Monday, November 9, 2009

Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company (7/10) - 3471 Washington Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201

Trusty old Rocklands.  I first learned about this barbecue joint back in 2005 when I first moved to the DC area and worked in Alexandria.  A coworker of mine named Coffey, a 45 year old Associate who penned himself "Coffeycups", wanted to eat barbecue for lunch 4 days a week (at a minimum).  Considering that I worked with a good number of sassy Asian and Indian ladies, I was typically the only person who would accompany him on these somewhat daily barbecue outings.  Thinking back on that year, I suppose that the consistency of eating barbecue wasn't the most unappealing aspect to the rest of our team...

It's rather difficult to grasp the concept of Coffeycups in one setting but I'll try.  Coffeycups smoked 3 packs-a-day, constantly discussed either his intimate family situation regarding his custody battle over his 8-year old son or his weekend excursions to sing karaoke at the Holiday Inn bar, left work everyday at 3pm to catch his train home to Fredericksburg, poured the crumbs from the bottom of a bag of chips onto a table before using the side of his hand to swipe them into his other palm for consumption, ate candy off the floor, wore tight longsleeve FILA mock-turtleneck t-shirts to work while the rest of us wore business formal attire, and claimed he could bench press over 400 pounds (by the looks of his gargantuan hands, I never doubted that claim).  In the end however, it was our common love for barbecue that overpowered all his less appealing traits and really bonded Coffeycups' and I.  Coffeycups was eventually let go but I continued on the barbecue craze without him.

Rocklands has several locations in the greater-Washington DC area, and I can honestly say that in aggregate, I've eaten at the Alexandria, Georgetown, and Ballston (Arlington) locations in excess of 60 times --never been to the Rockville, MD location.  The Alexandria Rocklands (Duke Street and Quaker Road) is definitely the most sterile.  It's a long narrow building with metal tables and a counter from which to order.  The Georgetown location (Wisconsin Avenue in upper Georgetown) is the most intimate & authentic of the Rocklands I've tried (not surprising that it was the original founded in 1990)  while the new Arlington location (Washington Boulevard) is the larger and full-service of the three.  All of the Rockland's locations have bowls of peanuts near the counter for customer consumption as well as an entire bookcase stacked full of eclectic and novelty hot sauces for sale.  The meats at Rocklands are smoked with a combination of red oak and hickory woods.

In addition to the normal amenities that the other Rockland's has to offer,  the Arlington location has a nice mural painted on its side, cleavers for door handles, a full-service bar inside with three flat panel televisions, and outside tables for use if the weather permits.

Rockland's sauce is self-served out of an electric cauldron (crockpot) that is stationed next to the fountain drinks.  The sauce is predominantly tomato-based with a good portion of vinegar mixed in.  Additionally, a good amount of sautéed onions strips bathe in the sauce -- I carefully ladle the sauce without onions since I personally don't care for them in my meal.  The sauce is rather good on its own, but I have found through my own careful diligence and experimentation an incredible combination that takes my meal to the next level.  One-part J.T. Pappy's Hot or Medium Cajun sauce combined with one-part Rocklands' barbecue sauce.  I first discovered this combination at the Georgetown location, where the owners allow its customer to open bottles of the retail sauces from the sauce bookcase for consumption in the restaurant.  During my last trip to the Arlington location, a worker told me as I was walking out that all sauces in the bookcase are now there solely for purchase, while the already opened sauces on the tables in the restaurant are the bottles for sampling.  I was lucky he didn't force me to buy the sauce I had just opened.

After eating at Rockland's at an alarming rate over the past couple of years, I have my order down to a near science.  I definitely order one beef brisket sandwich, and depending on my appetite and daily preference, choose from either the a pulled pork sandwich, barbecue chicken sandwich, or pit sirloin sandwich.  In the past, I've been less impressed with the rib sandwich and the sausage sandwich and stick to what works.  I do however refuse to be tricked into turning a $5 sandwich into a platter for an addition $4.  $9 for a sandwich and two normal-sized sides has to be the worst value of all time.  None of the sides are great either and I've tried a lot of them (slow learning curve to fully ingrate in my mind that the platter upgrade is too expensive).

On this day, I decided on a pulled pork sandwich and a beef brisket sandwich.  The pork is well smoked and flavored and better than the average pork sandwich that I have tried along my journey.  The brisket sandwich is my favorite of the bunch, but it doesn't taste like tradition brisket that you would eat in Texas.  The is cut extremely thin, (almost like the roast beef at Arby's) and is grilled over an open flame behind the counter prior to serving.

Before I tried Urban Barbecue Company in Rockville, MD, I would have claimed that Rocklands' served the best most authentic barbecue in the area.  The food is very good, well smoked, and basically none of the meats you can order off the menu will disappoint, just don't expect to be able to order a combination meat plate because its not offered at Rocklands.

After eating these two sandwiches, I returned to Rocklands' the following day for a half chicken.  That could be my new go-to meal considering I can walk to Rocklands in 4 minutes from my apartment.

I just read that the Rocklands' team did a little barbecue journey of their own back in 2003.  I look forward to reading their reviews and insights.            

Also, Monday is buy a beer and get a free pork barbecue sandwich night.  See you there.

Rocklands Barbeque & Grilling Company on Urbanspoon


  1. Beer night? Definitely see you there...I love beer. I will buy two beers and you can eat both of my sandwiches.

  2. This is awesome. I have a picture of Coffey you should definitely add this blog.


Ratings and Reviews

In order to provide a consistent grading standard across each restaurant/region, I order a barbecue pork sandwich (and other meats/sides if a restaurant/region specializes in another specialty). In addition to comparing the quality of food, I will also take into consideration other intangibles (ambiance, atmosphere, service, authenticity, etc.) in my ratings as I deem appropriate.

Basically, a 10/10 represents an incredible meal, while a 6/10 score indicates a decent dining experience but a substantial number of dishes fell short of great. Lower scores indicate unpleasant experiences which I would most likely not even recommend to my worst enemy (Jonas Singer).

I reserve the right to continuously edit/update previous posts and to change rating scores as I see fit.