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Town Grill, Lisbon

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The Town Grill in Lisbon is the place to go when you want counter service for barbecue and self-serve for gasoline.

One of Howard County's best spots for grilled and smoked meats is inside the Citgo station on Rte 144 just off I-70. It's a classic joint, but don't let the basic spot fool you about the food. The Town Grill serves food with real flavor and skill. This isn't retro spot to go just because it's a quaint or unique.

Instead, this is a place where the BBQ starts strong and the side dishes deliver country flavor with modern freshness and ensure that you have a terrific meal.

This is the perfect place to get lunch if you go pick-your-own fruit at Larriland Farm. We parked a car packed with peaches last weekend and ate a late lunch of ribs and pulled pork. The pork was juicy with a good flavor. I ordered horseradish, which Mrs. HowChow liked, although next time she'll order extra barbecue sauce on the side.

The ribs are a weekend special and come on the firm side, which meant they were perfect for me because we have a Jack Spratt thing going between firm, smoked meat and the fall-off-the-bone variety that my wife loves. The half rack was huge. The exterior was crisp, and the meat inside was moist and tasty. Lots of meat on each bone.

With the ribs came sides that absolutely made the meal. Coleslaw that was fresh and light. Cornbread that came out hot, light and tasting of a home kitchen. (Or maybe better than home. A young guy sitting behind us called out, "This cornbread is better than my grandmother's.") And the best was a huge dish of baked beans -- thick and flavored with meat and something that gave it a spicy kick. None of the sugar rush that makes me skip most beans. The side dishes paired beautifully with the meat, and they're way better than I'd expect at even a good BBQ place. We sat outside, and the grill guys plied us with extras -- a little starter of grilled corn, potatoes and squash, then a taste of fresh pickles.

(Also, check out the smoked salmon. They smoke it on site. It's smoked fillets -- great for pasta or cooking, not really salty enough to replace lox on a bagel.)

This is a "hole in the wall" kind of place. It is literally in the Citgo, so you might have friends who don't want to eat in a gas station. But they're missing out.

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