Here’s a brainteaser for you. When was the last time a new restaurant opened in Old Town Alexandria that did so in a new building?
I’ve been wracking my brain on that one, and coming up empty on that one.
The same question can be asked about Del Ray. Of course, these are historically protected districts so it’s not an extraordinary thing if it has been a while.
But with the opening of Pork Barrel BBQ in the heart of Del Ray, which is apparently the first new restaurant in a new place in Del Ray in 20 years, we can now ask the question -- Can a new restaurant fit in the fabric and be as charming as the older ones?
After three visits to this new restaurant in the heart of Del Ray, I say the answer is yes.
In terms of its design and sympathy with its surroundings, a good debate could be had, but dining here will melt away any architectural criticisms. The bar is first-class fabulous with a neatly invented beer tower that features Port City IPA, a local brewer near Duke Street. The chow is comfort food, the presentation of the vintage bottled drinks in a metal through gives off old-school appeal, and some of the help has deep roots in the community.
The third time I went was yesterday, when they debuted lunch service at noon (permanent lettering says 1130, so we’ll have to see). On Opening Night I had the pulled pork. Second time, the ribs. Yesterday, the brisket.
There are small criticisms. They have no paper menus to be handed out, but that’s a green thing we should all appreciate. The taking of the order and money is still a little slow but the food arrives fast enough.
The greatest asset Pork Barrel has is the guiding hand of owner Mango Mike. He even swung open their door on opening night. He’s also created a feeling. When you walk in, the place invites you to not be in a hurry.
The first night was crazy, but that doesn’t count. Everyone was just tinkled pink (sorry) that the doors had finally swung open. I attended their groundbreaking ceremony in the spring of 2009.
On my second visit I ordered to go, and then cozied up to the bar as I waited. Requisite pair of flat screens with ESPN but music not cranked up to dance levels. The hand-laid rock walls give off a western charm. The bar’s counters no doubt set them back an arm and a leg. Their selection of brews didn’t include my beloved Newcastle, so I put them to the test and asked for something similar. The bartender recommended a Bell’s Brown Ale. Sip, sip …. give that man a raise!
Yesterday I also waited at the bar but didn’t order a beer. I chatted Stu Ellis Jr., handling the flow duties. I told him I enjoyed the Bell’s Brown Ale from my previous visit. He flashed a smile and said, “great.”
Turns out Stu was born and raised in Del Ray. He told me how his grandparents met on the bus that served Mount Vernon Street, Del Ray’s main drag. He ended up moving to other parts of the area but came back home to find the connections to community he missed.
Notice I haven’t talked much about the food yet. If you’re a Tar Heel looking to re-connect with the que of your youth, forget about it bubba. In North Carolina, BBQ is a noun. Here and other places it is the process. They’re two different worlds.
Having said that, you still might want to take your visitors from the South here, at least those who like Collard Greens. And Mango Mike, the owner, even included “Cheerwine.”
Like I said, charming.