. and Ivory III. They use wood cookers that I couldn’t get in to observe closely, and they were far too busy for me to ask.
Two things are clear: they use only wood and they use hickory. I believe that they cook over direct rather than indirect heat at least part of the time, based on the excellent char. And most certain of all, is that they know what they’re doing with those cookers. Rolling Rib cooks honest, down home barbecue the way barbecue should be cooked. And someone at Rolling Rib — another genius — makes outstanding sides. I really want to get back to try their pork and their green beans, and to get another go at that wonderful macaroni and cheese — with a separate order for Ella and Lily.
So head to Rolling Rib, and do it before the weather gets cold. So far, they’ve been closing down from mid-November until some time in March. That’s a shame, because a rib plate with some green and that macaroni and cheese would really warm you up on a cold day. Don’t take a chance that they’ll extend to be open year-round. Go now.
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