Smoky, meaty redolence fills the air of the parking lot of Captain’s Market on MacArthur Boulevard in Cabin John as I and many others wait in front of a retired mail truck for our orders of Silver and Sons Barbecue. Chef Jarrad Silver, a 32-year-old Bethesda native and Kensington resident, debuted the truck in March, after having it gutted and reoutfitted to his specifications with a gas-and-wood-powered smoker, fryer, flattop griddle, range and food warmer. He sells at the market on Wednesdays and Saturdays and at other Montgomery County locations (he posts them weekly online) on Thursdays and Fridays.
“It’s my take on barbecue, combining my Jewish background and Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s not kosher but is pork-free,” Silver says.
He uses billowy, homemade challah rolls baked in his Rockville commissary kitchen for sandwiches and serves them with “mains” and platters; pickled vegetables are also included. The hickory-smoked mains, available by the pound/rack/bird (in half or whole), are beef brisket encrusted with salt and five kinds of peppercorns ($15/$28); lamb shoulder that has been marinated in garlic, ginger, cumin and fennel seeds ($17/$32); short ribs that have undergone a seven-day pastrami brine ($17/$32); citrus-brined chicken ($12/$22); homemade merguez (North African lamb and garlic sausage, $17/$32); baby back beef ribs ($32/$50); and pastrami-spiced mushrooms ($14 for 8 ounces). The mushrooms and all the proteins except ribs are also available as sandwiches ($12).
Sample side dishes ($5) are Napa cabbage and chickpea slaw; potatoes roasted in chicken fat and spritzed with lemon juice; mac and cheese; and smoked beets. Three sauces—one ketchup-based, one vinegar-based and one mustard-based—are available. Desserts are smoked walnut baklava ($5), s’mores Rice Krispies treats ($5) and delectable babka bread pudding ($8).
Silver started cooking at 15 (while a student at Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School) at his cousin’s restaurant, pie-tanza, in Arlington, Virginia, which specializes in wood-fired pizza. He returned there as a manager after graduating with a fine arts degree from Pennsylvania’s Juniata College in 2010. He wanted to make changes, but the family was happy with their successful business the way it was, Silver says. He wound up with a server’s job at D.C. restaurant Graffiato (now closed) and became interested in cooking. He would come in during the day and ask the cooks to let him help in any way possible in order to soak up knowledge and improve his skills. He rose up fast in that company’s restaurant group, which had several establishments in its portfolio. He left in 2018 and became chef of Birch & Barley but was laid off from that restaurant’s company in October 2020 because of the pandemic.
That’s when he came up with the idea for Silver and Sons. During the pandemic, he’d make barbecue in his parents’ Bethesda backyard, where his son and his sister’s three kids could be outdoors and together. “That’s when I started thinking about doing the barbecue thing as a business from home. I wanted to create a concept that would turn into something after the pandemic, a Jewish Mediterranean barbecue place and market,” says Silver, who is looking to supplement the truck with a brick-and-mortar takeout space in Bethesda. (He and his 2½-year-old son, Charlie, are the sons of Silver and Sons. Silver’s parents pitch in. Silver’s wife, Alex, is an E.R. nurse practitioner.)
Silver began selling in early 2021, and the business started gaining traction by March through word of mouth. He would sometimes take his smoker to a neighborhood where organizers coordinated their neighbors to order and support the nascent business, which then outgrew being a home-based operation. That’s how the truck came about.
The alluring aroma of my order—the $45 sampler platter including a quarter-pound each of lamb, chicken, ribs and merguez, plus slaw, mac and cheese, bread pudding and s’more treats—makes the drive home torturous, but the pleasure I experience at home once I dig in makes the wait worth it.