Food & Drink

Review: Heritage Smokehouse is Smoking Hot in Govans

Follow the smell of smoke to the restaurant that glows like a beacon along York Road.
The Ron Swanson and a tiki rum cocktail. —Justin Tsucalas

When George Marsh, the former head chef and butcher at Parts & Labor, decided to open a restaurant, a barbecue joint seemed like the natural choice. Marsh remembers that when he smoked the meat outside the now-closed Remington restaurant, passersby would frequently call out to him from their cars. “People were constantly yelling out of their windows, ‘When is the barbecue going to be ready?’” says Marsh. “People respond to the smell of smoke. There’s just something about it—they can’t help themselves.”

Where’s there’s smoke, there’s barbecue. And, in this case, it’s coming from Heritage Smokehouse. On a November evening, my dining companions and I followed the smell of smoke to the restaurant that glows in Govans like a beacon along York Road.

The scene from outside. —Justin Tsucalas

Heritage feels very much like a Baltimore version of a classic barbecue joint, which is to say charmingly quirky. Marsh, a midcentury modern fan, modeled it after his own 1950s Lake Walker basement. With walls and booths fashioned from knotty pine and various pieces of taxidermy and photos of musicians (James Brown to Madonna to Dolly Parton) on the walls, the décor channels a Wes Anderson vibe.

And the tiki-forward drinks menu makes the whole experience—from eating with your hands to umbrellas poking out of the drinks—feel festive and eclectic.

Diners place their order at the bar and a runner brings the food to the table. We settled on the Ron Swanson (a nod to the carnivore-loving, “You had me at Meat Tornado” character on Parks and Recreation), and a sort of greatest hits of Heritage—pork spareribs, Käsekrainer, chicken leg and thigh, pork belly, and trout.

Within no time, the heaping platter of protein arrived. As we taste-tested our way through the goods, dipping each one into a variety of sauces, from molasses to mayo-based Alabama White Lightening, we debated the merits of our favorite. Was it the delicate and flavorful smoked trout with a dollop of sour-cream-potato dill sauce? The snappy Käsekrainer Austrian sausage flecked with chunks of cheddar and accompanied by a dab of stone-ground mustard for dipping? Or the butter-tender ribs slathered with a rub of mustard, coriander, cumin, fennel, and other spices, featuring a proper “smoke ring” under the bark of the meat? (We agreed to disagree, but each of us had our favorite.)

We also ordered several sides, including collard greens and smoky green chili pinto beans, but it was the mac-and-cheese, with its oversized elbow noodles, plus a honey dinner roll, which was delivered to our table by accident, that stole the sides show.

Chicken on the grill. —Justin Tsucalas
The smoker. —Justin Tsucalas

Barbecue boss Marsh—who came up with the name “Heritage” to avoid limiting himself to one style of barbecue, be it Texas or Tennessee—is at the top of his craft here. The meats are smoked out back in one of three smokers (ironically, toward the back of the building and adjacent to a dispensary—“they don’t care about all the smoke,” cracks Marsh). Most of the meat is cooked low and slow to allow the smoke to infuse and permeate the meat.

To avoid disappointment, check the menu, updated daily, before you go. In addition to smoked platters, there are composed plates such as stuffed cabbage, chicken and sausage gumbo, and perogies. Plans are in the works to soon smoke heirloom vegetables and seafood, as well.

George Marsh and his wife, Jen. —Justin Tsucalas

The signature must-have brisket is available Thursday through Sunday and sometimes sells out online before the place even opens. At a time when good service can be hard to come by, our order arrived impressively fast, and we never felt abandoned at our table.

Several times, various Smokehouse staffers checked in to see how we liked everything (to use the word love would not be hyperbolic here), to find out if we wanted another round of drinks (we did), and to ask if we desired dessert (we didn’t but changed our minds when our charming server, Sheila, suggested a heavenly old-fashioned banana pudding made by Marsh’s wife, Jen).

After several hours, filled to the gills, we disappeared into the night, still glowing from the aftermath of our meal.

“Even my belch tasted good,” I cracked. “My husband will love this,” said my friend, her Ron Swanson leftovers in tow. “I got home and enjoyed a good flossing,” our other dining companion remarked later. “Another sign of a solid barbecue joint.”