Playing Catch-up: Falling into the Q

This post was originally made on the previous site on 11.30.11… I’m re-posting here as a test.

It’s time to play catch up and highlight several of the ’cue joints Susan and I have encountered in our various travels this year. Since mid-summer, and all of the fall, we’ve managed to sample the pork from finer smoke pits from the Mississippi Delta, north Alabama, North Carolina, and even Arizona (yep, we were as surprised as anyone to find real barbecue in Tucson).

Check ’em out:

The Little Dooey, Columbus, Miss.
The Little Dooey is a north Mississippi tradition, dating back to its origins in a gas station in Starkville, Mississippi. I don’t know how long this location has been in Columbus, but when it comes to smoking the pig, it certainly lives up to the original’s reputation (I had the pleasure of dining at the Starkville diner several years ago).

The LD offers enough home-cooked sides (not to mention the delicious-looking fried catfish we saw being delivered to another customer) to constitute its status as a soul-food establishment as much as a ’cue joint. That said, we ordered our usual (Susan- pulled pork/me- ribs), and the pig did not disappoint.

First of all, they actually pull the pork, as opposed to chopping it, which is not a deal-breaker but it is the preferred method of shoulder prep in the Lee household. And both the ribs and the pulled pork were tender and smoky, as expected. Good sauce, as well.

The fried green tomatoes on the side were outstanding, although Susan wasn’t thrilled with the greens (and she is a greens-eating fiend).

It’s worth noting that we ended up in Columbus in the midst of a multi-purpose trip that included delivering a homeless Bassett hound named Charlene to a new owner in west Tennessee. On our way through Nashville, we checked out an interesting chain called Bar-B-Cutie that offered pulled pork served between two cornbread pancakes. According to their history, the business dates back to an original stand in 1950. Not bad for interstate dining.

B&D Rib Shack, Knoxville, Tenn.
On a recent Saturday, I got the itch to find some local ’cue that I’d not tried before. A little research led me to the B&D Rib Shack in east Knoxville.

The B&D is hardly a shack, really a former gas station, but you know you’re pointed in the right direction as the first thing you see in the parking lot is an elderly gentleman adding hickory logs to a smoker.

I got a selection of ribs and pulled pork to take home, along with a couple of sides (including smoked cabbage!). The pig was tender and tasty, as it should be. Somebody around there knows how to handle a smoker.

But the deal was the sauce, unlike any BBQ sauce I’d ever tasted. What on the surface looked like your average sweet tomato-based stuff actually carried a strangely exotic kick, which tasted like cloves. I’d read somewhere that the B&D staff denied using cloves in their sauce, so I’m guessing it was probably allspice. Whatever it is, it is damn good.

Highly recommended.

Another Mississippi Trip…

Susan and I go to Mississippi pretty regularly, either to play music, visit family or do some work, but at the end of October we decided to take what was mostly a pleasure trip to Oxford for a few days (okay, Susan did have a little Living Blueswork to do). Of course, our trek in that direction did include a certain amount of ’cue eating (as well as our first trip in years to the Taylor Grocery outside of Oxford for their delectable catfish and breakfast with my sister Lisa at Big Bad Breakfast). The more I stop and eat barbecue in Alabama, the more I’m starting to wonder if the Crimson Tide doesn’t refer to a wash of vinegar sauce. That state’s got it going on when it comes to smoking the pig.

Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ, Decatur, Ala.
On our way over on a Friday afternoon, we stopped at Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ, a Decatur, Alabama, institution that has been around for four generations of the Gibson family. The current location is in what appears to be an old chain steakhouse, but the old neon sign out front lets you know it’s been here for a while (according to Big Bob’s website, this building was purpose-built in 1987 … bad guess on my part).

Big Bob’s is best known for its “white sauce,” a bizarre, yet strangely zingy concoction. Hard to describe, but truly tasty, I still couldn’t bring myself to pour the pale condiment on my ribs. Besides, their hot sauce is out of this world; some of the best I’ve ever tried.

The pulled pork was just right, pulled in big smoky chunks with plenty of bark in the mix. Looked like it was pulled right off the bone and put on the plate. My ribs were tasty, but I got the small end of the slab, which can be a bit dry. The big end of my half-slab was excellent, but a little harder to chew toward the small end.

Abe’s Barbecue Drive-In, Clarksdale, Miss.
On that Sunday, we decided to take a little day trip over to the Delta to just drive around and sight see. Our general destination was Clarksdale (with a side trip to Alligator), and when we got there, we were both hungry and pleased to find that Abe’s Barbecue Drive-in, located at the infamous crossroads where highways 49 and 51 intersect (think Robert Johnson, Beelzebub and otherworldly howling) was open for business and enjoying a bustling post-church crowd.

A part of the Delta since 1924, the modern-day Abe’s is classic ’cue joint, modest and small, but bursting with good food. They say that when ZZ Top stopped here in the early days, Billy Gibbons asked the pitmaster for his autograph. Yep, it’s that good.

As expected the pulled pork was pretty much … well, perfect. And their house sauce is quite good, more vinegary than I expected (always a good thing) and with a nice Worcestershire aftertaste. And the ribs? Damn, I’ve rarely come across meatier ribs anywhere. Full of smoky goodness.

Have mercy, I’m drooling on the keyboard just thinking about ’em.

David Gibson’s #2, Huntsville, Ala.
Apparently this Huntsville joint’s namesake is related to the original Big Bob Gibson the next town over in Decatur. Cooking must run in their veins.

On our way home, after several days of eating a quantity of good foods (including a couple of spectacular dinner parties in Oxford … I miss those), we debated whether we were up for more ’cue or not. But when Susan’s brilliant phone (hers always seems a little brighter than other smart phones) came up with the location for David Gibson’s #2 right off the interstate, how could we refuse?

We pulled into the homey, small building not far from the Redstone Arsenal and were immediately drawn inside by the smell of smoking meat.

After studying the options, we ordered at the counter (the traditional barbecue way) and took a seat with our sweet teas. DG’s #2 was doing a brisk lunch business, but it didn’t take too long before our food was delivered in Styrofoam trays.

The ribs were extremely meaty, making for my second great rib score in a row. Susan’s pork was sliced, not pulled, but that didn’t stop it from possessing good flavor. Good vinegary slaw and a kickass sauce completed the picture.

Lagnaippe…

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge, Shelby, N.C.
Okay, there are few things in the world I like better than North Carolina-style barbecue. So when driving across that state, I’m always looking for new places to eat.

The TL3 made a trek to play in Charlotte in August, so Susan, Bill and I stopped in at the conveniently located Bridges en route. I’d been there before, so I knew the drill: good slow-smoked pork in a traditional diner setting. The joint’s been around forever, but is still at the top of its game. Our Oxford friends — Ann and Dale Abadie — told me they usually ate their at least once on their North Carolina trips, and they know their ’cue (at least she does; Dale claims to go along to appease Ann). So I felt good about the place.

Bridges specializes in chopped pork (my only hang-up with N.C. pig cooking … I wish they’d pull it), which they serve packed tightly in thick cardboard trays alongside their excellent vinegar-based “red” slaw (one of my all-time fave side dishes that I first experienced at Prissy Polly’s in Kernersville) and topped off with their oblong-shaped hushpuppies.

No frills, just fine eating.
Don’t let the size of the trays throw you off; the food expands as you eat.
And besides, I’m not gonna argue with any establishment that brings your table its own pitcher of tea (even when you’re dining alone).

TD Barbecue, Knoxville, Tenn.
Another hometown joint, this one located conveniently near my buddy Dave’s recording studio. Some of the worse décor on earth, unless you find obnoxious UT orange to be a soothing color, but the food more than makes up for it.

I’m a big fan of the ribs, and it’s a sad day when I show up for lunch and they are out. They are meaty and full of taste (courtesy of the two former propane-tank smokers out back in the parking lot), and go well with the hot sauce.

Susan likes the pulled pork and the sweet sauce (granted, I also like to mix the two sauces). Smoked to perfection and pulled off the bone in the correct method, I can dig that too.

If I meet Dave there, he usually gets the sampler platter so he can have some of everything. “I’m not that hungry,” he always argues. “I just want to taste everything.” I’ve never heard him complain either.

Their sides are good (especially the slaw), and you will rarely hear me say much about the bread at a ’cue joint, but TD’s sweet corn muffins are to die for. Seriously.

Mr. K’s Barbecue, Tucson, Ariz.
“If you can’t see or smell the smoke, and there’s no woodpile, it’s not REAL BBQ!”

The above is a quote attributed to Charles Kendrick, AKA “Mr. K.,” the longtime owner of Mr. K’s Barbecue. Originally located on Tucson’s south side, the new Mr. K’s opened this summer in a former Chili’s building in a more affluent part of town.

When Susan and I were there in September to play HoCoFest, we ended up checking out the new joint with our pal and collaborator Craig Schumacher.

I’ve got to admit I was pretty skeptical about getting “real barbecue” (however you define it) in Arizona. A coupla years ago, we played a “Sonoran Barbecue” out there and quickly figured out that’s what we in the Southeast call “Southwestern food.” Good, mind you, but not what the name implies for me.

You can check out Kendrick’s quote above, though, and see that he’s not kidding. In his 80s now, Mr. K. doesn’t personally tend the smoker every day, but his partners are following his recipes and doing it right. This is traditional smoked pig with all the fixings, and the ribs are fall-off-the-bone-but-not-too-much tender just the way I like ’em.

Like the Terminator, we will be back.

Bone appetit, y’all.

Posted in Eating BBQ