Red Hot & Blue: When it comes to barbecue, they're smokin'


Nothing about Red Hot & Blue is down home except the food. The latest one (No. 14 in the chain) opened in Frederick recently -- there are seven in this area alone -- and one reason the company is doing such a land-office business is that it offers serious barbecue in a bright, upscale version of a barbecue shack.

You think I'm kidding about the upscale part? When was the last time a waiter at a rib joint asked you if you wanted lemon in your ice water?

The Red Hot & Blue in Owings Mills is No. 13. It has a cute, highly designed logo, consisting of two pink pigs playing guitars. (I'm not sure, though, that I approve of an animal I'm about to eat being anthropomorphized.) It has pretty, practical oilcloth tablecloths and lots of pictures and posters of blues singers on the walls. Delta blues and R&B; play in the background. The lights are bright so you can see the place is shiny new (as of September) and spotlessly clean.

Families with kids are catered to here rather than bikers. That's just a guess, but they don't provide bikers with crayons and place mats to color.

All this and some of the meanest barbecue around.

Red Hot & Blue smokes its meats over a hickory fire. The resulting ribs are lean and meaty, permeated with smoky flavor. You can get them wet or dry -- either with the restaurant's mildly spicy barbecue sauce or with the spices rubbed in after they've been smoked. Both are very fine.

You can get pulled pig here, if eating ribs is too much work for you. The succulent pork shoulder meat is literally pulled apart, not chopped. It has the same through-and-through smokiness as the ribs.

The only real barbecue is, of course, made with pork; but Red Hot & Blue does serve smoky, tender chicken quarters. But give the beef brisket a skip. It's too lean and tastes dry.

Save room for side dishes. Meals come with smoky-tangy baked beans with green peppers and shaved pork and a fresh-tasting cole slaw. But the best is a knockout potato salad made simply of red-skinned potatoes, a bit of onion, mayonnaise and no sugar.

What you don't want to do is order a salad, with all the usual stuff in it and terrible dressings. (I tried three of them.) But is this really a place where you want to waste room on salad? No. Have instead an onion ring loaf for a starter, the thin rings loaded with crisp batter and grease. Or the fiery chili with chopped beef brisket and lots of sour cream. Or the white rolls, buttered on the outside and toasted so they're pleasantly greasy and crisp and soft as cotton inside.

And if you aren't in hog heaven yet, finish up with a slice of warm pecan pie or warm fudge brownie pie that's runny with chocolate. Or banana pudding freshly made with real bananas and vanilla wafers. (The last time I had banana pudding was in my grade school cafeteria in Tennessee. It's hard to think of it as eating-out food.)

Speaking of Tennessee, legend has it that Red Hot & Blue came about because Tennessee congressman Don Sundquist and friends were craving Memphis barbecue in Washington, D.C. The first Red Hot & Blue opened in 1988 in Arlington, Va. The rest, as they say, is history.

Red Hot & Blue

Where: 11308 Reisterstown Road

Hours: Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: MC, V

Features: Memphis barbecue

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 356-6959

Prices: $4.25-$14.45


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