Best Sandwich

Carolina On My Mind at Federalist Pig
1654 Columbia Road NW
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

Ask any local barbecue snob and they’ll tell you that Federalist Pig owner and pitmaster Rob Sonderman knows how to smoke some good meat. The man also has a great grasp of sandwiches and how good ones should be composed. This was true when he worked at DCity Smokehouse and it’s even more apparent at Federalist Pig.

The standout on that menu is the Carolina On My Mind, a chopped pork sandwich dressed with a spicy vinegar sauce and topped with coleslaw and crispy pork skin. It tastes phenomenal, beginning with a vinegary, Carolina-style sauce that adds acidity and heat to the rich pile of pork. Many of the other sandwiches on the menu use the thick Kansas City-style sauce that most people generically call “barbecue sauce,” but its sweetness overwhelms the flavor of the meat, the most important thing in any Sonderman sandwich. The thinner sauce on the Carolina coats nearly every piece of pork, amplifying its flavor instead of masking it.

By topping the sandwich with his tangy slaw, Sonderman introduces a bit of creaminess and extra sourness while also adding textural interest. Without some vegetables, the sandwich would be a heavy mix of pork, bread, and various meat juices, so the slaw immediately lightens it and, of course, makes it appear much healthier. A sprinkling of fried pork skins on top negates the health benefits of the vegetables, but it’s the kind of detail that makes the Carolina so special. The salty crunch surprises your mouth, giving some bites a little extra pop. The sesame seed bun that holds all the ingredients isn’t particularly special, but it doesn’t need to be. All that matters is its structural integrity.

In his similarly titled song, James Taylor begs forgiveness for being “up and gone to Carolina in my mind.” Decades separate the song and the sandwich, but the otherworldly sensation he sings about can be achieved while eating at Federalist Pig.