Sweet and Sassy
Blackrock Barbeque celebrates flavor, family, and moving forward.
By April Bartel and photos by Turner Photography Studio
2020 pummeled restaurants. Plenty of long-established favorites floundered under waves of unprecedented restrictions, consumer fear, and crippling shortages. Those able to weather the storm needed grit and ingenuity. For newer businesses, like Blackrock Barbeque at 11205 John F. Kennedy Dr. in Hagerstown, there’s never been anything else.
Blackrock Barbeque officially launched in September 2020, months after its projected target. Owner Anna Corbin recalls those uncertain times. “It affected me tremendously because I signed my lease in December 2019. We expected to move in by spring.” Opening was waylaid by six months due to COVID-19. So, Anna used the time to personalize the space, painting, working on reconstruction projects, and designing the décor, including the tribute to the American military in honor of her sons who served.
As a mom of six grown children and a seasoned entrepreneur, Anna forged ahead. “I opened up in a time when the industry was really suffering. It was hard.” Since she couldn’t hire staff, the en-deavor often became a one-woman show. “There were plenty of times I was running the place by myself, taking orders, running the register, cooking, and taking food to people. I would be here at five in the morning and leave at midnight.”
She explains, “I’ve always been self-employed as an adult.” Anna and her husband own a management company that ran the Family Recreation Park in Boonsboro for years. Groups would come for minigolf or batting practice and wanted a place to grab a bite as well. The insight prompted a second business. “That is when I started doing catering.” She channeled her lifelong love of cooking into opening a food truck to feed the visitors. Its name, also Blackrock Barbeque, acknowledges the park’s scenic view.
“When people came for corporate events or reunions, whatever they needed, I catered.” She established a circuit, including local farmers’ markets, tuning in to what local folks wanted to eat. “After six years, I figured, the food truck is going really well. Let me open a restaurant.”
In true foodie fashion, she dove into food culture and history, formulating a menu to reflect local traditions and tastes with a hint of her own globally-influenced upbringing. “My father is Greek and my mother is Swedish. Plus, we lived near DC, so we were encircled by a very international community.”
Anna’s mother was a celebrated cook among their friends and Anna joined her in the kitchen as a child. Discovering her own passion for cooking, she devoured cook books, challenging herself to cook her way through entire volumes. She laughs, “I cooked everything, from all over the world, just going recipe to recipe and trying it out. My parents got to eat a lot of interesting food.”
While perfecting original recipes for Blackrock, Anna explored the roots of Southern barbeque with its seductive notes of molasses, cumin, and fragrant cardamom; the variety of ingredients born of local farms; the riches of our great bay and bountiful ocean beyond; and what the diverse peoples who settled here brought to the table.
Crabcakes get a lot of attention as Maryland’s signature dish, but those in-the-know flock to Blackrock Barbeque for its take on Baltimore-style pit beef. It is a regional favorite that starts with hunks of beef round that are lightly seasoned then charred at a high temperature before being cut thin to serve. “It’s not a low and slow cook. It’s a fast sear. We do it medium rare then slice it to order.” It is finished on the grill so people can have it done to whatever degree they prefer.
In counterpoint, Blackrock’s hand-rubbed brisket takes about 14 hours from start to finish. It luxuriates in a blend of Hickory, Mesquite, and charcoal smoke that winds its intoxicating aroma throughout the restaurant. Both meaty preparations are popular as sandwiches or in combos, even piled onto a mountain of fries and fixings in one of Blackrock’s distinctive fry bowls. Diners can customize a bowl with pit beef or brisket, pulled pork or Mediterranean-style grilled chicken, adorned with shredded cheese, real bacon pieces, sour cream, house-made sweet smoky BBQ sauce, and jalapeño slices.
The fries, themselves, have a uniquely crisp texture. Fans keep guessing, but Anna won’t give up details about her secret method. She is playfully cagy when asked, “They take days to make. It took us about two years of trial and error to get that process down 100 percent. Basically, we start with potatoes and wind up with French fries.” (Hint: They are not air-fried.) She says one thing is never in question, “we make everything fresh.”
That includes rubs, spice blends, and sauces. Between Blackrock’s six varieties of barbeque sauce, Anna makes about 100 gallons per week. She’s even in the process of having those professionally packaged for retail. For now, fans can grab a filled mason jar to go with their favorite meat by the pound for an indulgent picnic, special gathering, or easy dinner at home. The menu also includes juicy burgers, racks of ribs, smoked chicken wings, pulled pork tacos, and savory slabs of meatloaf topped with a sweet and tangy gloss, even a Caesar salad served with a selection of meat.
When customers asked for a healthy alternative to fries in their bowls, Anna drew from a world of choices. She quickly opted for Jasmine rice but took a while to investigate the perfect pasta option. “I tested like 50 types of noodles. When I found the yakisoba, I knew that was the one.” Yakisoba is a long, Japanese-style wheat noodle that is usually served as part of a stir-fry. “It holds its shape nicely. It’s soft, not tough, and doesn’t absorb the sauce and bloat. Otherwise,” Anna continues, “The meat I serve is pretty lean. Even the brisket is well-trimmed.”
Anna’s attention to detail informs every recipe, from her mac and cheese with shells that cup the sauce to her meaty, slow-simmered beans, “moistest” cornbread, and creamy coleslaw. Her cheesy scalloped potatoes can also be loaded into a bowl with your choice of meat, corn and tomato pico, bacon, sour cream, house-made sauce, and French-fried onions. For dessert, it is whole-hog indulgence. The rotating roster may include fudgy Texas sheet cake or tender carrot cake, but diners can’t get enough of Blackrock’s caramelized banana pudding with cinnamon wafers and sweet Mediterranean spices. “I make it on Tuesday and sell it out by Wednesday. Then I make it again.”
Anna says she doesn’t see herself joining the barbeque competition circuit any time soon, although she’s been invited. “I am too busy.” Right now, she is looking forward to finally celebrating a long overdue “grand opening” on June 11 to meet the community and welcome back those who have supported Blackrock Barbeque since its launch. She plans to set up in the parking lot along Robinwood Drive, grilling, offering samples, and beckoning folks with the allure of smokey goodness.
For now, she is happy to see people enjoying all Blackrock Barbeque has to offer. It’s confirmation that, despite the storms, there’s always something good on the horizon.