Fat Pete’s Barbecue in Cleveland Park, aesthetically, hits all the hallmarks of any 2010s barbecue restaurant run by a bearded, 30-year-old hipster white guy named Eli — except, mercifully, for the communal tables.
The interior design is, of course, reclaimed urban industrial. There is damaged brick, aged paint, exposed metal beams, and the lights from your grandfather’s tool shed.
The bar is wood, probably repurposed. Drinks come in mason jars. The food is served, as it must, on prison mess hall trays, everything partitioned in its own disposable basket.
And there are the t-shirts with an innuendoed slogan. I got smoked at Fat Pete’s Barbecue.
Fat Pete could have ordered his restaurant from the Internet. Or Brooklyn, where it would stand indistinguishable from the other soulless, industrial-chic fooderies that refuse to sell a combo meal or name-brand sodas.
Fortunately, Fat Pete’s makes good ’cue and has combo meals, which means you’re not paying $25 (plus tip) for a sandwich, one side and an eight-ounce bottle of Bob’s Indie All-Natural Organic Soda Pop, squeezed humanely (and consensually) from free-range sugarcanes.
The pulled pork is also delicious, which is all that really matters. Everything else is just an annoyance.
The pork is smoky, thick and, most importantly, barky. A platter ($11.99) serving fills its entire basket on the prison tray, as do the sides, of which there are two. The trays arrive full, unlike the trays at those other gritty, urban-renewal barbecue restaurants, where the negative space between an a la carte lunch overwhelms the presentation and, later, intensifies the feeling that you’ve been ass-fabbed by Eli.
The sides — I had macaroni and cheese and cornbread — were better than acceptable.
The mac and cheese was the requisite chemical neon marigold yellow color of all barbecue-restaurant mac and cheese, but minus that cheese-product-from-a-faucet texture — and with heavy back hints of cheddar, which were lovely. It was also, technically, cavatappi and cheese.
The cornbread wasn’t all that sweet (true Southern cornbread isn’t) and it crumbled and it was warm. Fat Pete gives you two big chunks with butter, which is nice of him. He also has fountain Coke.
Of Washington D.C.’s big two ’cue joints, Fat Pete’s and DCity Smokehouse — which is exponentially more joint-like than Fat Pete’s, but also a congregating point for vagrants — Fat Pete’s is the District’s superior option for pulled pork despite the establishment’s obligatory, executed-by-rote decor and glut of sauces.
One sauce is all you need. One. Maybe two, if you want to make one spicy or offer a simple North Carolina vinegar option.
Be confident and sure of sauce. Don’t pander and don’t ever make an Alabama white sauce because mayonnaise has no place in barbecue. It’s also from Alabama, a state that, in addition to shitting out George Wallace, has proudly resisted all human progress since 1817.
Anyway, if you want pulled pork in D.C., go to Fat Pete’s. The BBQ Joint in Union Market isn’t bad, either. Except that it’s at Union Market, in a neighborhood fortified by stabbings, hepatitis and government neglect.