Sucking the meat off the bone at a Locust Point barbecue joint
Sitting at a picnic table on Harborque's deck overlooking Lawrence Street prompts idle thoughts. What is the "Memories Dance" scheduled for October at the K of C Hall on Hull Street as advertised on a flyer taped to one of the restaurant's windows? What is transported in all those sleek silver Foodliner trucks that rumble by? Just how many people take the water taxi to nearby Fort McHenry? And why does barbecue provoke such blissed-out mind-wandering?
I blame the protein rush and a bottle of Victory Prima Pils.
There will be those who quibble about the cuteness of Harborque's name (it's pronounced "har-bor-cue"), whether or not the 'cue is really Carolina authentic, or if it's better than local favorites Andy Nelson or Big Bad Wolf. Barbecue raises such passions, so y'all go ahead and argue while I gnaw a rib down to the bone.
'Cause I like Harborque. I like the welcoming vibe of the folks behind the counter who also bring your meal to your table. ("If there's something I've forgotten," said the big man who brought our food, "You come back and see me.") I like that there's parking, that you (and your dog) can sit outside under the big red awning, and that you can bring your own beer. ("I think it tastes better with beer," said the woman who took our order.) I like debating among collards and hush puppies and cole slaw as sides. And I like the generous servings and fair prices, which wouldn't mean a thing if the food wasn't enjoyable. But, luckily, it is.
Harborque's menu is compact and mostly straightforward, mixing local favorites like pit beef and smoked polish sausage with sauerkraut with pulled-pork barbecue, chicken, ribs, and wings. They also offer a Caesar salad and two messy-sounding starters: Carolina nachos, aka tortilla chips with pulled pork, jalapeños, barbecue and cheese sauce, and the unappealingly named BBQ sundae, a similar layered concoction with baked beans, pork, slaw, and a pickle. Perhaps these kinds of novelties hold appeal to some eaters, but when $7.95 gets you a sandwich and two sides, why pile it all on together?
Instead, try the pulled-pork ($5.95 sandwich/$7.95 platter), a massive serving of richly piquant meat that spills over the sides of a soft bun. Top it with some mildly spicy hot sauce and a dollop of crunchy slaw, take a big bite, and sigh. Reach over to another compartment of your Styrofoam container and crunch on a golden hush puppy while you contemplate your second bite or better yet, sneak a forkful of your companion's midnight-green collards, tart with vinegar, or coffee-brown baked beans, smoky and redolent of molasses. But avoid the cornbread if you like yours savory rather than sweet and cake-like.
If this food fantasy doesn't suit your tastes, try another on for size. A special, beef barbecue ($7.95 platter), reminded me, in a good way, of the homestyle dish we'd make with leftover Sunday roast, chopped up fine and mixed with homemade barbecue sauce. Pit ham ($5.95/$7.95) was salty, pink, squeaky lean, and tasted best with a squirt of vivid orange Carolina honey mustard and a side of sweet cinnamon apples. It's not going to convert anyone to pit ham, but if you love this kind of pork, you'll be satisfied.
The chicken and ribs combo ($14.95) provoked a stronger reaction. A tender rib is a good rib, one that's not mushy, but with the meat ready to yield from the bone. These ribs were just that, sticky with sauce, and a pleasurable mess to eat, as was the moist chicken, where both light and dark meat were cooked thoroughly but avoided dryness.
Harborque serves a giant slab of bread pudding ($3.50) drenched in what might be the same sauce as used for the cinnamon apples, as well as a selection of old-fashioned cakes, like red velvet, lemon, and coconut, sitting under plastic domes on the counter. If you need dessert, though, you either have a death wish or you haven't embraced the 'cue. Go grab a handful of Wet Ones and tuck in.