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B is for barbecue

The sun is out, the weather's warm, and it just seems right for barbecue. This isn't to be confused with "grilling" - what many of us do on our outdoor barbecue. As any true connoisseur will tell you, barbecue means meat that has been cooked for a long time over a fire, usually until it is extremely flavorful and fork-tender.

You can do this on your own outdoor barbecue, but not everyone wants to take the time or make the effort. So instead, you and your family can head out to buy some barbecue. A heaping plate of ribs is my husband's idea of nirvana--and my kids are right there with him. Here's the only problem. Some barbecue joints are just that: restaurants that are long on wonderful food, but short on ambiance. They may be great for take out, but I'm not always excited about sticking around. I don't expect a Metropolitan Grill-type dining experience, but I am looking for something that's a step up from Dick's.

Smokin' Pete's BBQ in Ballard fits the bill. A somewhat sparse but cheerful decor (be sure to look up and catch the purple ceiling) offers tables and a wide expanse of window by which you can sit and watch the world go by.

As is typical of many of the best barbecue places, you place your order at the counter before heading over to a central station stocked with tableware, glasses and pitchers of water. Don't forget to pick up some extra napkins. Your food will be delivered to your table.

The combo platter--at $17--is a good way to sample a lot of what Smokin' Pete's offers. Brisket, ribs, chicken and sausage come on a well-laden plate. This is advertised as "more than enough for one" and they aren't kidding, especially when you add in the two sides (hot and cold selections are available) and the sweet potato corn bread that comes with all dinner orders.

My son ordered the ribs. The meaty plateful disappeared quickly with no complaints. Since I'm not big on ribs, I sampled the chicken, very flavorful and fork tender; and sausage--chicken andouille from CasCioppo Brothers. I would have happily eaten a few of these, and could easily have ordered more: They are available for $2.50 each "by the link."

As we worked our way through the combo, we sampled the four sauces at the table and reached agreement: the "Smokin' Pete's Hot" sauce had a bit of a kick, but wasn't really hot. My husband voted for the "original" sauce over all others, which also included "Spicy Sweet Thai" and "Carolina Sour."

The side dishes included a bland serving of vegetarian beans, and a hearty potato salad. Options we didn't try included macaroni and cheese, southern greens, dirty rice, fries, coleslaw, Asian slaw, Seattle greens and blackened broccoli. Pete's offers a few entrees that depart from what you usually see on barbecue menus, including fried catfish, smoked duck and a nightly special. When we visited it was Moroccan lamb.

There's no special children's menu, but most kids--if they don't want ribs--would be happy with chicken or sausage, and a side of macaroni and cheese.

Smokin' Pete's BBQ
1918 N.W. 65th St., Seattle
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Wed.; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat.; 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.
Platters (serving more than one and including sides): $17-$35
Ala carte dinners: $2.50-$11.95; two sides for $3
Lunch: $4.50-$6.95

3 Pigs
1044 116th N.E., Bellevue
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., closed Sunday

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