For most Marylanders, April marks the beginning of crab season as it rightly should, however for me sunny days are all about slow cooked meat.
This week, I had barbecue on the brain, so I headed just a few miles down York Road from Lutherville-Timonium to Cockeysville’s most notorious barbecue joint to finally see for myself what all the hype was about.
Now if not for the porcelain pig mounted on the roof of this nondescript little building, it would be all too easy to drive straight by as Andy Nelson’s keeps its exterior simple and its parking lot small. Once inside the décor is somewhat more exciting as the wood walls are lined with critical praise and memorabilia from numerous Maryland sports celebrities who have frequented the restaurant in the past. As cute and quaint as the place may look however, I have to admit that once I walked in and the absolutely knee-buckling aroma coming from the open kitchen hit my nostrils, I cared about one thing and one thing only — the food.
At Andy Nelson’s the menu is relatively small at first glance. It basically consists of pulled pork, barbecue ribs, beef brisket, beef barbecue and barbecue chicken. As you continue to peruse the options scribbled onto the chalk menu however you start to discover that there is so much more than a handful of meats. With the numerous different combo platters available and a host of different sides to pair with each cut, Andy Nelson’s menu becomes a virtual wish list of southern culinary tradition.
Naturally I felt compelled to sample as many selections as my poor stomach would allow, and this is a rare occasion when I can honestly say there was not a single item that seemed to be phoned in. I had expected good things from the ribs and pulled pork and what I got went above and beyond as the ribs were falling apart yet still managed to have a perfect bark charred on the outside. The pulled pork was tender and physics-defyingly moist with a delicate hickory flavor and just the slightest hint of vinegar to balance out the smoke.
What I hadn’t expected was how much detail went into the simplest things.
The baked beans that are no more than a side dish at Andy Nelson’s were beyond doubt the most flavorful I have ever tasted. My cornbread was light yet moist, and even the collard greens had depth and complexity that is rarely found even in signature dishes.
I am never one to dole out praise if I feel it is unwarranted and having recently returned from a trip that took me through St. Louis and Kansas City I was prepared to give Andy Nelson’s a stern brush off. But in the spirit of honesty I have to tip my cap to a long standing smokehouse that is doing everything right. The staple of great southern cuisine (especially barbecue) is tradition paired with patience.
Great barbecue takes time and while my rack of ribs may have taken eight or so hours to make, it is clear that they took about 80 or so years to make perfectly. At Andy Nelson’s the atmosphere may seem simple, but don’t be fooled, there are magical things happening behind that countertop and if you’re smart you won’t want to miss it.