Friday, November 16, 2007

Them barbecue blues...

Another thing that appeals to my inner southern belleness is barbecue, of which we have none in my immediate area. Or, at least none that I consider edible on a regular basis. How can that be?, you ask, you live in the South, home to more barbecue cook-offs than you can shake a spit at. Trust me. There's nothing within a 45+-mile radius. Zero, zilch, nada...or at least anything that I would deign to call barbecue and actually eat. How hard is it to smoke a piece of pig, I ask you? Evidently too damn hard.

(NOTE: This is not going to be a discussion of North Carolina vs Texas vs Georgia vs Alabama, etc. This is a discussion about MY longing for something good to matter what state of the Union produces it.) (And, "barbecue" is a noun, not a verb. We eat the barbecue, we don't barbecue.)

The actual closest thing, mileage-wise, is a place called The Rib Ranch, but it's Texas-style barbecue, which is a whole 'nother animal to us in the Southeast ( but still beef and pork) and not exactly what I'm looking for...but, in the Ranch's favor, they use actual wood to cook. Their ribs (both pork and beef) are pretty smokin', but I'm not always in the mood for ribs. I want some pulled pork, mixed with the crunchy, smoky outside meat. Add a little vinegar slaw and pile it on a white bread bun, and I'm your slave for life.

Nothing is worse than showing up at a barbecue place, mouth all ready for some delicious smoked pork meat and realize that what you are eating has never been close to a flame. Ever. It tends to make me very cranky and very unhappy, which in turn makes The Man unhappy, because he has to listen to me kvetch about it all the way home. It's like I have barbecue pipolar disorder (BBD). I'm all hyped up on the way to a new place, chattering a mile a minute about what kind of slaw do they have, will it be pulled and not the dreaded chopped, and sunk lower than low on the way home from yet another disappointing experience. (Not that I am making light of anyone who suffers from an actual bipolar disorder.)

We've trekked to a little place in Ellijay, GA, called Colonel Poole's. You have to love a place that has a bajillion cutout wooden pigs stuck on the hillside behind the restaurant. They call it the "Pig Hill of Fame." The best part about the Pig Hill? The wooden pigs are placed so they form the shape of a giant pig. The kitschier, the better, I always say. The pork is good, the slaw is vinegary, so it fits my acceptable standard for barbecue.

Poole's also fits the bill for The Man's criteria for a barbecue shack--he always wants to know if the place has burned down. His reasoning is if it burned down at least once, it's gotta be good. Makes as much sense as anything else. Poole's has burned, and quite spectacularly so, based on the photos that line the walls.

Swallow at the Hollow in Roswell, GA, is very tasty, and almost what I am searching for, but again the hike. However, they do serve beer and have live music on occasion, so I think they are elevated from barbecue "shack" to barbecue "joint."

And, lest I forget, there's also Fat Matt's, which is mostly ribs, and again "the hike." However, I would probably sell the Mother Who Never Cooks out for their rum beans recipe. It's pretty darn wonderful. So, I do have some options for good barbecue, but not nearly enough and not even remotely CLOSE enough.

So, I worked from home on Wednesday, since I had the ol' post-op follow-up visit that afternoon, and it just made no real sense to trek into The ATL for about 4 hours of work before I had to trek home.

On my way to the checkup, I stopped in at our newest restaurant, a ubiquitously named {insert a man's name here} Barbecue. I had high hopes for this place--we had tried to eat there a couple of weekends ago, but they were closed. This guy was taking it slow and easing his way into the restaurant scene--he was open from 11-2, Monday through Saturday, for the first few months he was open, trying to build up his clientele, and then opening one evening a week for dinner...which is a smart move, I think. The Saturday day that we tried to get in, we got there a few minutes after closing, which was disappointing. However, we were encouraged by the wonderfully smokey aroma inside, and the sight of an older man out back, manning a fire pit. The menu was pretty simple--pork barbecue in the form of sandwiches and plates, with sides like beans, slaw, and Brunswick stew. There was evidence of a homemade lemon pie as well.

(On the Brunswick Stew front--this is one of those things that everyone says their regional recipe is the original recipe...and how it got associated with barbecue as a side dish or first course accompaniment, who knows? There is just as many bad versions of Brunswick stew as there are good ones...if you can find a truly good one, then it's really pretty Good Eats, as AB would say.)

Anyhoo, I decided to run by and grab a quick sandwich on my way. It was about 1 pm, and there was only one other guy eating. This is not a good sign...this place should still have a few stragglers hanging around from the earlier 11-12 lunch rush. But, I'm still game to give it a whirl--it still smells pretty good inside--all smoky and meaty.

I order a sandwich and a drink, and after ascertaining that the slaw is a mayonnaise-based one, I decline its addition. (I could go on for a whole lot of bandwidth about the proper slaw for barbecue, which is a finely chopped, slightly sweet, vinegar-based one, but slaw or not, the meat has to stand up on it's own without any help or masking.) Seeing as how I am running later than I want to be, I opt to get it To Go and eat in the parking lot of the doctor's office.

The portion of meat was generous. It was tender and moist, but it had a weird aftertaste to it. The sauce, which was on the side thank pig!, was nigh unto inedible, with more of the weird flavor. But the kicker? Was the bun. The stupid white bun. It was so off tasting and off putting that I couldn't even eat the sandwich as a sandwich, and I ended up pulling all the meat out and eating it with my fingers, cavewoman style.

I can't properly describe the flavor, other than I thought it might have been made in China, and this was what melamine tasted like. Seriously, how hard is it to get a proper white bread bun? Personally, I think the standard should be Sunbeam, but that's what I grew up with...go with what you know. Seriously, most local type industrial bakeries make a fairly decent bun, and the the pork sandwich bun should just be a vehicle for holding the meat together and getting it down your gullet. It should not really have any other discernable flavor other than that of white bread. (And, this is one of those things for which white bread is a requirement, like 'mater sandwiches...wheat bread is not allowed. Ever.)

And, this is really the last straw for me. Again, how hard can this barbecue bizness possibly be? (I realize this comes under the headings of "famous last words," and "put your money where your mouth is.") So, I'm getting a smoker. Seriously. I've been threatening it for awhile, but I think it's time to fish or cut bait. And, if I get good enough at it, I think I just might open a barbecue shack of my very own. The Man has offered to burn it for me, so we can get those great local color pictures of us standing around amongst the fire trucks at 3 a.m., in our bathrobes, watching our dreams go up in flames. (You know I wouldn't be nearly so tongue-in-cheeky about this if my barbecue shack really burned, don't you?)

I will not fall into the trap of too many side dishes--you need slaw, baked beans, a good mac and cheese, and krinkle-kut french fries, and you could ditch the mac and cheese if necessary. I'm kinda 50/50 on the Brunswick stew thing, but I'll keep an open mind. I'm keeping it simple on the desserts, too. A chocolate pie, a lemon pie, and of course, my favorite banana pudding. And, when we're out, we're out for the day. And, I think I shall call it "Mary Had a Little Pig," and I will be fierce in my devotion to the gods of much so, that I need a least a year of research, I mean traveling to barbecue festivals and soaking up the smoke, so to speak, by observation and tasting. (I may never get out of the research phase, but won't it be the most fun research ever?) I wonder if I could get an internship at Big Bob Gibson's? (Those people really are barbecue gods!)

Plus, I need some time to collect those requisite pig tchochkes that are de rigueur for most barbecue joints and shacks in the South. Because, somehow, I don't think poodle collectibles will quite fit the bill, do you? Plus, I want a sign like one of these:

Who doesn't want a legitimate excuse to have a giant neon sign with a pig in a top hat?

BTW, I checked out fine at the doc's. His technique seriously rocks, and I would recommend his parts removal service to anyone!!


Garnigal said...

I shall never forget our vacation to Virginia 5 years ago. We left southwestern Ontario at midnight to ensure the longest time in the car was while the baby was sleeping, and came into West Virginia as the sun rose. Rolling hills with tiny farms nestled against their bases, covered with a golden-red blanket of turning leafs just couldn't measure up to the originality of the low low yellow building with the enormous yellow and red sign reading "FAT BOY'S PORK PALACE."

I bet they have pig tchokes for you.

Lin said...

I think you should hone your skills and go on the BBQ circuit with "Mary Has A Little Pig." Your neon sign could show Little Bo Peep dancing with a top-hatted porker (or at least having her hand kissed). This could work.

I think you are looking in the wrong direction for BBQ places. You should be looking along Hwy 41 (old roads are best). Here's a handy listing of BBQ joints using Adairsville as a starting point:

But I must admit, Gibson's on the Parkway (or Lawler's in Athens) are my two favs.

LinC said...

P.S. And once a week you have to serve red velvet cake, individual slices on paper plates wrapped in plastic wrap.

J said...

My mouth is watering over here in merry old England, an NO barbecue joints around. I wish I were at gibson's now with a pulled pork sandwich with slaw, a sweet tea, and a side of Brunswick Stew. Amen sister!