Spending time at my friend's cabin in Hollywood MD this past weekend, I decided to range a little further afield in my search for BBQ shacks.
I found a gem, I think. Dale's Smokehouse, 4645 Indian Head HWY in Indian Head, MD 20640. Phone is 301 743 6777. It's on the left (east or north at that point?) side of RT 210 (Indian Head Hwy) just a few blocks before the Naval Station gate.
I got the ribs, and I SCORED. These were wonderful ribs - moist, nicely "dry rub" crusted, lovely smoke ring, and "just out of the smoker" hot - no trace of heat lamps or microwaves on these. The other thing I liked was that they left it up to me to put on the sauce or not - there was no slather of sauce to hide mediocre ribs behind. The sauce was nothing special, but with these ribs, it didn't need to be. This was how the rib/sauce relationship is supposed to work - the sauce gently highlighting the star of the show, not covering up shortcomings.
To be fair, I think I lucked out. It may be that had I come at a different time, the ribs might have spent some time in a warming oven or under a heat lamp, or even being nuked to reheat - most places have to do such things in "rush" periods. But at around one o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, I got the real deal, the way it was meant to be. That hog did NOT die in vain!
I'd love to see a taste-off between Dale's and Andy Nelson's, with both products fresh out of the smoker. I think that Dale's would come away as at least a peer, if not a victor, and I don't make that statement lightly, being a HUGE fan of A.N.'s fare.
Dessert was a wonderful piece of blackberry pie. If this stuff came out of any bakery, I hope that the next time I'm in that area, there will be signs in the heavens to direct me to that bakery. It's sad that a simple fruit pie should seem so rare a treat, but this was pie the way that people used to bake them at home, before all the premade pie crusts, premade canned fillings and all the other trappings of quick and easy mediocrity took over our lives.
Please, folks, whether it's at Dale's or someplace else - go seek out a "made by hand" fruit pie, made from fruit that hasn't spent the last couple thousand miles in the back of a truck. You'll be glad you did.
I didn't try anything other than the ribs and the pie, so I can't speak to the quality of the other offerings, but if the things I had were any indication, I'd expect the quality to be similarly high. The attitude seems to be that if they can't do it right, they simply won't do it.
The only downsides I can see is that the menu is a bit more limited at Dale's than at some BBQ places - ribs, chicken, sliced beef or pork, and minced pork BBQ. Sides include Potato Salad, coleslaw, baked beans, sweet potatoes, green beans, and collard greens. No sign of pulled pork, or of different regional variant sauces. In some sense, this may be a blessing in disguise - focus on doing a small set of things well is no sin.
In starting out, I had intended to try several places, but after Dale's, I decided to quit while I was ahead on ribs (their "half slab" was a VERY generous portion) , but I still had a hankering for a pulled pork sandwich. I went back up the street to George's, another litte rib shack on the same side of the road. I pulled in, and while I did see a smoker and a woodpile, when I stepped inside, there was a weird olfactory experience awaiting.
It seems that in addition to BBQ, George's also does fried Whiting (AKA "lake trout" for those from Baltimore). Somehow the smell of fried fish and the smell of wood-smoked 'Q just don't mix no matter how much one may love both. The fish smell wins the battle, hands down, or should that be "fins down"?
Alas, no pulled pork here, either, so I was once again on my way. If anybody has a review of George's, I'd love to hear it - I don't want my walking away to be a black mark on their reputation, and I'd love to know if they are worth a return visit, whether for the 'Q, the fish, or both.
The last stop was around the corner on 225, down in a little hollow at the SW corner of the intersection of 225 and 224. There's a liquor store down there, and behind the liquor store is a BBQ pit. I went down, and again, the menu was pretty much ribs or chicken. The smell of the smoke, the look of the place, and the friendly (but serious about his BBQ) attitude of the pit boss (Fred King, phone number 301 399 9528) made it seem to this BBQ scout that this was another place where one might possibly find some righteous 'Q.
I believe there is another store-front BBQ/rib place further up 210, but I did not venture up there. If anybody has a name, address or a review, that would also add to the collective knowledge.
I guess my whole point in this is that there does seems to be a viable cluster of 'Q shacks down in the Indian Head area, and I don't recall seeing them mentioned in any Chowhound discussions. While they may be significantly "out of the way" for many on this board, for some folks, these might actually be closer than the places that normally get mentioned regularly. If that's the case for YOU, dear reader, please check these places out, and report back!