The Red Hook Lobster Pound truck’s debut on Farragut Square was too depressing to ponder for any period of time. Like many other food writers and bloggers, I had licked my fingers over the truck’s pending arrival, churning out anticipatory prose whenever my digits were dry enough to type. Little did we realize our words were creating a monster. The opening-day wait for a buttery lobster roll was two hours.
Given dynamics of the situation —a long line of ravenous roll eaters and a tiny 18-and-a-half-foot truck with limited work space—I was fairly certain of three things:
• Since the folks in line apparently have more time to kill than I do, Red Hook’s lobster roll and I would be strangers for quite some time.
• The rolls could never live up to the expectations created by waiting so long.
• I’d resent the hell out of losing so much time just to grab lunch.
So I resigned myself to forgoing Red Hook’s products until the lines became sufficiently manageable that I’d could be in the right frame of mind to give their rolls fair consideration. To my surprise, these conditions presented themselves not long after Red Hook’s debut. The truck announced that it would park on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan, not far from Washington City Paper’s offices.
A pair of colleagues and I went to investigate and found the line utterly navigable. In fact, by the time I fetched some cash from the nearest ATM, my two office-mates were just a few short steps from the order window. I felt as if we had cheated death.
The truck had pulled up only minutes before, and its lobster and shrimp salads would presumably be freshly prepared, the perfect chance to take their measure. I ordered a lobster roll meal with Cape Cod chips and a Maine Root soda ($18). There were two immediate problems: The order taker didn’t ask me if I wanted a Maine- or Connecticut-style lobster roll, and the credit card swipe attached to her iPad was misbehaving. She had to type in a colleague’s card numbers manually, which slowed down the line.
By default, I was served a Maine-style roll, which was fine. It would have been my choice anyway. I noticed there were small variations from a Red Hook recipe posted online. I conducted a thorough examination of my roll and found no evidence of celery or chives; instead, the knuckle and claw meat was sprinkled with thick slices of scallions, which added small notes of aroma and piquancy.
As for the lobster itself, it was barely dressed in mayo. Red Hook had allowed its star to shine with little stage direction. The meat was slightly chilled and tasted as fresh and clean as if a lobsterman had just pulled a crustacean from the cold Maine waters. Its texture was neither rubbery nor chewy. Instead it was silken; it barely required any work of your teeth, as if the delicate flesh were such a consummate host it wanted to give your molars the day off.
When wrapped inside the crispy and cushy J.J. Nissen split bun, the lobster meat played a wonderful foil—its coolness set off by the roll’s warmth, its sweet flesh a counterbalance to the buttery richness of the bread. In short, I believe I’ve changed my mind: I would wait two hours for this beauty.
Follow the Red Hook Lobster Hook truck at twitter.com/lobstertruckdc
It was the sign that hooked me. There it was, a simple hand-painted sandwich board straddling the median on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. Its message was direct: PIT BBQ. An arrow pointed right.
I turned right.
I eventually ran right into Hardy’s, a big white truck parked just outside the Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative. The truck is where you meet Roxie. She takes your order, serves up sides, and shouts to her husband what meats you’d like. Her husband, Corries Hardy, is just a few feet away, tending a large portable smoker crammed with three tiers of juicy meats, including sausage, ribs, brisket, turkey, and pork.
I immediately start asking him the usual barbecue-geek questions: What kind of wood does he use? How long does he smoke his various meats? Does he use a rub?
His answers are brief and friendly (though his tone understandably suspicious of a stranger asking waaaay too many questions): He uses applewood only. He likes its sweet scent. (Don’t get him started on hickory.) Hardy has created his own special brown sugar-based rub, which is adapted from his grandfather’s recipe. He smokes his brisket for about seven hours and his ribs for about three.
His style of barbecue, like his rub, is inspired by his grandfather’s work at the smoker in Florida, where the nearby island culture exerts a certain influence on smoking meats. Hardy’s is the kind of ’cue that doesn’t play up the smoke, but more of the fruity and spicy pleasures found in open-flame grilling in the Caribbean. Which explains why he keeps his pit constantly open.
I politely tell Hardy that I’ve spent a lot of time in Texas and have grown accustomed to its style of barbecue. I’m speaking in code, of course. I’m signaling my bias and giving myself an easy out, should I not prefer Hardy’s ’cue. After all, this former Army man towers above me like a skyscraper. His arms look like the thighs of an Olympic sprinter. He wears a straw hat. He reminds me of Alex Karras in Blazing Saddles, and I wasn’t interested in being the horse that takes his punch, particularly after the pitmaster offered me a free sample of his brisket (not that smokey but tender and sweet). I then bought some ribs; I would have bought more, but I had just eaten lunch. Hardy gave me an extra rib.
Hardy’s ribs are indeed sweet. But they also have an excellent chew. They require some jaw work to remove the meat from the bone, just the way I like ’em. But the surprise came from Hardy’s sauce, which starts with a sweet hit of what tastes like cider vinegar, but resolves into this welcome blast of heat.
It might not be my preferred style of barbecue, but I could appreciate its craft. This is a pitmaster who has dedicated himself to his own personalized style of barbecue, down to the custom-made rub and the home-made sauce. There is a meticulousness and singularity of purpose here that I can fully embrace. These are the traits of the finest pitmasters, from North Carolina to central Texas. The fact that my heart and palate will forever belong to Lone Star State ’cue is not Corries Hardy’s fault.
Hardy’s barbecue is available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays near the Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative at Willow Lane and Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda.
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