Here’s the problem when you make real wood-smoked barbecue without gas or electricity: it actually smells like smoke. That can make it difficult to find a place to open up shop in the city.
“We might find a location that’s awesome, and then there’s condos right there. Everybody in the neighborhood is going to hate you because your clothes are going to smell like smoke,” says Sloppy Mama’s owner Joe Neuman, a former high school history/philosophy teacher and football coach who got into the barbecue biz with a food truck in 2014.
So, Neuman has opted for another route—at least for now. He smokes his meats at food incubator Mess Hall then transports his brisket and ribs to satellite locations, including Solly’s on U Street and a stall at Union Market. He’ll continue that model with his latest venture: a barbecue counter inside Quarter Market Food Hall, opening in Ballston in September. Sloppy Mama’s will join a slew of local vendors serving sushi-burritos, wood-fired pizza, and fresh pastas.
“The mobile barbecue business has really done well for us,” Neuman says. Plus, he adds, barbecue lends itself well to travel because the meat has to rest. With the new location, his team will start smoking 24-hours a day, supplying loads of meats for lunch and dinner. “The more we move, the better we can do,” he says.
The Ballston outpost will have six to eight bar stools and feature the same menu of sandwiches and platters as its Union Market counterpart. Think classics—central Texas-style brisket, Carolina-style pulled pork, Memphis-style ribs—plus occasional specials like sausages or smoked lamb. All the meats get seasoned with “happy sprinkles,” Sloppy’s Mama’s own barbecue rub using spices that they toast and grind themselves plus guajillo and ancho chili powders. On the side: baked beans, corn bread, potato salad, coleslaw, and pickles. Oh, and beer.
Even as he expands his satellite operations, though, Neuman is still looking for a restaurant space where he can bring his oak-fueled smoker.
“The legitimate barbecue man’s quandary is: where are we going to smoke meat?”