In Pasadena, The BBQ Joint hits all the right spots

The Baltimore Sun | Kit Waskom Pollard

Baltimore (June 11, 2015) — On the fanciness scale, barbecue ranks somewhere very close to the bottom. It’s messy, down home and definitely not precious.

But that doesn’t mean that a chef with fancy training can’t do barbecue justice. Case in point: Andrew Evans, the Culinary Institute of America-trained owner of The BBQ Joint restaurants in Pasadena, Easton and Union Market in Washington, D.C.

At the Pasadena location, the vibe is casual but the staff exhibits five-star polish. And the barbecue is killer.

Scene & Decor The BBQ Joint occupies a corner spot in a Pasadena shopping center, which means the restaurant has plenty of windows and an easily accessible outdoor patio with tables.

Inside, the walls are warm red and adorned with BBQ Joint t-shirts (which are also for sale).

On a recent Wednesday night, around 6:30, the restaurant and patio were about half full with families and couples; some of those tables included people having a beer while waiting for carry-out.

Service As soon as we walked in, a woman stationed behind the counter at the back of the restaurant greeted us warmly. She pointed us toward the menus and let us know we’d place our orders with her, then she would bring them to our table.

Right away, she recommended that we try one of the combination platters, explaining that they are the best way to explore the menu, even with small groups.

While we decided on our meals, we listened to her coworker, a chef, chat with another customer about The BBQ Joint’s local beer selections and what he would recommend based on the customer’s preferences. From the beer to the barbecue, the staff seemed knowledgeable and confident sharing what they knew.

Appetizers We started with an order of fried pickle chips ($7.95) served with ranch dressing. Sliced very thin and tossed in a well-seasoned coating before frying, they were crispy, spicy and very likable.

We especially enjoyed the thin slice, which turned the pickles into true chips. Fried pickles, though tasty, can be sloppy. Not these. The slices were thick enough to impart pickle flavor but skinny enough to let the crispy coating set in the fryer and stay firm.

Entrees On the advice of the woman who took our order, we tried the “Jr. T-Rex,” a combination platter including a half rack of ribs, half a chicken, a quarter pound of brisket and a quarter pound of pulled pork, plus three rolls and four side dishes ($39.95). It’s designed to feed two to three people — and it does.

All four of the meats were well seasoned and cooked gorgeously; we would have enjoyed them even without the five sauces that sat on our table. The sauces included a vinegary North Carolina option, plus sweet, spicy, “swicy,” and medium choices. All were well-balanced but the swicy and Carolina were our favorites.

The ribs and chicken were both available wet (with sauce) or dry (with just a rub); we ordered both dry so we could try multiple sauces. In both cases, the meat was tender and the salty, slightly spicy rub hit all the right spots.

The pulled pork was juicy and also nicely seasoned; we would definitely order it again. It was the brisket, though, that excited us most. Neatly sliced and impressively moist, with fabulous meaty flavor, it was a good example of the kitchen’s dedication to the craft of barbecue.

Our side dishes were traditionally prepared and, aside from slightly dry corn muffins, they worked. The coleslaw was crunchy and the mac and cheese creamy. Huge house-made potato chips were crispy, fresh and sprinkled with Old Bay. Even the muffins were good, but next to such well-executed dishes, their lack of perfection was notable.

Drinks Though The BBQ Joint does have a nice selection of local craft brews available, we kept our drink order simple, with a can of Natty Boh ($2.50). It’s a good fit with barbecue.

Dessert Even after the meat, we couldn’t resist the pan-fried chocolate chip cookie dessert ($5.95). Served in a small cast-iron pan, the steamy cookie was topped with two scoops of ice cream then drizzled with caramel and fudge.

The cookie sundae was a hit. And the barbecue, with its careful cooking and expert seasoning, proved that down-home and sophisticated can coexist on the plate.