A Sweet Spot
For Barbecue Fans, a Little Yellow House in Hamilton is Just Shy of Heaven
Eating barbecue is fine with me, but pitting regional variations against each other, watching buffoons on television demonstrate their prize-winning recipes, and otherwise being compelled to celebrate the unique American heritage of barbecuing puts me off my feed. If I’m not forever searching for the world’s best barbecue, though, the idea of a perfect barbecue joint gets my eyes misty. I think it’s half an atavistic response—tearing with teeth at animal parts while gathered around the fire makes me feel all human—and half a sentimental one, the lure of the roadside, the democratization of a picnic table.
So, I found myself pretty excited about a brand new barbecue joint in Hamilton. Big Bad Wolf’s House of Barbeque (5713 Harford Road,  444-6422) has been open for just about a month, operating out of what it describes, accurately it turns out, as a “little yellow brick house.” Big Bad Wolf’s is very plainly a labor of love, and for its co-owner Scott Smith, who would pass the abandoned little yellow house while driving his daughters to the library, a dream come true. He brings to this venture both fine-dining experience (Charleston, Petit Louis, Louisiana) and time spent making humbler fare for Eastern Shore diners, including the inhabitants of a firehouse. An appreciation for barbecue developed, which in brief conversation turned out to be refreshingly nonmaniacal. Just a good and capable cook doing his own thing.
The menu offers six sauce applications—Kansas City sweet or spicy, Carolina mustard or vinegar, Texas pit style, and sweet honey—to pork ribs, pulled pork, beef ribs, beef brisket, or chicken. In two cases, a particular sauce is heavily recommended: Texas style for the brisket, Carolina vinegar for the pulled pork. Iconoclasts can have a hamburger or a grilled chicken sandwich, and for captive vegetarians there’s a veggie burger.
There are two plastic tables outside the entrance and a clean but sweaty tile counter inside. The little yellow brick house is tidy and charming, with an illustration of the joint’s slobbering mascot wolf painted on the pitched ceiling. Because the house is set back from the street, you can sit outside and not feel part of the traffic. Hamilton life intruded once: A car screeched, movie style, to the curb; the driver inquired of two strolling gentlemen whether they had been earlier that evening in his mother’s house. They said they hadn’t. (We think they maybe had.)
Food arrived quickly, somewhat haphazardly, in carry-out containers. A half-rack of pork ribs ($7.95), with Texas pit style sauce, was a promising first arrival. The ribs were meaty, with enough fat for flavor. The meat didn’t fall off the bone, as some insist it should, but not much effort was needed to gnaw it free. The sauce, applied after the cooking, was a distinct winner—tomato-sweet and powerfully peppery, with hints of fruit, probably pineapple. This was a sauce that wanted to be licked off the plate, not so easy with Styrofoam. A rack with the Kansas City sweet sauce demonstrated the cook’s equal talent with marinade-in sauces, in this case a deep and balanced blend of smoky and sweet flavors.
The Eastern Shore chicken (half, $5.95) requires continuously mopping the bird with a pepper- and Old Bay-flavored vinegar-based bath. It results in succulent skin that grabs up in the fingers and meat that remains tender and juicy, except perhaps at the thickest sections. A thing to drive for. The pulled pork sandwich ($4.95), served on an untoasted kaiser roll (it gets right soggy that way), found favor from a Charleston, S.C., native for its assertive vinegariness and traditional pepper seasoning,
The sides ($1, $3.50 family size) could use some attention. Collard greens were openly salty, with hunks of pig meat, but they turned too soupy in their carry-out tub. The macaroni and cheese was a curious and incidental misfire, spindly pasta and lack of hefty goo. Dessert is either homemade cookies (three for $1.50) or Flintstone-sized hunks of the sweetest, juiciest watermelon we’ve eaten all summer ($1).
The overall verdict here: very, very good, but short of revelatory, shy of heaven. That’s a lot to ask of anything, of course. We just don’t want to oversell food that’s so basically good and honest, and makes us feel like barely reconstructed cave people.