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DMV-Q: Smoking Out Worthwhile Barbecue

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Roberson, who has worked the counter for more than 30 years, prepares barbecue ribs, sandwiches and all the fixings in the bus of Mr. P’s Ribs.

Years ago, a Hogs on the Hill occupied the space that currently houses Kenny’s Smokehouse. These days, dueling Hogs dot the Maryland landscape.

But the one closest to our neck of the woods on Bladensburg Road Northeast appears to have a cult following all its own.

During one visit, the unassuming carryout — where cars battle to escape the tiny, awkwardly shaped parking lot and order takers stand behind bullet-proof plate glass — was packed with barbecue loyalists. D.C police officers, suit-and-tie-clad businessmen and blue-collar workers all stood side-by-side awaiting their turn to claim Styrofoam clamshells full of featured proteins.

Barbecue spare ribs were sticky-sweet and dripping in tomato-based barbecue sauce, but also juicy in their own right.

The barbecue chicken was more of a puzzler. The bird we got (granted: we ordered the sauce on the side) tasted like every roast chicken we’ve ever tried, displaying no discernible smoke or signature rub to distinguish it from the many pollos a la brasa that litter the local dining universe.

A minced barbecue sandwich, on the other hand, delivered pleasing bites of fork-tender beef impregnated with a fiery kick.

One companion appreciated the braised-till-tender collards (“No bitterness,” our pal pointed out), while this hired mouth loved the cake-like cornbread.

Mr. P’s Ribs

In a previous life, Fate Pittman spent his days hammering out automotive indiscretions in a body shop.

Yet the man everyone here affectionately refers to as Mr. P has been tending to locals’ barbecue needs for almost half a century.

Pittman said he’s been steering various iterations of his iconic barbecue bus all over town since 1977. The oversized barbecue den has bounced around between the Maryland suburbs (Prince George’s County, Hyattsville) and D.C. proper for years; another bus remains stationed in a strip mall parking lot on Rhode Island Avenue Northeast.

Per Pittman, business has been slow going this winter. But he’s expecting things to pick back up once the weather warms up a bit.

He’s scaled back his seafood offerings of fish and shrimp until then. But, with the help of grill man Robert Dortch and long-standing (30-plus years) counterwoman Linda Roberson, the crew continues turning out the type of barbecue Pittman grew up with.

“We’re from North Carolina, so the pork is our thing,” he said. He only added in beef ribs “because people kept asking for it.”

We’re glad they did.

The gorgeous slabs of carefully fired cow release rivulets of juice that dribble down the chin as you tear flesh from bone.

His signature pork ribs are swabbed in tangy-sweet barbecue sauce (Pittman sticks with a hot-pepper-packed vinegar base); the underlying meat was a tad too salty for our tastes, but the sauce added welcome zing.

The chopped pork barbecue was more satisfying, yielding lusty meat drenched in that telltale acid.

DCity Smokehouse: 8 Florida Ave. NW; 202-733-1919; dcitysmokehouse.com

Average entree: under $12 ($$). Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

Hogs on the Hill: 2003 Bladensburg Road NE; 202-526-2027

Average entree: under $12 ($). Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.

Mr. P’s Ribs and Seafood: 514 Rhode Island Ave. NE; 202-438-3215

Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$). Open for lunch and dinner Friday through Sunday.

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