Do people up here in pit-beef country fight over what makes good barbecue? I know many people have strong opinions about barbecue, but often as not, they turn out to be from one of the barbecuing pilgrimage sites like Memphis or the Carolinas, where people will go on about it. I kind of like that we're more relaxed about it here. It leaves the door open for more upstart businesses and more variations on the theme.
Which brings us to Harbor Que (rhymes with "barbecue"), which opened around Memorial Day in a free-standing porch-front place on Lawrence Street where Alladin's Cafe used to be. It's just off Fort Avenue, along the eastern boundary of the Riverside neighborhood. (Now, if you do want to pick a fight, stand on the corner of Fort and Lawrence and ask the first 10 people you see what neighborhood you're standing in.) It's a great location for a real barbecue joint: near the water, on the way to Fort McHenry, with a semi-industrial feeling.
The porch is a big attraction, too, even though the view is mainly into Rallo's parking lot. Even facing a sometimes brutal early evening sun, most people coming here still head out for the porch after they order their food from the friendly counter people. There is air-conditioned seating inside, too, which is not much to look at but more than serviceable.
The co-owners behind Harbor Que are Kelley Stewart, who brings years of restaurant and catering experience, and Bryan Riddle, a sergeant with the Anne Arundel Police Department, who brings his recipes and barbecuing know-how, especially for Carolina-style pork barbecue. (Although, as Riddle tells it, his immersion in the vinegary Carolina method didn't begin until after he moved from North Carolina to Maryland.) Eventually, Riddle started selling his "Riddlers Barbecue" from a truck at various locations in and around Severna Park. And now, Harbor Que.
It's an excellent pulled-pork barbecue sandwich, with no shyness at all about using cider vinegar in the pork-shoulder marinade, with the shredded pork arriving at that lovely point where it gets all tender but just a little bit caramelized at the edges. It's served on a sesame-topped soft roll that does a good job of holding the sandwich intact. (It was this way the second time I had it. The first pork sandwich I tried, a few nights before that, was from a batch made by someone who doesn't like the house recipe or just plain forgot to add some stuff.)
For $2 more, the pork sandwich (as well as the pit ham and beef sandwiches) can be converted into a platter with two sides, which include really impressive versions of collard greens (not watery like at a lot of places), potato salad (not all mushy), coleslaw (not soupy) and baked beans. There are also good and crunchy fried onion rings, and tasty cornbread.
The other menu attractions here are baby back ribs and smoked chicken. The chicken is worthy, with tasty skin, but just a tad dry and ordinary inside. But the hickory-fired ribs are terrific, meaty and, yes, falling off the bone, with a full-bodied cider-based rub that is a pleasure to eat.
The pit ham sandwich was very good, too, a big soft pile of very thinly sliced sweet-and-smoky ham. So were the meaty smoked house wings. Fans of this kind of eating will appreciate the sweet tea and be disappointed that lemonade is served out of a dispenser. There is bread pudding on the menu, but we were far too stuffed on each of two visits to think about it. Very good Southern-style poundcakes are brought in for dessert, too.
And this one last thing, when we visited: They were serving, as a special side, fresh corn on the cob, and that's the kind of thing that seals the deal. On the menu
* Carolina pulled pork BBQ platter - $7.95
* Hickory smoked pit ham sandwich - $5.95
* Smoked wings - $4.75
* Half-smoked chicken dinner - $14.95
* Baby back ribs, half-rack dinner - $17.95
* Corn on the cob - $2
Where: : 1421 Lawrence St.
Call: : 410-685-7675
Open: : 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday- Thursday and Sunday and 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Closed Monday
Credit cards: : Master Card, VISA (no AMEX)
Appetizers/Sides: : $2-$5.75
Entrees: : $5.95-$17.95
Food: : *** ( 3 STARS)
Service: : *** ( 3 STARS)
Atmosphere: : ** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS)
[Outstanding: **** Good: ***
Fair or uneven: ** Poor: *]