Restaurant Review: Eat barbecue meat at Pitmasters Back Alley BBQ
Don’t order pizza. This new BBQ joint will deliver to your door.
For AU students, food delivery options can appear pretty limited. If the Terrace Dining Hall doesn’t appeal to you, a quick glance at Grubhub will tell you to get ready for pizza or Chinese food. But in this sea of pepperoni and wontons comes a welcome challenger: Pitmasters Back Alley BBQ, a local restaurant that will deliver to campus.
Owned by the nearby Wagshal’s deli, Pitmasters opened in early 2015 near the Washington College of Law. Pitmasters invited The Eagle down for a taste test, and I happily obliged. (Full disclosure: Pitmasters didn’t charge The Eagle for the taste test. This didn’t affect my review in any way.)
From grilled chicken to broasted perch, the menu has BBQ classics and unexpected surprises. Photo: Aly Seidel
I found Pitmasters’ menu extensive. The options ranged from traditional BBQ fares like beef ribs to the unexpected, like the “broasted” perch, a delicate white fish I don’t often see on the grill. The prices are reasonable for students on a budget, ranging around $10 to $15 for a heartily-sized entree. I sampled everything on the menu and came to the conclusion that you can’t make a wrong choice at Pitmasters. Food I didn’t expect to like, I liked. Food I expected to like, I loved.
I’ve never had a chopped pork sandwich. In my Texan family, we slow-roast a pork shoulder for hours until it falls apart and turns into pulled pork.
“That’s actually a sign of overcooking,” operating director Brian Fuchs told me.
Pitmasters Chopped Pork Sandwich. Photo: Aly Seidel
I tried to take offense at the subtle dig Fuchs made toward my family’s recipe, but after taking a bite, I converted. The chopped pork sandwich was the best thing off the menu and one of the best things I’d eaten in days. By itself, the meat tasted flavorful, somehow smoky and slightly sweet at the same time. It straddled the line between greasy and dry, staying moist without soaking through the bun. I tested a bite of sandwich with each different sauce and decided the sandwich was perfect by itself.
The sauces are an interesting part of Pitmasters because of how the cook serves them. Rather than serve the meat and sauce together, you’re given a naked protein (sometimes dry-rubbed for enhanced flavor) and can choose which of four sauces to pair it with: original, sweet-spicy, spicy or Carolina sauce.
The plethora of sauces were a new experience for me, hailing from a land where syrupy molasses sauces are a given. I found myself overwhelmed by the four options. I felt like I had to try every menu item with each sauce, just to make sure I found the best pairing.
Pitmasters has four different homemade sauces to try: Original, Spicy, Sweet and Spicy and Carolina. Photo: Aly Seidel
Despite my southern roots, I never developed the palate for spicy food-- anything hotter than cayenne, and I’m guzzling water bottles. In saying that, I was surprised at how tolerable the spice in the sauce was.
For me, the heat was perfect. I could taste the sauce fully without having to put out a 5-alarm fire. But if you’re a spice aficionado, you’ll probably be disappointed by the lack of heat. Regardless, the sauces have a lot to offer on the sweet side, especially the sweet-spicy sauce that combined a perfect amount of sweetness and tang. The traditional Carolina sauce was the runner-up, peppery without turning acerbic from the vinegar.
I was also surprised by the taste of the pepper jelly, a spread for the cornbread. The pepper jelly is a mixture of jalapenos, habaneros and other hot peppers. I expected a rush of heat, but the pepper jelly was surprisingly, almost cloyingly, sweet. When paired with the cornbread, the jelly enhanced the taste beyond the traditional honey and butter. I could have eaten it with a spoon.
The surprisingly sweet pepper jelly was a great addition to the dense cornbread. Photo: Aly Seidel
In all, Pitmasters is a welcomed change from the pizza and takeout boxes that fill the residence halls during final exams. The prices are reasonable, they deliver and most importantly, the food is delicious. My only disappointment at Pitmasters? I was too full to finish my cornbread.
Where: 4818 Yuma Street, NW
Metro: Take AU Shuttle, Red RouteFollow @AlySeidel