Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Surgeon General's Warning Taken Too Seriously

Steve and I needed to do some last minute Christmas shopping so I convinced him to "metro" up to Bethesda after work and we would brave the masses on Rockville Pike in search of those final gifts. Of course that meant dinner, as well, so I dutifully did my homework looking for a fun, yet inexpensive place to eat. After consulting Zagat and Yelp I discovered two sister restaurants online, Urban Bar-B-Que Company and Urban Burger Company that seemed to fit the bill. When Steven arrived, I gave him the choice and he selected Urban Bar-B-Que. As you probably already know Steve and I are barbecue fanatics and always on the hunt for the next great place.

Urban Bar-B-Que has all the trappings of a great barbecue restaurant. It's tucked away on a side street off Rockville Pike in a small strip of shops that seem more like an afterthought than an actual destination. The interior is small and kitschy with 50’s style dinettes for seating, chalkboard menus, counter service and even a homemade decoupaged Elvis Clock on the wall (Thank you, thank you very much). The cashier/manager, Tony was clad in cammie slacks and a garage attendant shirt with his name embroidered on the front. A lone guitarist strummed lively tunes while perched in the front corner of the restaurant. Overall the place has a warm and welcoming feeling that sets you in the mood for a down-home good time.

Too bad the food doesn’t match up. Not that anything is bad, it just doesn’t seem to pull through on its promise. Urban Bar-B-Que is like barbecue karaoke. It sure looks like it should be great, but ultimately, it’s just a second-rate version of the real thing.

I ordered the brisket and sausage. Steve ordered the brisket and pulled pork. We shared the “Redneck Fondue” which consists of seasoned tortilla chips with chili and queso sauce. Everything has the feeling that they need to turn up the volume. The brisket was too saucy and bland. The pulled pork was also too saucy and bland. I did enjoy the sausage which had a nice flavor and crisp casing snap.

Urban Bar-B-Que offers three sauces: a Memphis style, sweet and smokey, a mustard based sauce and a North Carolina, vinegar, tomato and spice sauce. They’re all sort of bland, but decidedly, it’s the meat that falls short at Urban. WHERE IS THE SMOKE? Good barbecue has depth of flavor and nuances that come from low and slow cooking over hard woods. Urban has the “low and slow” portion of that recipe down but it all ends there. They claim to use apple and hickory to smoke their meats but I simply couldn't taste it. Somebody, please light a cigarette or something.

Sides are decent. I had the Mac n’ Cheese which was obviously homemade and appropriately cheesey. Steve had the BBQ beans which were meaty and dense. The warm cornbread was a real stand out. Moist with a hint of sweetness and whole corn kernels.

I am anxious to try the Burger half of this restaurant duo. Following the same format with a product that is easier to execute, like hamburgers, they should have a real winner on their hands. More to come…

Urban Bar-B-Cue Company

2007 Chapman Ave. Rockville, MD 20852-1614

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