Ruthie’s All Day, Arlington, Virginia

The Washington area used to be a barbecue desert. Oh, how things are changing! On a Sunday afternoon, Nancy and I found another winner — Ruthie’s All Day, an honest True ‘Cue place with really good food.

Ruthie’s was still almost full when Nancy and I stopped in about 1:30. You know, I need to stop going to Arlington for barbecue on Sundays. Sunday is brunch time in Arlington, probably by local ordinance, and that means a brunch menu, one with a much different focus that the rest of the week. At Ruthie’s, that meant limited “pure” barbecue options. I asked our waiter, Jose, which of their meats made them proudest. Brisket. No surprise, but I wanted pure brisket, brisket all by itself, without any sauce or other distractions.

That can be a challenge at brunch. My options were brisket hash — tempting, but not pure — or the Brisket Bennie (Benedict). Okay, let’s find a way or make one. I went with the Bennie, with the hollandaise sauce on the side. Here it is.

Oh, my, that’s a lot of brisket! I carefully moved the eggs, unbroken, to the side, behind a wall of biscuit, and had at the pure meat. And oh, my, my, that’s some good, good brisket! It was tender, moist, and had a good smoke/beef flavor. And the crust was delicious. Ruthie’s serves some very good brisket indeed. I’ll add, for all you brunch-eaters, that the poached eggs were perfectly cooked, and the biscuits may have been the best biscuits I’ve ever eaten north of the Virginia-Carolina line.

Nancy ordered a salad topped with salmon. (That’s how she keeps her girlish figure.)

It was an interesting salad, very roughly along the lines of a salad nicoise — fennel, hard boiled eggs, white anchovies (which Nancy graciously gave to me), with aioli, green beans, and, yes, potato chips. The salad was topped with a nice piece of wood cooked salmon. And the salmon was moist and — hold on — smoked to order. Nancy loved it — and I enjoyed the anchovies.

We had a great meal. I wasn’t geared up for a brunch menu, but I left very, very pleased — and with half of the brisket to take home for later. They thoughtfully put some sauce in the box with the leftover brisket — barbecue sauce, not more hollandaise. I’m not a great one for sauce on brisket (see here): if brisket needs sauce, you might as well leave it. Ruthie’s has a nice barbecue sauce, though, not over-sweet, and with a good seasoning mix. The brisket didn’t need it, but it would be good on french fries.

Ruthie’s was named in the Washington Post 10 Best Barbecue Joints list this year. I think they should have been higher on the list — we’ll see when I go back, as I will, for a more thorough menu exertion. Ruthie’s hardly a “joint”, though. The closest you get to a “joint” in the DC area probably is Rolling Rib, which the Post dropped from its Top Ten list. Ruthie’s is open, airy, gleaming clean and light.

There’s at the above largish central area (we say on a high top by the bar), plus a couple of nice rooms off to one side, and a good-sized of outdoor seating (with heaters) on the other side. Ruthie’s maintains good social distancing. Not being a joint has its pluses.

More importantly, Ruthie’s cooks with wood, and wood only. You don’t find that a lot in the DC metropolitan area. At Ruthie’s, even vegetables are cooked with wood on a separate grill. Matt Hill, who came up in the Charlotte area, is true to his roots of cooking barbecue the way it should be cooked. And he and Todd Salvadore know how to run a restaurant, which is a very good thing. They opened in a pandemic, and you have to be very good to keep standing these days. Based on my visit, they’ve worked out the inevitable kinks, and I get the clear sense that whatever they do, they do well. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent service Jose provided.

I look forward to returning to Ruthie’s for lunch and dinner, and checking their full barbecue menu. And I might go there to try their sausage and egg biscuit, or go there for brunch to try the grits and pulled pork. You really should take a trip to Ruthie’s.

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