|Red Hot & Blue: Finger-Licking Good
Barbecue is fun food. When you think of eating barbecue whatever style or preparation you think of rolling up your sleeves, smackin your lips and making a mess. Combine that activity with some really good tunes like blues and you have all the ingredients for a fun time and a good restaurant. Not a unique concept these days, as more and more franchises jump on the Barbecue bandwagon, but we in the Annapolis area are lucky to have one of the originals (franchises, that is) in the form of Red Hot & Blue.
The brainchild of former (and now deceased) Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater, Red Hot & Blue mixes Memphis-style barbecue with a casual atmosphere and loud rocking music. The Annapolis location, with its landmark windmill located just off Rt. 50 and Bay Dale Drive, has been busy serving food and fun since 1991.
Franchise owner/operator Chris Keller is happy to point out the difference between Memphis-style barbecue and such other styles as North Carolina. The smoking process makes the difference. Hickory wood is used to slow cook meats for up to 12 hours, making it tender and moist. The addition of cole slaw to sandwiches is also said to be a Memphis custom. Ribs are available dry, cooked with a special seasoned rub, or wet, baked in a house sauce.
The restaurant, which seats up to 145, is designed with a moderate bar at its core and two divided dining rooms with tables and booths layered toward the outside wall. Smoking is permitted at the bar, but the filtration system appeared effective, until someone started on a cigar (which permeated the entire restaurant, but I wont nag).
Tables are adorned with trays holding a variety of sauces (sweet, hot, mild,) and plenty of wet wipes. Tablecloths are vinyl, making for easy cleanup.
Red Hot & Blue is a family-friendly restaurant with crayons, highchairs and kids cups, as well as a special promotion offering free eats for kids on Tuesdays through March.
Service is informal and youthful. Runners help get the food to your table while its still hot, but its not always error-free. On two recent visits, order errors occurred but were quickly remedied with appropriate apologies. Sometimes service was pushing over-attentive, as was the case when our waitress checked not once but twice to see how we liked our appetizer when we hadnt had a chance to taste it yet. All in all, the kitchen is surprisingly quick and well timed.
Speaking of food, the menu has the important recurring theme barbecue. Whether you like pulled pig (sandwich $4.89 or platter $6.99), wet or dry ribs (reg. $9.99, large $12.49, slab for two $17.99), beef brisket (sandwich $4.99 or platter $7.99), smoked sausage (sandwich $5.99 or platter $8.99) or just about any combination, its here. Chili, chicken and catfish are also available in a variety of presentations.
To start your meal, offerings are limited but no less tasty. Fried jalapeño bites ($3.99), catfish fingers ($5.49), sausage & cheese platter ($5.29) and wings ($5.99) all sound good. Recently Ive tried both the nachos ($5.99) and the onion ring loaf ($3.49), a crispy (and greasy) block of fried onion rings served with a house dressing (our waitress informed us it was a simple mixture of salad dressing and sauce). The nachos are offered with your choice of chicken, chili or pork. We chose chicken, and what a nice surprise. Not the mammoth portion we see around, but a moderate plate piled with thick and warm homemade chips with pulled white meat chicken, cheese, peppers, diced tomatoes and sour cream with a side dish of salsa. Mmm, mmm good!
For entrees, I broke trend and ordered the grilled chicken salad ($6.49), a very large bowl of salad with tomato, carrot, hard-boiled egg, cucumber and red onion topped with a generous serving of grilled chicken. Sided with the wonderful homemade sour dough bread, this is what I would consider a lite meal. The signature Southern fried chicken salad is another good choice ($6.29) for those choosing to eat with a fork.
My companion, on the other hand, went for the combination of ribs half wet/half dry. This ample serving is usually served with the house cole slaw, but a quick substitution was made for an order of the creamy and delicious potato salad along with barbecue beans. (I could easily make a meal of the side dishes alone.) The ribs, I was told, were perfectly done and very meaty. My companion preferred the dry style, which made for better dipping in the variety of sauces.
To wash it all down, several draft beers are available, including the Red Hot & Blue Brew (a Foggy Bottom beer) served in a large 16-ounce glass ($3.57). Soda and ice tea is conveniently served in small pitchers for individual consumption. It seems like a lot at first, but youll be surprised at the thirst you build.
I have heard great things about the banana pudding ($2.29) and blackberry cobbler ($2.99), but as usual I didnt pace myself. Maybe next time.
200 Old Mill Bottom Road, Annapolis (410)626-7427
Proprietor: Chris Keller
Reason to go: Finger-lickin good times with good tunes, too.
Something to think about: Keep your eyes peeled in Calvert County. Owner Keller is opening a new Prince Frederick location in early summer.