O'Brien's Pit Barbecue has been a fixture in Rockville for well over 37 years. So imagine my surprise when I Googled them for this article and found they had changed their name. Pity the poor, painstakingly polite waitress who had the misfortune to answer the phone when I called to find out what happened. She assured me (over and over) and it was the exact same food as O'Brien's always had. I even named particular menu items I had grown to know and love, and received her patient reassurance for each one. By the time it was all over I'm surprised she didn't hang up on me.
As a maven of Smoked Meats myself (my BBQ restaurant was a scant 4 or 5 miles from Branded 72), I am difficult to please–bordering on annoying, I'm told. If the long-suffering waitron is to be believed–she was very sincere–then their Chopped Pork Sandwich, piled with their delightfully dry and crunchy cole slaw and crowned with a couple of pickle chips, is the one against which most others are (or at least should be) measured. Shoulders are smoked over hickory for a very long time until the outsides are perfectly charred, and the insides are juicy and pink from the wood smoke. They are chopped to order as you move down the Chow Line, so the meat remains moist and warm from the smoker. Their Beef Brisket is also quite tasty, smoked with the fat cap still attached. This makes for a moist and flavorful chopped (or sliced) sandwich or platter. Smoked chicken, sausages and ham round out the BBQ specialties.
It looks like they have added some stuff to the menu as Yuppie-Bait (some sort of “Ginger Salmon Salad” thing, Chicken Salad and a “Texican Egg Roll” that, upon closer inspection, looks pretty good). In spite of the additions, the menu still leans heavily (and I mean that in the full sense of the word) in the direction of Smoked Meats. They have the two standard cuts of ribs, the Spare Ribs, also known as St. Louis Cut, and the Baby Backs (same pig, with part of the rack trimmed off). Sides look very much the same too.
So I returned to Thunderdome, went to Branded 72/O'Brien's Pit BBQ, and it was the same as it always was. I can't understand how they would throw away more than 37 years of developing the O'Brien's name to simply throw it all away by changing the name. Oh well, there might have been a good reason.
Branded 72 is still at the former O'Brien's location at 387 East Gude Drive, just a few blocks south of Rockville Pike. Call them at (301) 340-8596 to check on their hours. If it is indeed the same, you're in for a treat. (L., D., Bar) Click here for a look at Branded 72's menu. Price range: Moderate.