Meal: Weekday Lunch
Atmosphere: Casual & Family-Friendly
Service: Friendly & Attentive
Hempen Hill BBQ Bar & Grill (located at 13208 Fountain Head Plaza) always seems to win tons of awards from the Hagerstown Magazine Hot List. Indeed, throughout the restaurant are large signs and blackboards displaying the various 2009 awards earned by Hempen Hill BBQ Bar & Grill, including “#1 Best Overall Restaurant,” “#1 Family Friendly Restaurant,” “#1 Best Overall Bar,” and “#1 Vegetarian Selection.” The signs are almost overwhelming. In fact, Dining Companion (DC) pointed to all the signs (we could see three of them from our table) and then said, “Doesn't it seem like they're begging people to eat in their restaurant?”
I, however, was feeling quite hungry and was hoping that the accolades displayed were, indeed, earned.
Our waitress showed us to our table and proceeded to take our drink order. She was extremely pleasant, outgoing and friendly. Throughout the entire meal she remained attentive and engaging. Overall, I'd say she was an excellent server.
The atmosphere of Hempen Hill BBQ Bar & Grill is casual. The bar area is sectioned off from the main dining area. I could easily see how this establishment would become a hotspot at night, especially since they often feature live music. On the other hand, it also seemed like a perfectly acceptable and comfortable restaurant for both business lunches and family meals. The décor includes some interesting touches, such as a “warehouse” style open ceiling and signs that read “Shirts” and “Skirts” to designate the Men's Restroom and the Ladies' Restroom. (The restroom was very clean and updated, although the first stall in the Ladies' Restroom is a little small.)
I was a little curious as to why this restaurant was rated as the “#1 Family Friendly Restaurant,” since I didn't see a single child in the establishment, so I asked to see a children's menu. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the kids' side dishes included applesauce, yogurt, a fresh fruit cup and sweet potato fries. Had a child been with me, I would have felt comfortable ordering from Hempen Hill BBQ Bar & Grill's children's menu.
Hempen Hill BBQ Bar & Grill serves a wide variety of dishes. (According to their website, the menu changes three times a year.) Barbecue style meals are, of course, heavily featured on the menu, but other options are available. A smoked turkey club with a side dish costs $8.49, and the grilled chicken, bacon and cheese sandwich is priced at $7.99. A half rack of baby back ribs will cost you $14.99, and the shrimp & scallop dinner costs $18.99. There are many vegetarian dishes available, including a mock chicken ravioli ($13.99), a veggie burger ($7.99), and smoked tofu with noodles ($13.99).
Our food arrived fairly quickly and was delivered hot. (Even the pickle spear was hot, rendering it almost inedible.) DC and I agreed that the hand-cut French fries (which cost an additional fee) were the best part of our meal at Hempen Hill BBQ Bar & Grill. They were perfectly fried and had that delightful “boardwalk” taste. The baked beans, too, were quite delicious. They were neither too sweet nor too spicy, and they had a delectable smoky undertone.
The NC Pulled Pork sandwich was, in my opinion, average. The cole slaw lacked flavor, and the meat could have used a little extra seasoning. Overall, it seemed slightly dull and bland, but it was still superior to many other pulled pork sandwiches in the region.
The Baltimore Pit Beef sandwich at Hempen Hill BBQ Bar & Grill was tender, though not particularly juicy. There were quite a few big hunks of gristle on the meat. In fact, I spent five minutes trying to remove a piece from between my teeth. This did cast a bit of a damper over the sandwich, but in general it was fairly tasty.
Since it was the middle of the afternoon, we didn't order alcoholic beverages. But I did glance at the beer list, and it seemed like a very nice selection.
My verdict: I'm not quite sure that Hempen Hill BBQ Bar & Grill deserves the “#1 Best Overall Restaurant” award for the Hagerstown area. However, the food is pretty tasty and the service is excellent, and it has a really nice selection for vegetarians, children, barbecue-lovers and beer-drinkers.