GETTING THROUGH Sundays used to be a challenge for loyal patrons of Papa’s Bar-B-Que on Whitemarsh Island. In the 36 years since Frank Ouzts started his wood-fired barbecue restaurant, lunch or dinner from Papa’s has been a Monday-through-Saturday experience. Until this past weekend, folks had to white-knuckle it through a Sunday craving of Papa’s signature Bar-B-Que on 2 Buns (twin hand-sized sandwiches of smoked chopped pork with Papa’s tangy mustardy sauce.)
Seven-day-a-week service is one of a small number of changes that Frank and his wife/business partner, Judy Ouzts, have implemented at their restaurant in the past ten days, but those few changes are real attention-getters.
For one thing, Papa’s has moved. For another, they’ve almost quadrupled in size.
After 18 years in their most well known location (the cozy, sometimes cramped, 35-seat slot in a nondescript strip mall on Highway 80) the Outzs’s have relocated Papa’s across the street to a spacious, gleaming new building just west of the Whitemarsh Island Publix grocery store.
After years of occasional visits to the strip mall location, the carpeted expanse of the new dining room elicited several “wow’s” and a split-second of concern at the start of my Sunday night visit—will this version of Papa’s retain those elements that have kept me loyal over the years?
In a blink, two reassuring features abated any nudges of concern. First the menu, with all its familiar, unpretentious offerings—smoked chicken, baked beans, chicken tenders and banana pudding among my favorites.
Then there was Frank Ouzts himself, appearing from the back of the house.
At the old location, Frank and Judy were omnipresent fixtures, usually behind the counter that served as cashier area, take out line and refrigerator. This past Sunday, Judy was out of sight, supervising the kitchen. Frank made the rounds on the floor, slipping into a booth to visit with customers in one corner, then vanishing to check on the status of an order.
He appeared at our table to catch us up on friends living out of town, and to ponder plans to hear The Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love at their monthly gig at Wild Wing, before pointing out a few additions to the menu.
“We’re excited about this new little hamburger on two buns,” said Frank, describing the dual serving of three ounces of hand ground choice beef. “We tried all kinds of hamburgers before Jay Blackburn told me ‘you ought to do it on two buns, it’s your trademark.’ So far it’s been a big hit for us.”
Shrimp, tilapia and flounder platters, formerly specials on weekends only, are now permanent menu offerings. That’s also the motivation behind the restaurant’s new name: Papa’s Bar-B-Que & Seafood.
Another addition is the full bar at the western edge of the dining room. “We had beer and wine before, but people just about didn’t see it,” said Frank. “We had PBR before it was cool again.”