Traditional recipes

Dresses 'Barbecued' for SFA Symposium Back on Display

Dresses 'Barbecued' for SFA Symposium Back on Display

Alabama Chanin, a lifestyle company based in Florence, Ala., barbecued a collection of their dresses.

Originally crafted for the 15th annual Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium’s "Punch, Pictures, and ‘Cue Couture" last fall, a collection of barbecue-inspired dresses will be back on display at the Crafted by Southern Hands event in Chattanooga, Tenn.

John T. Edge apparently reached out last year to Alabama Chanin, a lifestyle company based in Florence, Ala., to create a collection of clothes inspired by barbecue for the symposium. The company, which specializes in entirely handmade garments, happily agreed and teamed up with barbecue masters Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q (featured in our Ultimate BBQ Road Trip for 2013) to hickory-smoke the dresses in Birmingham.

The dresses have been in storage since their first appearance but, according to the Alabama Chanin website, the garments still have their distinct hickory smell.

This is not the first time that Alabama Chanin has collaborated with the Southern Foodways Alliance; they also worked together in 2011 and 2012 to make custom handmade quilts that were on display at the acclaimed Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.

For a "barbecued dresses" recipe, as well as more information about the upcoming event, visit the Alabama Chanin page.

Barbecue in Black and White

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Cowgirls are taking turns climbing onto the stage and turning around to display their denim-clad derrieres to the audience. It's the Miss Blue Jeans Contest at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo barbecue cook-off. When a woman wiggles provocatively, the men wave their cowboy hats in the air and roar in approval. The women are all white. And so are the hundred or so guys standing in front of the stage. The cowboy next to me is wearing a colorful necklace of plastic Confederate flags. The atmosphere of a typical cook-off has been described as a redneck Mardi Gras. It's easy to see why.

As the pageant winds down, I wander the grounds taking in the sights. In front of one barbecue booth there's a huge wooden sign with "Confederated Cookers" carved across the Rebel flag. Right around the corner I stumble upon the Skinner Lane Gang busily taking barbecue off the smoker. I stand there staring at them in awe. They are the first all-black barbecue cook-off team I've ever seen. One of them invites me to come in and sit down.

This isn't the Skinner Lane Gang's first big rodeo. They won the overall championship trophy here in 1994. And they hope to win it again this time, they tell me. First, I sample a healthy pile of their brisket and a few excellent ribs. Then I start asking questions.

"How many black teams are entered this year?" I want to know.

"I think there's two or three," says team leader Louis Archendaux. There are 430 teams entered in this year's contest, according to organizers they have no record of how many are black.

The main reason blacks don't enter barbecue cook-offs is money, says Archendaux, who runs his own chemical company in Sugar Land. "You've got to know somebody. We don't have any sponsors -- except for friends and relatives who help us out with a few bucks here and there." Although the entry fee is only $650, a mandatory million-dollar liability insurance policy, tent and table rentals, ice, and food and beverage expenses run up the tab. "We have one of the littlest booths out here. We are barely getting by with $5,000 or $6,000," Archendaux tells me.

The team's booth is furnished with a few picnic tables and a small bar. There are about a dozen invited guests of various races sitting around eating barbecue and drinking beer.

"How do you decide who to invite in?" I ask.

"We set up folding chairs outside here and watch for hungry people who don't have wristbands," chuckles a team member. "You can tell by the look on their face that they have no idea what's going on. So we bring them in and give them some barbecue."

Anyone foolish enough to come to the Houston rodeo barbecue cook-off without a corporate wristband gets a pathetic chopped barbecue sandwich, a scoop of industrial cole slaw and some tasteless beans served on a Styrofoam plate at the public tent. A $6 general admission ticket also allows them to walk around and peek into the invitation-only tents. Sponsors use these to entertain and raise money for worthy causes -- and that's where the competition-quality barbecue, live bands and open bars are.

For barbecue buffs who lack corporate connections, the Skinner Lane Gang booth is a tiny outpost of real-world charity. I take a second helping of brisket, which is very tender and cut into irregular chunks. I'm curious about how it will fare in the judging. Archendaux tells me the brisket they will enter in the contest is sliced completely differently.

"Do you change your regular cooking style for the competition?" I ask.

"You have to," says Archendaux. "If you get it really tender, you can't slice it perfectly. And appearance is very important to the judges."

"Are any of the judges black?" I wonder.

"Probably not," he says. A visit to the judging booth confirms Archendaux's suspicions: There may be a black judge somewhere, but the 60 or 70 I can see are all white.

Although many barbecue cook-off organizers would like to see more black teams participate, African-Americans are discouraged by the white-dominated judging standards and the frat boy atmosphere -- and then there are the Confederate flags.

"Two years ago, when that flap was going on over in South Carolina, barbecue teams started flying Confederate flags here in Houston," says Archendaux. "Somebody complained and the livestock show folks told the teams to take down the flags." Confederate flags are still banned at the Houston rodeo cook-off.

"Flags don't bother me," says Archendaux. The Skinner Lane Gang has been breaking the color barrier at Texas barbecue cook-offs for going on 20 years now. "We were the first black team at the Fort Bend County Cook-off in 1984," Archendaux says. "They had Confederate flags flying all over the place."

"Did anybody give you trouble?" I ask.

"There's always a few assholes," shrugs Archendaux. "But we're kind of rowdy. If you want to take it there, we can help you out. We never minded a little scrape."

The BP World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, as it is officially known, doesn't discriminate against African-Americans, its organizers tell me on the phone. If very few blacks choose to participate, well, that's just the way things work out.

But Houston's barbecue contest is symptomatic of the historic racial divide that runs through the middle of Texas barbecue with far more serious consequences. This division wasn't the result of intentional racism, either. It's just that according to Texas mythology, barbecue belongs to white people.

Paper plate in hand, I found a spot at one of the tables set up on the quadrangle of the Ole Miss campus. The pork shoulders had been smoked over hickory until the meat was as soft as mush. I ate mine on a hamburger bun with a vinegary sauce.

The sandwich was delicious, although it's hard for Texans to accept that squishy pork on a bun is actually the purest form of barbecue. Most Texans are equally reluctant to admit that the issue of race has any relevance to the subject of smoked meat in the Lone Star State. And that puts them at odds with the Southern barbecue experts who gathered last October for "Barbecue: Smoke, Sauce and History," a symposium held by the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA), an affiliate of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.

At the three-day conference, academics, food writers and chefs from across the country assembled to debate, pontificate about and consume their favorite subject. The meals were catered by some of the most famous names in Southern barbecue, black and white. Supervising the cooking at this particular event was the famous pitmaster Devin Pickard from Centerville, Tennessee.

Barbecue and race have long been emotionally intertwined in the South, where the pit-smoked pork is viewed as a totem for both whites and blacks. Southern culinary historians are accustomed to navigating carefully around the issue of who the true progenitors of Southern barbecue were.

Most scholars agree that the cooking style came from the Caribbean, or at least that's where it was first observed by Europeans. The word initially appeared in print in the English language in 1661. In 1732, Alexander Pope was already writing about the craving: "Send me, Gods! a whole hog barbecu'd."

In colonial times, barbecue was common in the Carolinas and Virginia. Whole hogs cooked over smoldering coals in long pits was the usual methodology. By the height of the plantation era, no political rally, religious revival or civic celebration in the Deep South was complete without a barbecue. Whites obviously did the organizing, but who did the cooking?

In the heart of Dixie, evidence suggests that African-Americans did the work. "It was said that the slaves could barbecue meats best, and when the whites had barbecues, slaves always did the cooking," wrote a former Virginia slave in the Autobiography of Louis Hughes.

But there are also Southern barbecue traditions, in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and elsewhere, where whites manned the pits.

"Did blacks create Southern barbecue?" I ask Lolis Eric Elie, the black author of the widely acclaimed barbecue book Smokestack Lightning and a staff writer for New Orleans' Times-Picayune.

"You can't draw a straight line between black and white contributions to Southern culture," Elie says diplomatically. "But you can't ignore the fact that the South is distinct from the North because of the presence of so many black people. And many white Southerners are still afraid to acknowledge the African influence that flows through their food, their music, their manner of speech and their attitude toward life."

The origins may be hazy, but there can be no doubt that barbecue became central to black identity in the South after the Civil War. Black barbecue stands on the side of the road sold the favorite barbecue of the Old South. And because of the fame of black barbecue, "whites, in a strange reversal of Jim Crow traditions, made stealthy excursions for take-out orders," according to the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.

But a combination of forces conspired to take the barbecue business away from its rural black roots. Urbanization, new sanitary regulations enacted during the Progressive era, and strict segregation laws gave white-owned barbecue businesses major advantages.

At the symposium, we watched a documentary called Smokestack Lightning: A Day in the Life of Barbecue. In the video, Elie asked the owner of Charles Vergos Rendezvous, perhaps the most famous barbecue joint in Memphis, about the origins of the Tennessee barbecue tradition.

"Brother, to be honest with you, it don't belong to the white folks, it belongs to the black folks," Vergos said. "It's their way of life, it was their way of cooking. They created it. They put it together. They made it. And we took it and we made more money out of it than they did. I hate to say it, but that's a true story."

One of the hottest topics at "Smoke, Sauce and History" was the continuing saga of South Carolina's white barbecue king, Maurice Bessinger. When the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina state house in 2000, Bessinger lowered the giant American flags he once flew over his nine Piggie Park restaurants and raised the Confederate flag instead. It wasn't the first time Bessinger had taken a rebel's stand in the early 1960s, he refused to integrate his barbecue joints until forced by the courts. This time the reaction came from the market: After protests by blacks, national chain stores refused to continue carrying Bessinger's popular barbecue sauce. Bessinger sued the chain stores claiming his right to free speech was being violated.

Racial controversy is part of the culture of Southern food, and the SFA has never shied away from it. In fact, the association's 2004 symposium will be devoted entirely to racial issues in Southern cooking. After all, promoting diversity and multicultural understanding is part of the group's charter.

Which is why the SFA's June 2002 "Taste of Texas Barbecue Trip" ran into problems. The idea was to bring food writers, scholars and barbecue lovers from across the country to the Lone Star State for a barbecue tour. But SFA officials were dismayed to discover that all of the barbecue spots selected by a committee of Texans were white-owned.

The SFA asked for a list with more diversity. The Texas barbecue experts insisted that the state's most emblematic barbecue was produced by Czech and German meat markets. When officials insisted that any SFA program about barbecue in the American South must be multiracial, one Texan on the committee accused the SFA of "inserting a racial agenda" where one didn't belong. In a compromise, a few black- and Hispanic-owned barbecue joints eventually were added to the tour.

But the conflict put the widely held assertion that Texas barbecue is a white tradition under the microscope. And considered in the larger context of racial issues discussed at the Ole Miss symposium, the matter raises some troubling questions.

"The Bessinger controversy has given barbecue a starkly political dimension…," wrote The New York Times' black culture and politics reporter, Brent Staples, in September 2002. "The pulled pork sandwich you eat is now taken as an index of where you stand, on the flag, the Civil War and on Maurice Bessinger…"

Last summer, in a piece called "Stalking Barbecue in the Lone Star State," The New York Times picked the top four barbecue joints in Texas: Kreuz Market, Louie Mueller's, Cooper's and The Salt Lick. All of them are white-owned. A barbecue survey that excluded black establishments anywhere else in the South would have drawn angry charges of racism from writers such as Staples.

So why is Texas barbecue different?

The counter runs the length of the long hall beside the meat market, the wood stained black by a century of smoke. Knives are chained to the wall at intervals, and enthusiastic eaters have worn wells into the wood wherever the knives will reach.

This 103-year-old meat market on the courthouse square in Lockhart is probably the most famous barbecue joint in Texas. For most of its history, it was called Kreuz Market. The business was purchased in 1935 by Edgar Schmidt, who kept the original name. But his son, Rick Schmidt, moved the business to a new location down the road. His sister, Nina Sells (née Schmidt), owns the building and now calls the barbecue joint Smitty's Meat Market.

"Which one is Smitty?" I ask, showing Sells a black-and-white photo of two white men in aprons sitting in the meat market.

"That's him," she says, pointing to her dad, Edgar Schmidt.

"And who is this?" I wonder, pointing to a photo of a laughing black man in butcher's whites standing behind a huge pile of meat.

"That's Dummy Wright making sausage," she says.

Houston "Dummy" Wright was pit boss and sausage maker at Kreuz Market for decades, I'm told. Evidently, Edgar ran the meat market up front, and Dummy tended the sausage-making and smoking out back.

When I started writing the Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook, I thought Texas barbecue was invented by German butchers in meat markets like this one. But there were a few problems with that theory. For one thing, "barbecue" isn't a German word or a German concept. So how did wurst and smoked meats like Kassler Rippchen suddenly turn into Texas barbecue?

Several old-time pit bosses tipped me off. It was the black and Hispanic cotton pickers who once roamed the state who started calling German smoked meat barbecue, they said. So I combed through archives in Texas libraries and museums looking for material about cotton pickers and barbecue.

What I found instead were narratives in which former slaves talked about cooking barbecue on Texas cotton plantations before the Civil War, and turn-of-the-century photos of blacks cooking barbecue in earthen pits.

It wasn't what I was looking for. In fact, it ruined my whole neatly organized book outline. If blacks were cooking barbecue on cotton plantations in Texas in the mid-1800s, then how could I write that German butchers invented Texas barbecue half a century later?

And how did it happen that we forgot blacks used to cook barbecue in Texas in the first place?

According to University of Texas history professor Neil Foley, "African-Americans have been completely erased from the meta-narrative of Texas history." Foley is the author of White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture. I was intrigued by a couple of paragraphs in the book's introduction about the way Texas reinvented its history after the Civil War, so I called Foley to see if he could help me understand the strange disparities in Texas barbecue history.

"You want to hang your mythological hat on something you can be proud of," Foley said. "The image of the rest of the South was cotton, the Confederate flag, overalls and mules. But Texas had something no other Southern state had: the Alamo. Texans were the men who won the West, the men who defeated the Mexicans.

"So in early-20th-century Texas," he continued, "Texas started to consciously reshape its history." The melancholy Confederate symbolism was swept away in favor of the mythology of the cowboy.

Of course, Anglo Texans didn't actually invent the cattle culture, as some American history texts claim. "What did Moses Austin from Connecticut know about cattle?" Foley chuckled. "There was already a thriving cattle culture in northern Mexico before the Anglos ever got here…But there's nothing new or unusual about this sort of thing it's been going on forever. You expropriate the cultural material of the people you subjugate and then repackage it as part of your own culture."

And so it was with barbecue. Mexican barbacoa was probably common in South and West Texas before open-pit barbecue arrived. Foley believes that whites and Mexicans have struck a Faustian bargain in Texas: Mexican-Texans play the role of the colorful minority, and in exchange, Anglos acknowledge that much of the state's heritage is actually Mexican. But blacks were an inconvenient reminder of cotton and slavery and poverty. So they were left out of the story.

"Once the myth becomes accepted history," Foley told me, "nobody questions it anymore. College-educated people from all over the country still see Texas as the wild West. There's a reason for that. Tourists come to Texas to see San Antonio and the Alamo. There are no African-Americans in the Alamo scene."

Texas was settled by brave Anglo pioneers and rugged cowboys, our history books told us. So Texas barbecue must have been invented by Anglos, too. Lacking any specific details, many creation stories emerged. In the proposal for The Chuck Wagon Cookbook of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Ranch, author Jane Sherrod Singer wrote:

"In the cattle raising country of Texas, each owner of a ranch brands his calves with his own insignia, a Texas-kind of heraldry. Legend says that in the early days, a cattle owner, a Mr. Bernarby Quinn, used a branding iron with his initials B.Q., with a straight line under the B. He also served the best steaks for five-hundred miles around. Thus the Bar-B-Q is synonymous with excellent cook-out foods."

The Bar-B-Q ranch story is also recounted in Jane Butel's 1982 cookbook, Finger Lickin' Rib Stickin' Great Tastin' Barbecue. Only in Butel's version, the rancher is named Bernard Quayle. But no one seriously believes this tall tale anymore. Now we dubiously thank German butchers for inventing Texas barbecue.

"The ultimate roots of barbecue can be traced back to the Stone Age…its more immediate Texas origins date from one hundred or so years ago, when meat markets cooked and smoked their surplus stock…," said Texas Monthly in May 1997. Gourmet magazine's Jane and Michael Stern also have credited "East European immigrants" for definitive Texas barbecue.

I called the author of the New York Times article about the best barbecue in the Lone Star State to ask him how he had picked his winners. Steven Raichlen, author of many books on the subject of barbecue, said he had visited a few black places but that the white-owned barbecue joints he'd chosen were classic examples of the Texas style.

"When you're in Florence," he said, "you go see the Michelangelos."

It's a Saturday-afternoon carnival at Burns Bar BQ on De Priest Street in the Acres Homes neighborhood. There's music coming from a jam box out front and more music coming from the cars in the parking lot.

"What's good today?" my companion asks a woman in gray sweats climbing into her car with a pile of Styrofoam containers.

"This time I got ribs," she giggles. "But this is my second trip. It's all good, and they really pile it on!"

Outside the front door, a guy in a black Oakland Raiders shirt and matching hat is standing at a card table, selling CDs at three for $18. There are lots of Marvin Gaye, Temptations and Stevie Wonder albums, along with a little rap. Inside, 20 customers are waiting in line.

I find Roy Burns, the patriarch of Burns Bar BQ, sitting in a plastic chair in the back. Burns, 65, grew up in Midway, Texas. He's been selling barbecue for more than 20 years. "I used to set up a smoker on the side of the road, but my arthritis got to me," he says. So he settled down and opened a restaurant and brought in some family members to help. He has been at this location for the last 12 years.

We eat at a picnic table under a canvas tent in front of the restaurant. The ribs are well done, but the meat holds together under a sweet and subtle glaze of sauce and smoke. They are among the best ribs I've tasted. The brisket falls apart on the way to your mouth it's as soft and wet as pot roast.

"That's the difference between white and black barbecue," Houston artist Bert Long once told me. "White people don't cook it as long. And they doctor it up with marinades. Blacks cook everything to death." At Goode Co., every piece of meat is served in a perfect slice, he said. In the black East Texas style, they don't mind serving you a messy pile of meat debris.

As I learned at the barbecue symposium, the epitome of Deep South barbecue is pork, slow-smoked to stringy mush. In the black East Texas style, this original Southern cooking tradition is preserved, but with the substitution of beef, which was cheaper and more plentiful here.

"Need no teef to eat my beef" is a favorite slogan of black Texas barbecue men. If the beef isn't falling apart, then it simply isn't done enough. Black East Texas barbecue has its own aesthetic. If you're judging it by the standards of white barbecue, then you don't get it. Put some of that falling-apart brisket on a bun with barbecue sauce, pickles and onions and think of it as Texas's answer to a Carolina pulled-pork sandwich. Suddenly, you'll understand.

Except for my friends and me, everybody at Burns Bar BQ is black. And everybody seems to be having a good time. The cars in the parking lot remain long after the sandwiches are eaten, and there's a basketball game shaping up on asphalt nearby.

A plume of rising oak smoke, liberally scented with spicy meat, has long been the beacon of black celebrations in East Texas. "We ate barbecue at every wedding, funeral and family reunion I can remember," says Garry Reese, a local black writer who grew up in Conroe. "My uncles would stay up all night cooking the meat."

Of course, whites also held huge barbecues in Texas. Barbecues attended by thousands of people, for which whole herds of cattle were slaughtered, marked major occasions of all varieties. But the open-pit cooking style used at these events, and the traditions of barbecue as a focus for civic gathering, came to Texas with the cotton culture. And the people doing the cooking, in the Old South and in East Texas, were black.

"My grandfather Emmett Turner had a pit in the backyard, and I mean a hole in the ground," remembers Bill Bridges, a 77-year-old food writer and photographer from Palestine, when I ask him to describe old-fashioned white barbecues in East Texas. "This would have been around 1930. He used to barbecue a quarter of beef he wouldn't bother with anything smaller. We'd go to the butcher shop and poke around until he picked one. Then he'd pick up a colored guy named 'Lijah who actually did the work. Grandpa would sit in the shade and drink beer all day and tell 'Lijah what to do: 'Time to turn it over, 'Lijah. Time to mop it.' Grandpa would invite people over and they'd all sit out there and watch it cook. It's hard, sweaty work, and people got blacks to do the work even if they were going to supervise."

When the facts as you understand them don't fit into the existing meta-narrative, you write a counternarrative, a different version of history, Neil Foley told me. Based on oral traditions and other evidence, African-Americans can present a convincing counternarrative of Texas barbecue history.

"After the cotton was all picked, the slaves on the ranches were given meat, whole steers and pigs to barbecue. It was a big party at the end of the harvest," says black cook-off competitor Louis Archendaux.

In fact, barbecue seems to have been just as common on Texas cotton plantations as it was in the rest of the South. "De sarvants had lots ob picnics an ole Marse ud gibe us meat fer barbecue," former Texas slave Winger Vanhook of Waco told an interviewer for The Slave Narratives. This series of interviews with more than 2,300 former slaves, conducted in the late 1930s by writers working for the Works Progress Administration, contains several references to black barbecue by former Texas slaves and their offspring.

Steve Williams, a slave in Goliad County, described life after being driven away from the plantation. "So we jes' scatters 'round, here and yonder, not knowin' zactly what to do. Some of us works on one farm and some on another for a little co'n or some clothes or food. Finally I works 'round 'til I comes to San Angelo, Texas and I cooks barbecue (at a barbecue stand) for a long time 'til I jes' finally breaks down."

Barbecue sellers and outdoor food vendors of all varieties began to thin out in Texas, as in the rest of the country, when state and county sanitary regulations were introduced around 1910. The German and Czech butchers, on the other hand, smoked meat in brick enclosures and were already subject to whatever regulations various Texas counties chose to enforce.

In the 1920s, a Beaumont barbecuer named Joe Burney taught Houston blacks how to construct cinder-block pits that would pass inspection, old-time Houston barbecue man Harry Green told me. During the era of segregation, these black barbecue restaurants in black neighborhoods were quite successful. The Fifth Ward alone supported six famous black barbecue joints.

But with desegregation, African-Americans began to desert the old neighborhoods, and by the early 1970s black-owned barbecue joints started closing their doors. Today, few of the once famous black barbecue restaurants in Houston still exist. Many black barbecuers either gave up or went back to the tradition of running a roadside stand, either on an irregular basis or in a trailer duly licensed by the health department.

"In East Texas, white barbecue is served in restaurants. You get nigger barbecue from a stand by the side of the road -- usually about the size of an outhouse, with a hand-lettered sign," Bill Bridges told me on the phone from Palestine. "In the old days, white barbecue was brisket, the same as it is now. Black barbecue was hot links and the stranger parts of the animals."

Bridges is a very likable and knowledgeable guy, and he doesn't consider himself a racist. But he was born in 1925 and can't break certain lifelong habits. Although his use of the N-word is deplorable, ironically he is one of the few white Texans I've talked to who understand the key role blacks have played in Texas barbecue history.

"Nigger barbecue isn't a derogatory term in East Texas," Bridges says when I ask him about his use of the word. "It's like calling Brazil nuts 'nigger toes.' If anything, the term is used with affection."

Smoke billows from a camper-trailer parked in a vacant lot on the side of the road. I've been hearing about this particular trailer, and the barbecued brisket sandwiches that get handed through its little window, for quite some time now. I park my car, walk up to the window and stick my head inside. There I see William Little watching television.

Little ambles over and opens the steel doors of a smoker that has been improbably welded right into the trailer's frame. When the sweet-smelling smoke abates, I see foil-wrapped packages and charred hunks of meat waiting to be sliced. The doors of the smoker open into the camper's kitchen, which has a multicompartment sink, counter space and a refrigerator. The firebox is fed from the outside. The back of the pickup truck that pulls the trailer is loaded with oak and pecan logs. William Little has been working out of this trailer six days a week for the last 15 years.

I first tasted Little's brisket when I begged someone who was going to Dickinson to bring me back a sandwich. I had heard Little had some of the best brisket in the Houston area, and I wasn't disappointed. The meat was incredibly smoky and very tender, and the sandwich was loaded with a huge amount of it. Barbecue sauce had been drizzled on the bun, and the whole thing was topped with raw onions and dill pickles. It was one of the best brisket sandwiches I'd ever had.

I had no idea if the man was black, white or Hispanic when I first heard about his brisket sandwich. Nobody bothered to mention his race, or even his name. They only told me about the barbecue and where to find the trailer.

Little's trailer is usually on the side of Highway 3 at 27th Street in Dickinson. If he isn't there, then he's probably off at an event, like the rodeo in Pasadena. "Did you ever think of entering the Houston rodeo cook-off?" I ask him.

"Nah, I can't afford it," he says, but he doubts he would win anyway. "Black people know how to cook brisket, but the rules for judging are not really about how it tastes. It's all about how pretty it looks. I've eaten brisket cooked by a team that won, and it was nothin' special," Little says as he hands the coveted sandwich and a package of ribs through the little window.

I take a huge bite leaning over the trunk of my car. "Damn, that's some smoky brisket!" I mumble to myself. Black East Texas barbecue doesn't need any help from affirmative action, I reflect as I wipe the sauce off my chin. An unbiased opinion and a map drawn on a napkin will do just fine.

For the best black East Texas barbecue within an hour of downtown, see "A Dozen Brisket Sandwiches."

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Friends of the Cafe: Ashley Christensen

The first day of Summer 2017 ushered Tropical Storm Cindy up from the Gulf and energized the air farther inland in Birmingham, where I was helping to celebrate my mother’s birthday. It has been a few years since I experienced the typical effects of a tropical storm and – while I always hope there is no significant damage or injury – I always find the balmy air and windy bands of sporadic rain to be invigorating and energizing.

I reread The Great Gatsby as I have done for years on the Summer Solstice.

I was in my twenties when I began my annual reading of The Great Gatsby and the ritual has almost taken on a superstitious nature if I missed a year, I would feel like something was awry. But I always manage to get in my June reading of the book and, after dozens of readings, I always find something new in Fitzgerald’s writing. And my heart always pounds in anticipation of the book’s inevitable ending.

On this most recent reading, I was struck near novel’s end by Nick Carraway’s account of a recurring West Egg nightmare – “a night scene by El Greco” in which a bejeweled drunken woman in a white evening dress is borne on a stretcher by “four solemn men in dress suits” to the wrong house. “But no one knows the woman’s name, and no one cares.” That particular paragraph had never stopped me in my tracks until this reading.

Perhaps that passage stood out this time because I read it while sitting in a car in the parking lot in Tuscaloosa in a steady tropical rainstorm, while Mother was in a beauty shop appointment. Those meteorological conditions just added to the gloom of Gatsby’s rain-soaked funeral in which he is laid to rest with only Nick, Gatsby’s father, a few servants, the local mailman, and the owl-eyed former party guest in attendance. I usually reread Gatsby outdoors in the sunlight so the weather definitely added a different perspective this year.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­By the time Saturday afternoon rolled around, the weather had cleared and the balmy weather turned blistering. Summer’s advent and Cindy dominated the days leading up to the most recent Friends of the Café event at the Alabama Chanin Factory in Florence ( North Carolina chef Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner and other Raleigh dining venues (, was helming the meal. Once again, the event was a benefit for Southern Foodways Alliance ( I am proud to be a long-time member of the SFA, helping in a small way to support all of the good works the organization does.

Friends Anne, Michelle, Scott, and I traveled to the Shoals for the meal. Arriving at the Factory we were warmly greeted by Natalie Chanin, the creative force behind Alabama Chanin and the impetus for many community-building events, including an awesome schedule of Friends of the Café dinners.

The gathering was already going strong when we arrived. A delicious array of passed hors d’oeuvres included fried green tomatoes topped with Alabama jumbo lump crab salad and Hook’s three-year cheddar pimento topping a cucumber slice. Along the serving table were shots of a sweet corn mousse with piquillo pepper. The mousse literally melted in one’s mouth like a passing dream of sweet corn taste. A “Summer Cindy” libation was poured – Prosecco and Jack Rudy grenadine with a sprig of rosemary.

The seated meal began with a salad of local lettuces and vegetables dressed with buttermilk and roasted garlic. Next came a slice of heirloom tomato pie with spicy greens and sherry. My quest for the perfect tomato pie began years ago with the tomato pie competition that was an annual event at Decatur’s Willis-Gray Gallery (now Kathleen’s). The Decatur event hasn’t been held in several years but Ashley Christensen’s take on tomato pie is now the hands-down winner.

The third course was chargrilled Bear Creek ribeye steak cooked perfectly and served family style along with Poole’s macaroni au gratin and a room temperature marinated summer succotash which brought back vivid memories of my Grandmother Harbison’s take on hearty southern succotash.

The dessert course of a coffee panna cotta with Irish whisky caramel and North Carolina pecan granola crunch was served with a deep and earthy port.

I have never been disappointed in a meal at the Factory and Christensen’s recent menu continues to raise the bar.

Christensen seems to be as warm, down-to-earth, and authentic as the carefully selected ingredients she elevates. I think I have attended all but three of the Friends of the Café dinners and Ashley Christensen was the chef for my second in 2013.

When Natalie Chanin asked me recently which had been my favorite of the meals over the years, Ashley Christensen’s name was one of the first that came up. Now, Ashley Christensen is the first of the guest chefs in the series to come back for an encore. It seemed unlikely that she could top her first memorable performance at the space, but last Saturday night she did.

Copies of Christensen’s cookbook. Poole’s: recipes and stories from a modern diner (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2016), were available for purchase and signing at the end of the event. It is a cookbook chock-full of exciting, well-explained recipes as well as a good introduction to the founding of Poole’s and to the James Beard Award-winning chef’s culinary aesthetic. It also provides the stories and impetus behind her restaurant empire of seven downtown Raleigh establishments. Chanin referred to her friend as “badass” and the book is full of Christensen’s warm and earthy takes on the food world (she refers often to an affinity for “beer flavored beer”).

For me, thanks to the friends who went with me, to Alabama Chanin, and, especially, to Ashley Christensen, that turbulent first week of summer 2017 ended on a high note indeed.

Kibbe at the Crossroads: A Lebanese Kitchen Story

Abe's BAR-B-Q, located at the crossroads of U.S. Highways 61 and 49, has been a part of the Mississippi Delta since 1924. Barbecue is the main item on the menu, but if you know to ask for them, they've got grape leaves in the back. The Kitchen Sisters hide caption

Abe's BAR-B-Q, located at the crossroads of U.S. Highways 61 and 49, has been a part of the Mississippi Delta since 1924. Barbecue is the main item on the menu, but if you know to ask for them, they've got grape leaves in the back.

Pat Davis is the son of Abraham "Abe" Davis, the original owner of Abe's BAR-B-Q, who emigrated from Lebanon in the early 1900s. The Kitchen Sisters hide caption

Pat Davis is the son of Abraham "Abe" Davis, the original owner of Abe's BAR-B-Q, who emigrated from Lebanon in the early 1900s.

Kibbe balls are a traditional dish often found in Lebanese homes in the Mississippi Delta and beyond. Greg Thomas hide caption

Kibbe balls are a traditional dish often found in Lebanese homes in the Mississippi Delta and beyond.

Delta Sounds and Culture

Pat Davis, owner of Abe's BAR-B-Q in Clarksdale, Miss., sings a Lebanese love song "from way back."

Robert Gordon, a native of the Mississippi Delta, has been writing about the musicians and culture of the place for years. The Kitchen Sisters hide caption

Robert Gordon, a native of the Mississippi Delta, has been writing about the musicians and culture of the place for years.

Writer and Producer Robert Gordon sketches out some Delta history and talks about Clarksdale as the crossroads for cultures and the blues.

Maie Smith of the Delta Blues Museum tells the story of bluesman Robert Johnson at the crossroads.

Nephew of the legendary blues artist Big Jack Johnson, James "Super Chikan" Johnson (seen on a CD cover) spent his childhood in the small towns of rural Mississippi. Too young to work in the fields, he spent his days trying to talk to the chickens and to understand their mysterious language. Soon enough, friends and family alike were calling him "Chikan Boy." Bill Steeper hide caption

Nephew of the legendary blues artist Big Jack Johnson, James "Super Chikan" Johnson (seen on a CD cover) spent his childhood in the small towns of rural Mississippi. Too young to work in the fields, he spent his days trying to talk to the chickens and to understand their mysterious language. Soon enough, friends and family alike were calling him "Chikan Boy."

Bluesman James 'Super Chikan' Johnson tells us how he got his name.

'Crystal Ball Eyes' by 'Super Chikan' from 'Sum' Mo' Chikan'

Abe's BAR-B-Q in Clarksdale, Miss., is located at the famed crossroads where, legend has it, bluesman Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil to play guitar better than anybody. Courtesy Jimmy Thomas hide caption

Abe's BAR-B-Q in Clarksdale, Miss., is located at the famed crossroads where, legend has it, bluesman Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil to play guitar better than anybody.

Syrian peddler Kalil Michwee of Birmingham, Ala., 1917. Most of the Arabic-speaking immigrants who came to the United States at the turn of the century were from the Mount Lebanon region of greater Syria. Courtesy Birmingham Public Library Archives hide caption

Syrian peddler Kalil Michwee of Birmingham, Ala., 1917. Most of the Arabic-speaking immigrants who came to the United States at the turn of the century were from the Mount Lebanon region of greater Syria.

Courtesy Birmingham Public Library Archives

Chafik and Louise Chamoun (from left), owners of Chamoun's Rest Haven with Davia Nelson of the Kitchen Sisters. After arriving in Mississippi in 1954, Chafik Chamoun sold ladies slips and nylon stockings door-to-door. Nikki Silva hide caption

Chafik and Louise Chamoun (from left), owners of Chamoun's Rest Haven with Davia Nelson of the Kitchen Sisters. After arriving in Mississippi in 1954, Chafik Chamoun sold ladies slips and nylon stockings door-to-door.

Sammy Ray is an oyster expert and professor emeritus at the Texas A&M at Galveston. His father, who emigrated at age 14 from Lebanon, was a peddler, walking about 20 miles a day. The Kitchen Sisters hide caption

Sammy Ray is an oyster expert and professor emeritus at the Texas A&M at Galveston. His father, who emigrated at age 14 from Lebanon, was a peddler, walking about 20 miles a day.

In an undated photo, James Ellis, from a Lebanese immigrant family of four brothers, stands in front of his dry-goods store in Port Gibson, Miss. Courtesy Jimmy Thomas. hide caption

In an undated photo, James Ellis, from a Lebanese immigrant family of four brothers, stands in front of his dry-goods store in Port Gibson, Miss.

Ike Turner with The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson, left, and Nikki Silva), circa 1999. The late R&B legend worked at a Lebanese grocery store in Clarksdale, Miss., says Pat Davis, owner of Abe's BAR-B-Q, a local restaurant. The Kitchen Sisters hide caption

Ike Turner with The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson, left, and Nikki Silva), circa 1999. The late R&B legend worked at a Lebanese grocery store in Clarksdale, Miss., says Pat Davis, owner of Abe's BAR-B-Q, a local restaurant.

Music in the Story

"Arabic Folk Songs" ("Athebee") by Danny Thomas and Toufiq Barham, from The Music of Arab-Americans: A Retrospective Collection ( Rounder Records)

"Cross Road Blues" by Robert Johnson, from King of the Delta Blues ( Sony Records)

"Come in My Kitchen" by Robert Johnson, from King of the Delta Blues ( Sony Records)

"Baby Please Don't Go" by Mississippi Fred McDowell, from Shake 'Em On Down (Labor Records)

"My Mother" by Marcel Khalife, from Promises of the Storm (Paredon Records)

The Leaning Tower of Hitt Spur Plantation, Tallahatchie County, Miss., 1966. A former plantation store supplied by itinerant Italian and Lebanese peddlers, "the place leaned all the way down in around 2000," photographer Maude Schuyler Clay says. Maude Schuyler Clay hide caption

The Leaning Tower of Hitt Spur Plantation, Tallahatchie County, Miss., 1966. A former plantation store supplied by itinerant Italian and Lebanese peddlers, "the place leaned all the way down in around 2000," photographer Maude Schuyler Clay says.

Like our story, "Georgia Gilmore and The Club From Nowhere," this hidden kitchen came to us from John T. Edge of the Southern Foodways Alliance. We were headed to Oxford, Miss., to interview Alice Waters and Scott Peacock for the SFA's 10th Annual Symposium.

We asked Edge for a suggestion of a hidden kitchen in the Delta. "Kibbe," he said.

He began to tell of Lebanese people who migrated to Mississippi in waves beginning in the late 1870s through the 1920s, and even into the 1960s. Many of the early Lebanese first worked as peddlers and went on to become the grocers and restaurateurs of the region.

Edge pointed us down the road and said to be sure to read down the menus. There, nestled between the fried chicken and barbecue, we would find tabouleh, grape leaves, stuffed cabbage, and kibbe, fried, baked or raw — sort of the national food of Lebanon, a meatloaf of sorts.

Most of the Arabic-speaking immigrants who came to the United States at the turn of the century were from the Mount Lebanon region of greater Syria.

Jimmy Thomas, managing editor for The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, whose family came to the Delta from Syria, wrote a dissertation on the history of the Lebanese in the region. He told us that before there was an actual Lebanon, people called themselves Syrian. To say you were Lebanese meant you came from a very specific region of Syria. It's not so much a national label as a cultural label.

Conflict, war, religious persecution and the promise of economic opportunities in America all led immigrants into the Mississippi Delta. Many went to Michigan and New Orleans and heard about the "gold mine" of work available in the Delta.

When they arrived, one Lebanese man after another found their niche as peddlers — solitary men, traveling alone for days on end, on the trails and roads that led from one black sharecropper's farm to another, carrying suitcases weighed down with pots and pans and dry goods.

The Intersection of Culture, Cooking, and the Blues

Pat Davis owns Abe's BAR-B-Q at the intersection of Highway 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Miss., the famed crossroads where, legend has it, blues icon Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil to play guitar better than anybody.

Davis makes Lebanese food every Sunday.

"I make kibbe, cabbage rolls," he says. "When I get depressed, I make grape leaves. We've been in business since 1924. My father was from Zahale, Lebanon. Came to America in the early 1900s. They moved to Clarksdale. They were doing good peddling. Back then, the Lebanese mostly were peddlers.

"[In] 1924, my father opened up a barbecue restaurant," Davis says. "Robert Johnson used to sit around where those sycamore trees were, playing his blues guitar, drinking a Bud and eating one of our barbecues. And we think that's where Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil to play good blues music."

Chafik Chamoun, owner of Chamoun's Rest Haven, arrived in Clarksdale from Lebanon in 1954.

Over a plate of kibbe and cabbage rolls, Chafik told us, "When I came here in 1954, this Italian fellow, we go to the same church, he said, 'I'm going to tell you something. Your people done real good going out selling dry goods, peddling stuff. Why don't you go ahead and try it?'"

So Chamoun bought about two dozen ladies slips and nylon stockings and sold them "from house to house."

"The poor people . knew I was trying to make a living and they buy something just to help me," he says.

In 1960, Chamoun opened a grocery store which later became a restaurant, Chamoun's Rest Haven on Highway 61, that features Southern, Lebanese and Italian food. They are best known for their kibbe.

Early on, Sammy Ray, professor emeritus at Texas A&M University Galveston, decided he wasn't going to be a peddler. His father, who immigrated at age 14 to avoid serving in the Turkish army, was a peddler, walking some 20 miles a day, with a "grip" on his back selling bloomers, cheap dresses, work clothes and something he called Persian bedspreads. He and the hundreds of other Lebanese peddlers carried whole stores on their backs, or their horses, and later on in their Model A's and trucks, throughout the farmlands and hinterlands of the Delta. His father was peddling dry goods to the black sharecroppers. Ray said he was very dependent on the black community — that's how he made a living.

Many Italians and Jews also immigrated to the Delta region, along with the Lebanese, and in the earlier years, all lived in a kind of "in-between place" in the culture of the South.

Ray grew up living in a barbecue shack that his mother ran on the edge of what was then called "Black Town."

"In the early days, I had problems because of my color," Ray says. "I got beat up, called a dago and a wop. I was too dark to play with the white folks, and too white to play with the black folks."

Davis, owner of Abe's BAR-B-Q, grew up in Riverton, a small town next to Clarksdale.

"A lot of Italian American and Lebanese Americans lived in Riverton, along with African Americans back then," Davis says. "Tina Turner and Ike Turner worked for my uncle at the grocery store. We knew all these people. And to be honest with you, we were all in that category of not a real citizen, I guess."

During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Abe's BAR-B-Q and Chamoun's Rest Haven were some of the only restaurants in the area that would serve blacks.

"We were tested in 1965," Davis remembers. "A bunch of black kids went to all the restaurants on the highway and every one refused them except Chamoun's Rest Haven and my place. And everybody else got lawsuits against them."

The list of famous Lebanese Americans is long and impressive. Ralph Nader, Paul Anka, Casey Kasem, Khalil Gibran and Vince Vaughn, to name a few. But the one most people talked about on our trip was Danny Thomas. Davis took us out in the parking lot to listen to a CD that he just happened to have in his car of Danny Thomas singing in Arabic.

"We called ourselves Syrians when we first came here," Davis says. "And until Danny came and said he was Lebanese then we all began to realize we really are Lebanese and Danny Thomas can say it. So we're Lebanese now."

The Fellowship of Kibbe

Kibbe — a word and a recipe with so many variations we don't know where to start. Many love it raw. Ground lamb or beef mixed with bulgur wheat, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Everyone we interviewed for this story eats it or makes it — often on Sunday. However it's made, it's part of the glue that holds the Lebanese family culture together in the Mississippi Delta and beyond.

Jimmy Thomas of the University of Mississippi told us the story of a man who arrived through the port of New Orleans and spoke no English. He knew there were other Syrian immigrants there, so he stood on the dock and screamed, "kibbe, kibbe, kibbe," until someone came.

Joe Sherman, whose grandfather's name was changed from Chamoun to Sherman when he crossed the border from Mexico into the United States, talks about kibbe with so much heart.

"Sunday was always, 'Help me make the kibbe.'" Sherman says. "We'd make a big pan of raw kibbe shaped in a mound about an inch and a half high. Somebody would take the palm of their hand, turn it up and make a cross in the raw meat. Then they'd put olive oil in it. We'd bless the kibbe, which kind of blessed the family."


Robert Gordon: Sea of Cotton

Robert Gordon carries the history of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta inside of him. He grew up there, and has been writing about the musicians and culture of the place for years.

Story Credits

Produced by The Kitchen Sisters (Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson) with Laura Folger, Nathan Dalton, Eloise Melzer and Moira Bartel. Mixed by Jim McKee.

Maybe you saw the recent PBS documentary chronicling the history of Stax Records in Memphis. Or read It Came From Memphis or Can't Be Satisfied: The Story of Muddy Waters. Writer and producer Robert Gordon is the visionary behind all these projects.

From him we learned that Muddy Waters grew up in Clarksdale on the Stovall Plantation, and traveled up Highway 61, passing Abe's Bar-B-Q, as he left the Delta for Chicago.

We were thinking about the Crossroads, its history and how that region was first developed. We were looking at the Mississippi River and thinking of how the river took its current shape, how it came to be cleared of its impassable woods and mangroves swamps and turned into a sea of cotton. After a plate of kibbe at the crossroads, we headed up Highway 61 to Memphis to talk with Robert Gordon. He sketched the history of Clarksdale as the crossroads — of old Indian trails, railroad lines, immigrant cultures and the blues. Listen to a little of what he had to say.

Maude Schuyler Clay

On our way to Clarksdale we stopped in Greenwood, Miss., with Alice Waters to go visit the Viking Range plant, and the new school the company was building in town. We were exploring the possibilities of an edible schoolyard becoming part of the school's design and curriculum in a state with such a low rate of literacy and high rate of obesity. At Turnrow Books in Greenwood we met Mississippi photographer Maude Schuyler Clay, who grew up in the area and has captured its crumbling and beautiful soul in hundreds of haunting black and white photographs. In her book, Delta Land she documents collapsing churches and farmhouses, delta dogs, river beds and woods. She graciously shares a few of her images. Maude is also the niece of famed Memphis color photographer, William Eggleston.

Super Chikan

We heard about bluesman James "Super Chikan" Johnson and his homemade custom guitars when we visited the Delta Blues Museum by the tracks in Clarksdale. Super Chikan can make a guitar out of anything — old Army gas cans, hub caps, cigar boxes, motorcycles gas tanks, a Black & Decker tool box. He calls them "Chik-can-tars." We stopped later to buy some music at Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art store on Delta Ave and there was the man in the flesh, bringing in a fresh crop of new CDs. We talked, we snapped, he told us how influenced he is by chickens. We love his recent CD, Sum 'Mo Chikan.

Famous Lebanese Americans

During our research we discovered that there were a great many famous musicians with Lebanese backgrounds including Frank Zappa, Paul Anka, and Dick Dale. That suddenly rang a deep bell when we realized Pat Davis, of Abe's BAR-B-Q had described his father listening to "The Miseries" and dancing the Dabke, the national dance of Lebanon. "Miserlou" suddenly leapt to mind. Dick Dale & His Del-Tones, the Ventures, and the Beach Boys made recordings of it. A sort of Middle Eastern bit of surf guitar from the early '60s. The connection revealed itself. We looked it up and learned that it was written as a Greek dance song in the 1920s about an Egyptian Muslim woman. The song was performed and rearranged multiple times before Dick Dale recorded his version in the 1960s. Because of Dale's Lebanese heritage, many believed the song to be a Lebanese folk song. In fact, the song's popularity and reach have caused many people throughout the Middle East to claim it as a folk song from their own country.

Great Catering Ideas Your Guests Will Love

For great catering ideas, you want to either do something that is rarely if ever, seen or do something that has been seen but in a completely different way. Here are a few suggestions for catering food ideas and arrangements:

Chef's Outdoor Kitchen

If you've been searching for outside catering ideas, this does it. Everyone loves a good cooking show and watching a gorgeous meal whipped up before your eyes is definitely a great stimulant for whetting the appetite. This is like a cooking show that allows event attendees to interact with the chef while he cooks. It makes for a lively experience every outdoor event should have.

Booze-Free Cocktail Bar

As attendees get increasingly conscientious about their health and more and more people are opting for alcohol-free options, virgin cocktails are making a comeback. Get a professional mixologist to put up a zero-proof cocktail bar and event attendees can enjoy the highs of revelry void of hangovers.

Pretzel Station

This fun station allows guests to select a pretzel and slather it with their favorite kind of topping.

Donut Wall

Okay, it may be a tad overdone at this point, but we had to include it just in case there was someone who was unaware of this hot trend that has been embraced by the younger generation. Like a good song that’s been overplayed, the donut wall may be moving into the realm of passé, but it still gets the toes tapping.

Rainbow Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

These luscious fruits now come in all colors of the rainbow thanks to a little help from their chocolate dresses. This treat makes for a great dessert for an outdoor or tea party or anything else where pretty is a major crowd pleaser.

Charcoal Lemonade

Nothing says refreshing outdoor beverage quite the way lemonade does. Want to surprise your guests? Serve up some pitch black lemonade. Just make sure to get the big reveal on camera.

Salads on the Go

Salads are a nice addition to any picnic in that they are light and refreshing. Problem is… they’re not that portable. At least not until now.

Shaved Ice

This is one of the best catering ideas to bring out the love for desserts in your guests. Traditionally a treat from Hawaii, shave ice has gone global and seems to have "shaved" the general admiration of snow cones away with its more exotic and healthier topping options from the tiger's blood to lychee.

Fruit and Veggie Animals

Want to add some interest to a buffet table or create an intriguing centerpiece? Get out the knife and carve these adorable animals into existence using fruits and vegetables. Works of art!

Strawberry Roses

These “roses” make a sweet dessert, place setting, addition to a beverage, or decoration on your table or buffet. The deep jewel color of the strawberry is very appealing and, best of all, these roses are edible.


I have known many storytellers in my life. Some have a natural and unrehearsed style that feels captivating and immediate some present new or unfamiliar points of view others are quite deliberate and thoughtful in approach all of them are enthralling to me. As a storyteller born into a family of storytellers, I find master storyteller Gael Towey both compelling and inspiring. She has a distinct perspective and is skilled at many things: crafting a storyline, discovering and highlighting the unique qualities of her subjects, eliciting a response from the audience, and designing beautiful visual elements. Her work has informed contemporary visual language in a way we can barely imagine.

I was lucky to be among Gael’s subjects as part of her series of short films about artists called “Portraits in Creativity” (and I especially love her piece on friend and heroine Maira Kalman). Each of her portraits uncover the unique qualities of her subjects and reveal Towey’s fascination with the creative process. For over two years, we have been speaking with Gael about her past, her present, and the creative processes, media, and methods she uses to propel her ideas forward.

Gael was raised in New Jersey and was the oldest of six children. She revealed that, as a child, she was mildly dyslexic and almost flunked the second and third grade because she couldn’t spell she reversed all her consonants and vowel combinations. She was drawn to art and studied it enthusiastically through college. “I loved printmaking and accidentally signed up for a class in typography, and I fell in love with it from the first lecture,” Towey says. “I’d never looked at the design of a letter and had not noticed how beautiful they are.” She switched her major to graphic design and graduated from Boston University, College of Fine Arts. Gael said, “I was extraordinarily lucky. I have met so many young people who don’t know what they want to do, but I always knew. I struggled academically and art was the only thing I was good at… And it’s funny that I wound up working in the publishing business since I had no confidence in my ability to write properly.”

Gael worked on the book, In the Russian Style, with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

The 23 Essential Barbecue Dishes in America

My fixation with the profound, pan-regional variations of American barbecue first kindled in 2002. I was just starting my career as a dining critic I lived in Atlanta, and, sure, I savored a rack of ribs or a saucy pork sandwich as much as the next food enthusiast. That year, though, the Southern Foodways Alliance held its fifth-annual symposium. The theme was “Barbecue: Smoke, Sauce, and History," and its promise of hickory-perfumed meat and conversation lured me and over 200 other participants to Oxford, Mississippi, a leap in attendance for the then-fledgling event.

It was during feasts of lacquered, pit-blackened Cornish hens and hogs cooked whole in eastern North Carolina fashion — as well as the symposium's many smart, sometimes heated talks — that I realized how little I really grasped barbecue's myriad variances. Each discussion deepened my curiosity and hunger: the nuances in chopped versus pulled pork the gradations of vinegar, chile, and ketchup in sauce variants the fierce loyalty to beef in Texas and the very existence of mutton barbecue in western Kentucky.

Nearly 15 years later, the glory of barbecue's diversity is a far less obscure subject. Our country's full-blown meat obsession has fueled the mania for true barbecue transformed by wood fire, smoke, expert attention, and time. Venerable institutions are revered with fresh eyes serious new practitioners (many particularly inspired by the bovine marvels of Central Texas) work smoldering pits all over the country. It's a tradition we now relish with atomic devotion, dish-by-dish, cut-by-cut, bite-by-bite.

Our roll call of 23 dishes stands as a celebration of American barbecue in its heyday, which — happily for us — is right this moment.

In compiling to guide to essential American barbecue dishes, it was clear we needed a task force. I brainstormed the list with three veteran thinkers and travelers: Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly's barbecue editor and author of The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue food and drink writer (and all-around expert on the culinary South) Jennifer V. Cole and in-house ace Nick Solares, Eater NY's restaurant editor and the host of Eater's The Meat Show. We focused purely on main courses built around smoked meats barbecue restaurant side dishes are another topic altogether.

It turns out the four of us have a collective traditionalist streak: Our choices stayed mostly centered within the heart of the country's barbecue culture, which for us encompasses not only the South in its broadest geographic definitions, but also Midwestern cities like Chicago and Kansas City. No picks in California or on the West Coast? Correct. More dishes lauded in Texas than anywhere else? Also correct. We likewise express some potentially controversial opinions, like where to find the best ribs (answer: not in Memphis).

Large whole hog tray, Skylight Inn

Skylight’s signature order has become the iconic, sculptural emblem of eastern North Carolina’s whole-hog tradition: a checkered paperboard vessel containing tangy, minced slaw totters atop a rectangle of cornpone (cornbread’s dense, sugarless cousin), which in turn rests on another cardboard tub piled with long-smoked, well-cleaved meat. This is the holiest trinity of barbecue. Behind the restaurant, pigs roast for hours over hickory and oak woods. A cook hacks meat from every part of the animal seasons it with vinegar, Texas Pete hot sauce, salt, and pepper and then folds some of the separated and diced skin and fat back into the feathery pile of pork. 4618 South Lee Street, Ayden NC, 28513,

Image credit: Addison/Eater

Coarse-chopped BBQ tray, Lexington Barbecue

The Tar Heel State remains forever divided between two proud and opposing barbecue regions: the eastern coastal plains, where whole hogs slowly smolder over timber, and the western piedmont plateau, where smoked pork shoulders reign. At Lexington, which represents the apotheosis of western-style ’cue, cheerful waitresses deliver plates of barbecue that come sliced, chopped to a frilly texture, or — best of all — coarsely chopped. Vaughn, Solares, and Cole each separately mentioned that it’s vital to request plenty of "outside brown," the burnished, perfumed crust that forms on the shoulders’ exterior during smoking. Note the twang of ketchup that races through both the vinegar sauce lightly dressing the meat, as well as the pink-tinged slaw served as part of the tray. 100 Smokehouse Lane, Lexington, NC 27295,

Image credit: Addison/Eater

Pulled pork plate, Scott’s Bar-B-Que

Over the last decade, Rodney Scott has become the poster pitmaster for whole-hog barbecuing: The Internet hosts innumerable images of him tending to splayed pigs over metal grates or wire caging, often washing the pork in peppery vinegar sauce with an actual mop. Trekking to the Scott family’s restaurant in Hemingway, South Carolina, about 80 miles northeast of Charleston, makes it clear why this is one of America’s great barbecue pilgrimage sites: The pork is transcendent. The meat is energetically seasoned with salt, red and black peppers, and Accent while cooking the skin is separated and offered in its smoky state or after it's plunged in the deep fryer to make cracklings. Ask for some of each to complete your plate. Highway 261 Brunson Cross Road, Hemingway, SC 29554,

Image credit: Solares/Eater

Brunswick stew, Southern Soul Barbeque

When it comes to barbecue traditions, Georgia is more a center of convergence for different styles than a state with its own distinctive specialty. But the local barbecue restaurants do take ownership of a 'cue-based side dish: Brunswick stew, the ruddy, chunky potage of smoked pork, tomatoes, corn, and often other vegetables, amped with vinegar. Out of the myriad versions across Georgia, Cole particularly prizes the nuanced take at Southern Soul, located on Saint Simons Island, a getaway destination about 85 miles south of Savannah. "The soul of the stew is the amalgam of smoked meats: pork, chicken, beef brisket, and turkey," she says. "I love that at special events, the cooks go old-school and even add smoked squirrel. Yes, squirrel." 2020 Demere Road, Saint Simons Island, GA 31522,

Spicy Korean pork sandwich, Heirloom Market BBQ

At their tiny but always-packed Atlanta storefront, chef-owners Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor take an unorthodox yet exceptional approach to barbecue, combining the flavors of Taylor’s Southern background with Lee’s Korean culinary heritage. The sandwich is their loftiest achievement: pork rib meat soaks in sweet, gently fiery gochujang chile paste before smoking over hickory and oak. The pork gets hacked into cubes and tumbled onto a potato bun with a generous heap of kimchi coleslaw. If this is the direction of American barbecue’s evolutionary path, count us in. 2243 Akers Mill Road Southeast, Atlanta, GA 30339,

Image credit: Addison/Eater

Smoked chicken wings, Saw’s Soul Kitchen

Of the three Saw’s barbecue restaurants throughout Birmingham’s metro area, Soul Kitchen rolls with the most avant-garde menu, tackling Southern standards with a mix of tradition and imagination. The kitchen distinguishes wings by coating them in peppery dry rub for baseline heat before smoking, tossing them in a not-too-sweet red sauce before serving, and then drizzling on the regional triumph — North Alabama-style white sauce, a marriage of mayo and vinegar zinged with spices. "Big Bob Gibson in Decatur, Alabama, may have started the revolution of chicken with white sauce," Cole says, "but the wings at Saw’s give the beloved pairing a decidedly next-gen twist." 215 41st Street South, Birmingham, AL 35222,

Image credit: Addison/Eater

Slab of spare ribs, Archibald Drive Inn

The archetypal example of barbecued spare ribs — tender-taut, fleshy, and speckled with char marks from the grill — can be savored at this tiny white building just outside of Tuscaloosa. (Archibald’s interior sports a deep red coat of paint in support of the nearby University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide football team.) Tray Archibald mans the pit, cooking the ribs over hickory the way his grandparents, George and Betty Archibald, did when they opened the place in 1961. "These ribs come correct: beautiful char and meat that requires a tug from the teeth to be satisfyingly pried from the bone," Cole says. A vinegary sauce delivers sweetness, acidity, and heat in even measure. 1211 Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, Northport, AL 35476, (205) 345-6861

Image credit: Amy C Evans for SFA/Flickr

Dry ribs, Peg Leg Porker

"The best Memphis-style dry rub ribs in the country are in Nashville," Vaughn says plainly about his preference for Carey Bringle’s masterworks at Music City’s Peg Leg Porker. The technique for dry-rub ribs originated in the 1950s with Charlie Vergos, owner of a Memphis restaurant called Rendezvous, who swabbed ribs with a vinegar mixture and then dusted them with a spice blend after cooking. But Bringle perfects every element of the dish. His cooks swab the ribs with an acidic, finely tuned baste, and then just before the barbecue leaves the kitchen, they dust over a potent spice blend that riles the taste buds into a frenzy yet never detracts from the redolent meat underneath. 903 Gleaves Street, Nashville, TN 37203,

Chopped pork sandwich, Payne’s Bar-B-Q

The ideal chopped pork sandwich is about consistency, in both meanings of the word: the satisfying textural interplays as well as the skillful, steady manner in which every element is prepared. Flora Payne achieves those twin aims brilliantly. Out of a converted filling station, she smokes pork shoulders and then dices hunks to order, incorporating plenty of outside brown bits for contrast and moistening the meat with just enough thin, plucky red sauce (offered hot or mild). The slaw pulls no punches: It’s alive with vinegar and mustard, with a glow that calls to mind a school bus in direct sunlight. Built on a simple hamburger roll, it makes for one commanding sandwich. 1762 Lamar Avenue, Memphis, TN 38114, (901) 272-1523

Image credit: Rien T. Fertel for SFA/Flickr

Cornish hen, Cozy Corner Restaurant

White or dark meat? Here you’re delivered both in one compact bird, a longtime specialty of Cozy Corner matriarch and pitmaster Desiree Robinson, who oversees the restaurant now largely run by her children and grandchildren. Customers can see rows of petite chickens — as well as pork ribs and other meats — through the smudged windows of the restaurant’s glass-front, aquarium-style smoker, an apparatus that originated in Chicago in the 1950s (and is rarely seen beyond the Windy City). Fetchingly singed at the tips of its wings, the Cornish hen arrives with a fresh veneer of sweet and vinegary red sauce, which pools around the bird and glosses the meat when you start feasting. 745 North Parkway, Memphis, TN 38105,

Pulled pork sandwich with spicy sauce and slaw, Helen’s Bar BQ

Without a shred of gimmickry, Helen Turner serves the country’s definitive pulled pork sandwich. She’s run her no-frills operation in Brownsville, Tennessee (about an hour’s drive northeast of Memphis) since 1996, ministering to her righteously smoky pork shoulders in an open pit and then tending to her eager, loyal customers. Turner offers the pork chopped or pulled the latter furnishes ropy, gratifying chunks that she’ll thwack a few times with a cleaver to create manageable bites. A squirt of warming sauce in the sandwich’s center, followed by a sensible tuft of slaw, and you have an edible fulfillment of the American dream. 1016 North Washington Avenue, Brownsville, TN 38012, (731) 779-3255

Mutton combination plate, Old Hickory Bar-B-Que

Western Kentucky mutton barbecue traces its genesis at least back to the early 1800s, when the local Scotch and Irish wool industry made sheep plentiful. The best cooking method to offset their gaminess? Over hardwood, low and slow. The town of Owensboro is best known as the seat of restaurants specializing in the local delicacy. Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn and Old Hickory Bar-B-Que draw the most praise between the two, Vaughn prefers Old Hickory, in business since 1918. For the full experience, he suggests you get the combination plate — including mutton ribs and well as "off the pit" meat chopped and sliced from the hind quarter. Hint: The lean sliced option will taste the mildest. 338 Washington Avenue, Owensboro, KY 42301,

Image credit: Solares/Eater

Burnt ends, LC’s Bar-B-Q

In a 2014 Eater article on the subject of Kansas City’s beloved burnt ends, food writer and KC native Bonjwing Lee defined them as "crisped and charred ‘bark’ from the fattier corners of the brisket — beef crackling that has been blackened by smoke." Our burnt end go-to, also a favorite of Lee’s, is LC’s, a modest roadhouse in a barren stretch of town but where a line often snakes out the door at lunchtime. These are the scrappy, fatty-crisp, glorious shards that burnt ends were meant to be. One warning: They come liberally doused with sweet, potent sauce. Risk a dubious glance from the staff and ask for the sauce on the side. 5800 Blue Parkway, Kansas City, MO 64129

Image credit: Addison/Eater

Smoked salami, Adam’s Smokehouse

Vaughn singles out this lush, campfire-scented salumi as the single most memorable creation he’s tried during his St. Louis barbecue explorations. Adam’s Smokehouse owners Mike Ireland and Frank Vinciguerra — both veterans of St. Louis’s Pappy’s Smokehouse, known nationwide for its baby-back ribs — launched their place in 2013. Since opening, the smoked salami has drawn attention as an ambrosial curiosity among the more typical meats. Generous amounts of black pepper and other spices riddle the mix (70 percent pork and 30 percent beef), but one twist is especially key to its uniqueness: "Smoked garlic goes into the combination," says Vaughn. "It imparts a smoother, rounder flavor, unlike most garlic sausages, which use raw cloves." 2819 Watson Road, St. Louis, MO 63139,

Rib tips, Honey 1 BBQ

Pitmaster Robert Adams Sr. moved from Arkansas to Illinois and embraced the locals’ love for rib tips — the pudgy stubs cut from the lower ends of spare ribs that are plentiful in both meat and cartilage. He and his son Robert Jr. opened their place on the Westside of Chicago in 2003, a location where the customers came in fits and starts. But a move last year to South Side’s Bronzeville, in a space with plenty of foot traffic, has been a boon for business. From a custom aquarium smoker, the father and son team pile crackly, chewy, brawny tips into a paperboard tub, glazed with exactly the right amount of sticky, vinegar-kissed sauce. 746 East 43rd Street, Chicago, IL 60653, (773) 285-9455

St. Louis P Parada-style ribs, Smalls Smoke Shack & More

The list’s most unconventional entrant reads like an outlandish fusion mashup but makes wondrous sense on the palate. At his Chicago takeout counter (look for the turquoise exterior), chef-owner Joaquin Soler draws on his Filipino lineage as inspiration for his ribs, which take their name from food-truck-lined street in Manila. A marinade of soy sauce, banana ketchup, and Jarritos lime soda (a curveball nod to Mexico) imbues the meat with piquant sweetness. "A perfect melding of flesh and fat, the ribs show off layers of complexity, like a meaty mille feuille," says Cole. "It results from charring them in a Southern Pride smoker, reapplying the punchy marinade, and then repeating the process." 4009 N Albany Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625,

Brisket, Franklin Barbecue

In compiling this list, the four of us involved never even commented on the inclusion of Aaron Franklin’s magnum opus: It was a foregone conclusion. Franklin and his geeky, perfectionistic ways with Central Texas-style barbecue have arguably made him the most famous pitmaster in the world. He published a treatise on his brisket technique, but that hasn’t diminished the trailing line that forms every morning (except Mondays, when the restaurant is closed). The brisket deserves the queue. It’s a feat of meat uncanny in its poise between salt and smoke and in its utter, irrefutable pleasure. Other near-supernatural briskets entice in Texas these days — La Barbecue and Micklethwait Craft Meats in Austin and Killen’s Barbecue outside Houston among them — but the discussion always starts (and mostly ends) with Franklin. 900 East 11th Street, Austin, TX 78702,

Image credit: Addison/Eater

Short rib, Louie Mueller Barbecue

If Central Texas-style barbecue — a tradition founded on the smoky creativity of local Czech and German meat market owners looking to make less-desired cuts of meat more tempting — has become a national trend, the mascot for the craze may well be the Flintstonian short rib, a brute of a thing that when properly cooked can yield beef that is as poetically tender as it is ferociously smoldered. The prototype for this sensation hails from Taylor, Texas, about 35 miles northeast of Austin, where it has been a mainstay at Louie Mueller Barbecue for decades. The restaurant, now run by Mueller’s grandson, Wayne, is one of the giants of Lone Star barbecue, and the short rib — near-molten meat contained by a crust of black pepper and still attached to an imposing bone — still sets the standard every single day. 206 West 2nd Street, Taylor, TX 76574,

Image credit: Solares/Eater

Pork steak, Snow’s BBQ

Snow’s — housed in tiny Lexington, Texas, 50 miles east of Austin and open only on Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. — became modern barbecue legend in 2008 when Texas Monthly plucked the place from previous obscurity by naming it the number one barbecue joint in the state. The throngs arrived the next weekend and have been arriving early on Saturday mornings ever since. Lifelong pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz exerts her prowess over a variety of meats, but Snow’s piece de resistance is the pork steak. "This tastes more profoundly like a beef steak than any other piece of pork in my experiences," says Solares. "It is resolutely meaty, with the upfront brashness of a rib steak, but tempered with a sweeter flavor and smoky finish." 516 Main Street, Lexington, TX 78947,

Image credit: Robert Strickland/Eater

Sausage, City Market

Another Texas pillar that took very little deliberation among our barbecue band: Nearly equidistant from Austin and San Antonio in Luling (population: 5,411), City Market’s wood-paneled interior leads to the sacrosanct back room, where homemade sausages absorb the scent of oak while dangling from metal grates in tidy rows. The casings pop black and red peppers kindle the flavors in the ground meats, a mixture that’s 95 percent beef and five percent pork. It sounds basic, but the ratios of leanness and fat, plus the blast of textures, have no equal. Texas often eschews sauce, but the mustard-tinged version here marries superbly with the sausage. 633 East Davis Street, Luling, TX 78648, (830) 875-9019

The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa

Framed by its breathtaking Spanish Mission-style architecture, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa welcomes you to a destination where rich history and classic elegance exist in perfect balance with contemporary luxury and comfort.
Occupying an entire city block in downtown Riverside, California &mdash just moments from the Riverside Convention Center &mdash this iconic, AAA Four-Diamond hotel has remained faithful to the grand style and ambiance enjoyed by its very first guests in 1876. It is a place where magnificent vistas harbor countless intimate hidden treasures. And it&rsquos an oasis where the outside world is left behind to set a vivid stage for memories that will last a lifetime.

As a National Historic Landmark and member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa evokes the romance and enchantment of a European castle with a design conceived by some of California&rsquos most famous architects. Yet following more than a century of meticulous restorations and enhancements, one of the country&rsquos most historic hotels now stands among its most up-to-date buildings. The majestic visuals remain in the form of grand archways, flying buttresses, lofty domes and towers, but old-world décor has given way to modern sophistication - with rooms, suites and event venues showcasing the style and comfort that today&rsquos travelers expect. The hotel that delivered a new era of grace and refinement to Riverside continues to do so to this day &ndash complemented by a welcoming staff that goes out of its way to make you feel like family.

Whether you are seeking the perfect backdrop for a romantic getaway, an inspirational setting for your wedding or business event ,or an unforgettable family vacation destination, your adventure into a world of beauty and tranquility awaits you at The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California. Become part of the legend today.

Enough varierty for any Palate

Indoor and outdoor dining are temporarily closed. Guests of the hotel can enjoy our award-winning cuisine with our expanded in-room dining menu.

Sunday Brunch

Taste the City's Best Award-Winning Brunch

Duane's Prime Steaks & Seafood

The California Lounge

Enjoy crafted cocktails, signature margaritas, beer and wine selection, and delicious appetizers/small bite offerings.

Mission Inn Restaurant

Casual Dining featuring both indoor and outdoor Seating in the beautiful Spanish Patio.

Heading To Ole Miss For The Game? Here Are 5 Places To Eat Incredibly Well In Oxford, MississippiWhere To Eat In Oxford, Mississippi

The Grove is the place to be on a home game Saturday in Oxford. (Photo: Ken Lund on

If there’s anything that Southerners care about more than their regional cuisine, it’s gotta be SEC football! To celebrate the official kickoff of the 2015-16 college football season this weekend, Food Republic is launching a new series, SEC FoodBall. Each week, we’ll profile a Southeastern Conference town, and more importantly tell you where you should eat and drink if you’re fortunate enough to attend a game there. We’ll also solicit advice from some locals to make sure you have the benefit of home team advantage.

Week 1: University of Tennessee-Martin at University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi Sept. 5

Let’s get the biscuit rolling with what many people think is the prototypical SEC town: Oxford, Mississippi. A pregame tailgate in the Grove is a rite of passage for many football fans, with elaborate food and drink displays laid out under circus-size tents and waves of well-dressed alumni and students sharing fellowship. Saturdays this season should be no different.

Nobody expects a competitive game out of the hometown Rebels’ first opponent, UT-Martin, as this is the equivalent of a preseason game for Ole Miss. Vegas isn’t even offering odds on what should turn out to be a glorified practice for the Rebels, but that just means fans should be able to duck out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium by halftime and get an early start on the postgame eating and drinking. We asked a local for some advice on where they should be heading.

Kelly English is best known for his two Memphis eateries, Restaurant Iris and the Second Line, but as a proud and active Ole Miss grad, Oxford is near and dear to his heart. In fact, he just recently opened the second location of the Second Line right off the town square, and locals are already lining up for English’s casual New Orleans–inspired menu, which includes meat pies, crawfish hush puppies and drip-down-your-forearms roast beef po’boys.

Ole Miss alum Kelly English: We weren’t kidding about that po’boy.

Here’s where he sends his friends when they visit from out of town:

Cheap Eats
Even if you spent most of your bankroll on 50-yard-line seats, it’s still possible to eat well in Oxford. English spent plenty of time dining on a college budget, so he knows of what he speaks. His first tip is the Double Cheeseburger at Handy Andy, an old-school grocery that serves up burgers and barbecue to cash-poor students. English says the cheeseburger still haunts him years later: “We all chase that burger. It’s so simple and just the textbook flattop burger.” Served hot off the griddle oozing with melted yellow American cheese that you’ll want to lick off the wax paper, it’s ultimately satisfying when paired with a sack of crinkle-cut fries. Handy Andy, 800 North Lamar Boulevard, Oxford, MS 38655 662- 234-4621

For bigger budgets, English points visitors to the flagship restaurant of the unquestioned king of the Oxford dining scene, John Currence. The Big Bad Chef runs several restaurants in town, but City Grocery is doubtlessly the jewel of the crown. The bar upstairs is an iconic gathering spot for everyone from Ole Miss students and professors discussing Faulkner to the cognoscenti of the Oxford-based Southern Foodways Alliance meeting to discuss the past and future of the food and culture of the region. (Seriously, SFA holds its annual membership meetings in the City Grocery bar each fall as part of the organization’s annual symposium.) Currence combines comfort with elegance at City Grocery with an ambience created by exposed brick walls and ancient hardwood floors accented by white linen and romantic candlelight. The cuisine features inventive Southern dishes with plenty of international twists to pique the taste buds. English is a fan: “City Grocery is such an important restaurant it could never be mentioned enough!” City Grocery, 152 Courthouse Sq., Oxford, MS 38655 662-232-8080

City Grocery, the nexus of the Oxford food universe

Eat Like a Local
Another of Currence’s restaurants receives English’s praise when considering spots for visitors to really get the full Oxford experience. Currence refers to the cuisine at his French bistro/North Mississippi café hybrid, Snackbar, as “Bubba Brasserie,” and Vishwesh Bhatt oversees the kitchen with great deftness. In addition to crazy charcuterie dishes like smoked catfish rillettes, there’s a great raw bar featuring the best of Gulf seafood. Frankly, it’s enough to make another chef a little angry. Says English, “Vish’s food makes it one of those restaurants that makes you mad because it’s so damned good!” Snackbar, 721 N. Lamar Blvd., Oxford, MS 38655 662-236-6363

No visit to SEC territory is complete without seeking out the best barbecue in the immediate area, and it’s no surprise that Currence is also involved with English’s favorite smoked meat emporium. Lamar Lounge was originally built and owned by the folks behind Fat Possum Records, the independent record label started by two Ole Miss students that popularized original Mississippi blues music acts like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough and then hit the mainstream with releases by the Black Keys and Iggy and the Stooges. When the Fat Possum folks decided to get out of the club business, they left their excellent sound system, bar and restaurant to Currence, who now operates the barbecue pit under a novel nonprofit operating system. The small restaurant seats about 50 indoors and 30 more outside by the custom barbecue pit, where patrons can interact with pitmasters practicing the arcane arts of whole hog cookery. Profits are donated to local Oxford charitable organizations such as Good Food for Oxford Schools. As warm and fuzzy as all that generosity makes English feel, that’s not what brings him to the Lamar Lounge on game days. It’s the “tot-chos,” nachos made using tater tots instead of chips, covered in barbecued meat, jalapeños and all the other usual nacho accoutrements. “The stupid ridiculous tater tot and BBQ dish at Lamar Lounge makes me want to be back in college, if you know what I mean.” Oh, we know. Lamar Lounge, 1309 N. Lamar Blvd., Oxford, MS 38655 662-513-6197

John Currence, the Big Bad Chef himself

As a final tip, English suggests that you never leave town without partaking in one other Oxford food ritual: chicken on a stick. Exactly like it sounds, this local tradition is simply a large fried tender made even more convenient thanks to the addition of a wooden skewer. Rarely consumed before midnight (or sober), chicken on a stick is available at gas stations all around town, but everybody seems to have their preferred purveyor of portable poultry. English is no exception. “You gotta go to the Chevron on the corner of Lamar and University next to the square,” he says. “If you are particularly inebriated, a pizza roll ain’t a bad idea, either.”

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Watch the video: How to build a brick barbecue BBQ - Κατασκευή ψησταριάς. (January 2022).