Every day, Executive Chef Lindsey Ayala fires up a smoker outside the Crowne Plaza hotel in Crystal City and feeds the fire with hickory wood.
She is smoking meats “low and slow,” slathering them with scratch-made sauces and serving sides such as mac and cheese, collard greens, and cheddar cornbread for a new pop-up restaurant concept within the hotel called Tom Bones BBQ.
The food is available for delivery through on GrubHub and UberEats or can be picked up from Potomac Social Tavern at 1480 Crystal Drive. It is how Potomac Social Tavern, managed by B. F. Saul Company Hospitality Group, is looking to weather the limitations on indoor dining while still cooking food for restaurant patrons and hotel guests.
Ayala, a pastry chef by training who came to barbecue later in her career, said she tries to be faithful to regional barbecue styles from in Memphis to Missouri. Even Baltimore, her hometown, has its own horseradish sauce, although people may not realize it, she said.
“Anywhere you go on the map, I have the sauce for that,” she said.
She delivers region-specific tastes through her sauces, whether it is a South Carolina-style mustard sauce or an eastern North Carolina-style spicy vinegar sauce.
“Southern states are usually where you get serious barbecue, so when people come to Virginia, they think we’re Northerners who don’t know anything,” she said. “Hopefully, it’ll remind you of how they do it at home.”
Ayala dove into barbecuing when she developed recipes to help her father launch a family restaurant in 2014. The two ran the restaurant and sold their food at flea markets, farmers’ markets and church events. Not long after, however, he had to leave to attend to his health.
Now, Ayala is picking up where she and her father left off, smoking brisket for up to 16 hours a day on the pool patio of the Crowne Plaza (the pool is still closed as a COVID-19 precaution).
So far, Ayala said the new concept is going well enough that she needed to hire a second cook. Generally speaking, she said these pickup and delivery-only concepts — sometimes called ghost kitchens — provide restaurant owners with a good safety net, helping to generate extra revenue at a tiny fraction of the cost of launching a new bricks-and-mortar restaurant.
“I think this will stick around,” she said. “If this happens again, we need a safety net to get our food out there without people having to sit down and dine.”
The pop-up concept is a pilot program within the hospitality group, Ayala said. The other restaurant testing out the idea is O’Malley’s Pub inside the Holiday Inn near Dulles airport. There, she said, Chef Stephon Washington is operating a pickup and delivery concept for Caribbean-style food, inspired by his Jamaican roots, called Grandpa Hank’s Jamaican Kitchen.
“It’s an equally great story,” she said.