Monday, July 15, 2013

Barbecued Lamb & Baked Beans At RG's BBQ Cafe

Lamb shank with mac and baked beans
Go to RG's BBQ Cafe with small expectations and great hope.

I don't want to oversell the small barbecue spot on U.S. 1 in Laurel.  But I went in for takeout, and I came out with two-thirds of a dinner that could sit proudly on any restaurant around town.

Barbecued lamb with sides of baked beans and macaroni and cheese.  I got a long bone with tender, moist meat on one end, surrounded by a pool of the most amazing sauce.  The meat was rich and tender, glazed where the sauce that firmed under the heat.  But it's the sauce that said I was eating from a professional kitchen, even if it was a tiny one.

A smoky tomato sauce that Todd Kliman describes better than I can.  (See below.)  I just know that I stood up half-way through eating the meat to defrost and lightly toast two slices of Wegmans sourdough bread from the freezer.  I used them to just eat sauce.  Then I finished with lamb.

RG's took over the former Bar-B-Que House on the strip of U.S. 1 that runs past thrift shops and low motels on the way into PG County.  But the Bar-B-Que House is 100% Howard County, my friends.

RG is Robert Gadsby, a guy who has been a high-end restaurant chef and who has brought high effort to even counter service and barbecue.  Notice the television on the Food Network, and the Baltimore Sun sections hanging by the door -- orderly and clean, waiting for customers to read while they wait.

The lamb came with a choice of two sides, and they're generous containers that warrant a $14 dinner.  My baked beans were as delicious as the collard greens that I ate on my first visit.  Again, they were tender and full of flavor -- even though they didn't have the nuggets of meat that have always been the key when beans stood out in the past.  These beans were just talent.  Tender, earthy beans cooked with a sauce that I know I couldn't pull off on my own.

Not everything is perfect, but even the drops make me want to go back again.  RG's macaroni and cheese was bland.  Not bad.  Just a chef trying something that didn't work for me.  I pushed half the container away because it just didn't live up to the lamb or beans, but I was already thinking that I'll try the onion rings on my next visit.

If you find crowds when you visit, don't be surprised.  Todd Kliman of the Washingtonian reviewed RG's BBQ Cafe in the current edition.  He praised the food.  He and others have noted inconsistencies -- like Kliman's night when the beans tasted purchased or a night when my friend's table waited 40 minutes for half their orders.  Kliman also has a professional description that captures the sauce that sent me for white bread to sop it up:
The chef produces three variations of his basic formula—mild, spicy, and hot. They elude easy classification. Gadsby has taken the signal characteristics of the various barbecue meccas and blended them into a sauce that tastes all at once of North Carolina (sharp), Texas (smoky), and Memphis/Kansas City (sweet and tomatoey). No one trait dominates. It’s a condiment that could probably make cardboard taste good.
Overall, I recommend people trying out RG's BBQ Cafe.  Gadsby is definitely trying something special, and you can try ribs, pulled pork, pit beef, hot dogs and specials like a bacon-wrapped quail.  There are honest barbecue fights to pick -- does he have a smoker? should ribs really fall off the bone? -- but Gadsby's kitchen makes for something special on U.S. 1.

If Laurel is too far, there is good barbecue around the county.  Kloby's Smokehouse is my local, and the "old and dirty" wings are among my favorite dishes around.  I wish Kloby's sides were as large or unusual as RG's.  At lunch time, you can go even-more-basic than RG's with a roadside barbecue from Dave's near the Savage MARC station.


kevlar51 said...

Honestly, RG's pulled pork doesn't stand up to Dave's in Savage (in flavor or value). But they're also two completely different dishes--Dave's might as well be a slab of pork that falls apart as you eat it while RG's is shredded.

I just wish Dave had pulled pork more. His schedule says every Monday, but more often than not he's tied up the Sunday before so he makes pork chops instead. They're the best pork chops in the world, but still a disappointment when you're expecting the best pulled pork.

My buddy got the Soft Shell sandwich at RG's though and it was really great. Good fries too.

Anonymous said...

My experience at RG's its been always great.The restaurant is clean, staff are super nice, food is fresh and tasty and they just finished the patio :) Their Pork is not shredded is Pulled. I was there yesterday and they mentioned he will be making Duck! that sounds wonderful!!! Chef Gadsby is just great...

jones said...

Went here today and had the Fish Po-Boy. I thought it was excellent. The fish was tender and nicely seasoned. The sandwich had thinly sliced homemade pickles on it which tasted really fresh and good. I got the mac-and-cheese as my side and I actually really liked it a lot. I especially enjoyed the kick from the pepperjack cheese. Nice place.