From competitions to storefront
Yes, Mookie’s BBQ is from the same folks behind the catering company and competition team Big Mook’s BBQ.
The name change is because of the negative connotations of the word mook (stupid, foolish person), though the origins for owner and pitmaster Brian Varani’s nickname, Mook, were pure: his childhood adoration for 1980s Mets’ player Mookie Wilson.
Varani’s interest in food started early: he cooked at a diner in his native New Jersey at 13. As a adult, he worked as a an auditing consultant,and in 2010 entered into barbecue competitions. Even though Jersey is not known for its barbecue culture,
Varani says he connected to the “camaraderie that tends to surround barbecue.”
He founded Big Mook’s BBQ in 2011 and quit his consulting job soon after to focus on opening his new restaurant, which opened last month.
Mookie’s offers brisket—a first place winner in Maryland’s 2012 Swinetastic BBQ Festival—rubbed in a salt-pepper-chili powder mixture and smoked for 12 hours. There’s also pork shoulder, pulled pork with a Memphis-style sauce, pork ribs in a Kansas City-inspired sweet sauce, pulled chicken, turkey, salads and a variety of sides with brunch on the weekend. / 1141 Walker Road, Great Falls
From truck to brick-and-mortar
Even though Joe Neuman is turning his food truck Sloppy Mama’s into a full-fledged restaurant, he’s not sacrificing real barbecue cred. He’ll cook over an oak-wood fire instead of using electricity.
Unlike the truck, which will continue roaming Northern Virginia, the 40-seat shop, opened in June, will offer more than barbecue. The menu welcomes burgers, tacos, sandwiches, seasonal salads and prepackaged carryout, plus, of course, meat-and-two plates of beef brisket, chicken, pulled pork, smoked sausages and sides of collard greens, baked beans, coleslaw, mac and cheese and grits. There will also be wine and local beer. / 14566 Lee Road, Chantilly
From judge to restaurant owner
With experience judging sanctioned barbecue competitions and running Georgetown barbecue restaurant Old Glory, Jim Foss and his partner, Kris Diemar, formed the restaurant group Pitmaster Hospitality with hopes to open several restaurants. The first, opened in June, is Smokehouse Live, an old-school meat counter where you can order barbecue while live country music plays in the background.
“The secret is in our smoke,” says Diemar, referring to the restaurant’s colossal Ole Hickory smokers with white oak on the inside, where meat sits for hours, soaking in the smoky essence.
Meats include brisket, Texas short ribs, pulled pork, spare ribs, sausage and sides of slaw, Texas caviar, Brunswick stew, succotash, grits and chili. The Sunday brunch buffet features barbecue staples next to biscuit French toast, creamed spinach Benedict and bacon sticky buns. / 1602 Village Market Blvd. SE, Suite E-120, Leesburg
From one barbecue shop to another
Sweet Heat BBQ
In the early 1980s, 1810 Michael Faraday Drive was the address of Pepper’s Texas BBQ, owned by local basketball coach Stu Vetter.
Vetter stills owns the property and now, more than 30 years later, the space returns to its roots with Sweet Heat BBQ.
Since it’s opening in March, the restaurant has already gone through a change in management and kitchen staff. Its former chef Kermit Griffin brought a chicory-coffee soaked brisket on a Hawaiian milk bun encrusted with blacked onions and poppy seeds that rivaled much of the scene’s take on the smoked beef. Current owner Rick Rahim says the recipe remains the same even without the chef. The menu also includes barbecue classics like ribs, pulled pork and chicken, but plays to today’s trends with a kale salad. / 1810 Michael Faraday Drive, Reston
From California to Springfield
Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill
When Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill opened its first restaurant outside of California at the Springfield Town Center last month, the kitchen knew to switch wood.
Sweet hickory replaces mesquite in the smokers because “it’s a flavor with which the region is very familiar,” says Alex Benes, a partner and the director of culinary development.
Established in 1992, the West Coast chain serves hormone-free pork and sustainably ranched, angus-certified beef. Barbecue dishes—multiple types of ribs, plus pulled pork and brisket—are only part of the menu. There are also burgers, steaks and seafood. / 6797 Springfield Mall, Springfield