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Thursday, December 26, 2013

“Take me back to Black’s," our first stop in Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas

Black's Barbecue
Editor's note: Barbecued Adventures will be relaunched in early 2014 with new posts about barbecue, pitmasters and related travel. This post dates back to Feb. 6, 2011. Thank you for reading and place come back often.

The sign outside Black’s Barbecue says they’re open “8 days a week.”

Back in February of 1965, the Beatles released a single of the same title. Thirty-three years earlier, Edgar Black Sr. and a partner opened a little meat market in Lockhart, Texas.

In those days before refrigeration, it became necessary to cook and sell already cut meat as barbecue.

According to their web site, Norma Black, daughter-in-law to the original owner, says of the sign outside the main entrance at 215 N. Main St., "If you're here as much as we are, you find a few extra days in that time ... It's easier to remember when we're closed -- Thanksgiving and Christmas -- than when we're open."

Today, we are thankful for that. Black’s remains as popular as ever and is the oldest barbecue restaurant that has been continuously operated by the same family in the state of Texas.

Step inside and as you wait in line, you’re immersed in the history of Black’s and, to some extent, Texas.

Fresh with a degree from Texas A&M, Edgar Black Jr. and his wife took over the place in 1949 after his father died suddenly. They were going to run it until they could find another family member to take it over.

You know you're in Texas in Black's dining room.
Pictures on the wall show their life together and introduce us to a family that is now operating the restaurant into its fourth generation, after 80 years.

Also up on the wall to your right are framed photos of local visiting celebrities. There are pictures of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards and the 36th president of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, who asked the Blacks to serve their sausage on the grounds of the U.S. Capital.

To your left are windows, where you jealously watch the fortunate ones who already are digging in.

When you reach the vegetables at the salad bar and steam table, you realize that you’re here for more than a history lesson. Deviled eggs. Pinto beans. Black-eyed peas. Cole slaw. Potato salad.

It’s all freshly made. Just like the brisket.

According to the Blacks, Edgar, Jr. was one of the first barbecue places in the country to exclusively use the brisket cut of beef. They say others copied them.

While I won’t enter that debate, I will say that Edgar Jr.’s recipe to cook briskets coated in a combination of black pepper, salt and spices, over oak logs for 24 hours, is delectable.

Next time, we’ll have to try the turkey. Or the chicken. Or the ham. The only blemish on our experience was my wife’s pork ribs, which were a little dry (but then this is Texas).

In recent years, in response to “a lot of people from the North,” Norma Black created a sauce for the meat, which I tried. A young barbecue aficionado from nearby Austin recommended that I also use the Ghost Chili sauce, which I did not find as hot as expected.

I first learned of Black’s Barbecue thanks to the Travel Channel’s “Barbecue Paradise” program. But it also has received considerable national recognition in outlets such as the New York Times, Texas Monthly, Bon Appetit and Gourmet (which it has outlasted). You’ll find all the video and articles online at their web site at

The bumper stickers say, “Take Me Back to Black’s.” I only wish it weren’t so far away from where we live, in Indiana.

Location we visited:
Black's Barbecue
215 North Main Street
Lockhart, Texas


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Lockhart, Texas: “The Barbecue Capital of Texas”

Caldwell County Courthouse
Editor's note: Barbecued Adventures will be relaunched in early 2014 with new posts about barbecue, pitmasters and related travel. This post dates back to Feb. 1, 2011. Thank you for reading and place come back often.

According to official sources, the town of Lockhart, Texas, is home to the state’s oldest public library and the oldest Protestant church.

The Caldwell County Courthouse aptly is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.

On the map, Lockhart would seem to be another small Texas town, located about 45 minutes south of Austin and about 90 minutes north of San Antonio.

On the day we visited, the downtown square resembled the sleepy Texas town depicted in the Academy Award-winning drama, "The Last Picture Show." Sadly, many shops were closed that Wednesday, including the consignment shop my wife wanted to inspect, as well as the bakery on the square. Some local teens, accompanied by an old hound dog, aimed us to a place for ice cream on this warm afternoon.

The 1996 Christopher Guest comedy "Waiting for Guffman" and the 1993 Academy Award nominated drama "What's Eating Gilbert Grape(starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp)" were filmed here, including at the historic courthouse square. The city's Wal-Mart store was used in the 2000 Natalie Portman film "Where The Heart Is."

But where I had seen Lockhart before had been on television.

The fourth episode of the Travel Channel’s “Food Wars” series featured a barbecue and family debate between two local joints, Kreuz Market and Smitty's Market. Together with Black’s Barbecue – the oldest such restaurant in the state to be operated by the same family – and Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que, the town has been dubbed “The Barbecue Capital of Texas.”

By the Texas Legislature, no less, in 1999. Until recently, that’s also what it said on the welcome sign as you entered town on Highway 183. It's what drew us here.

Although it only has a population of about 12,900, an estimated 23,000 people eat at Lockhart’s four barbecue restaurants each week – or about 1.2 million a year (as reported in the state travel guide).

Diners at Black's Barbecue
So it is no surprise that Mayor Lew White closes the deal when describing his community on the city’s web site by saying that it has, “above all, the best tasting barbecue to be found anywhere!”

His statement is debatable, but from the moment we entered town, we knew we had entered into a historic place, a destination worthy of its billing. Over the next few postings, I’ll present each one of them individually, with the exception of Chisholm Trail (admittedly an oversight), which one local told me was “the new kid on the block.”

But there was only so much barbecue we could eat in one day.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Todd Blackledge's "Taste of the Town"

Older football fans remember Todd Blackledge as quarterback for Joe Paterno's 1982 national champion Penn State Nittany Lions, and perhaps as a five-year NFL signal caller with the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Fans who are younger may know Blackledge as another ex-player turned broadcaster on ESPN and CBS. Some Indianapolis Colts fans also will remember him from their pre-season games.

But more often these days, the Canton, Ohio native is known as a foodie. Beginning during the 2007 college football season, working with ESPN producers, he launched "Todd's Taste of the Town," a segment about a local restaurant where that weekend's game was being played.

Mac's Drive-In in Clemson, S.C., was his "maiden-voyage segment." In addition to its cheeseburgers, Mac's is known for its menu of Low Country food.

Several months back, Blackledge launched a Taste of the Town web site as well as an active Twitter feed (His handle is @Todd Blackledge). He also has co-authored a new book with J.R. Rosenthal (who is working on a cook book with famous Texan Nolan Ryan).

Like similar books in the genre, "Taste of the Town (Center Street)" does a good job of taking you on a tour of places to eat in renowned college towns around the country. Because many of the games Blackledge calls are in the Southeastern Conference, nearly half of the book focuses on Dixie destinations such as Knoxville, Tenn., Auburn, Ala., Starkville, Miss., and Columbia, S.C.

But it also includes stops where other top-ranked teams play on Saturdays, including Columbus, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Madison, Wis.; and his beloved State College, Pa., home of Penn State.

Blackledge includes several interesting choices for barbecue in the book. For example, many outside the state of Alabama may be intrigued that he chose Archibald's over Dreamland in his section about Tuscaloosa, home of the Crimson Tide.

Archibald's was the first place he chose for an Alabama home game segment back in 2007. There, he met namesake George Archibald as he tended to the pit.

"It surprised some people that I opted for Archibald's instead of the better-known Dreamland Bar-B-Que. I'd had Dreamland ribs before and they are very good, but several reliable local food experts told me to check out a place across the river in a town called Northport," writes Blackledge, who goes on to tell how legendary coach Paul "Bear"Bryant preferred their sauce, which is similar to North Carolina vinegar-based sauce.

"I love that he took people to Archibald's, not simply because the barbecue is the finest in the state of Alabama, and perhaps anywhere," adds Wright Thompson, a senior writer at ESPN, in the book's introduction. "But because the act of attending a college game is often as much a pilgrimage as it is about being entertained, a trait sports share with food.

"You don't go to Archibald's as a prelude to an Alabama game. It is part of that game, as surely as a tailgate or long-held season tickets … In many places, you wouldn't dream of coming to town for football without also visiting a beloved restaurant," Thompson adds.

In my hometown of Bloomington, Ind., you could make a similar case for Nick's English Hut during college basketball season. There is a history book about Nick's, "The College of Beer."

Blackledge's book profiles about 10 barbecue joints, many of whom provided recipes. They include:

  • The Little Dooey in Starkville, home of the University of Arkansas, who gave their recipe for deep fried ribs and their corn pudding. 
  • Dead End BBQ in Knoxville, home of the University of Tennessee. 
  • Byron's Smokehouse in Auburn, Ala. 
  • The Salt Lick in Austin, home of the University of Texas, which provided their brisket and chicken recipes. Be sure to check out the note from owner Scott Roberts about tradition on page 109.
  • B's Barbecue in Greenville, N.C., home of East Carolina University, where when they're out, they're out.

Weaver D's in Athens (Courtesy ESPN, photo by Bryan Jaroch)
A couple of notable soul food restaurants also make Blackledge's book, including Weaver D's Delicious Fine Foods in Athens, Ga., a favorite hangout for the band REM. Owner Dexter Weaver came up with the slogan that inspired the title of a great album from 1992, "Automatic for the People."

In the back, a chapter of coaches' recipes is less useful (Couldn't University of Georgia Coach Mark Richt have come up with something better than "Hot Dog Delight"). But Sue Paterno's recipes for Salsa and Timbale are worth turning to.

They say the two most popular sports in the South are football and spring football. That should give you ample time and opportunities to visit these and other places in Blackledge's book.

Book reviewed:
Taste of the Town: A Guided Tour of College Football's Best Places to Eat
Todd Blackledge and J.R. Rosenthal
Center Street, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Gates Kansas City BBQ, Put to Music

Editor's note: Barbecued Adventures will be relaunched in early 2014 with new posts about barbecue, pitmasters and related travel. This post dates back to Jan. 24, 2011. Thank you for reading and please come back often.

“Blues, brews and barbecue”

It’s a common refrain for barbecue lovers and the theme for many festivals and cookouts around the country.

Good barbecue is a celebration, especially when it is shared with family and friends.

Why even Shakespeare said, “If music be the food of love, play on.”

Bet this is the first BBQ blog to mention the Bard.

IU’s Archive of African American Music & Culture each month produces Black Grooves, which features reviews of new releases and quality reissues of great black music. I’ve had the privilege of writing for it on occasion.

I want to bring your attention to editor Brenda Nelson-Strauss’ review of The Gates BBQ Suite (2010), featuring Bobby Watson and the University of Missouri at Kansas City Concert Jazz Orchestra.

Brenda writes, “For most of us, the mere mention of Kansas City conjures up visions of two things: live jazz and barbeque joints. Preferably together. On multiple nights. Obviously, native son Bobby Watson agrees. ‘Smoking meat remains near and dear to me,’ he recalls, ‘either a beef sandwich or short end!’ And Watson, a former member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, knows how to serve up some smoking jazz as well.”

 The jazz certainly is smoking in the video below of Watson and the ensemble performing "Wilke's BBQ:"

Monday, December 16, 2013

Rudy's: The "Worst" Bar-B-Q in Texas

Editor's note: Barbecued Adventures will be relaunched in early 2014 with new posts about barbecue, pitmasters and related travel. This post dates back to Jan. 23, 2011. Thank you for reading and please come back often.

While Frommer’s says there are more than 90 barbecue restaurants in the greater San Antonio area, you’ll want to head several miles north to Leon Springs, at the edge of the Hill Country, to Rudy's, where you can fill up your gas tank, pick up a gallon of milk and find some of the best beef brisket and pork ribs for miles.

Even if the people at Rudy’s say it’s the “Worst Bar-B-Q in Texas.”

It is hard to believe that this place only has been serving barbecue since 1989. The environment at Rudy’s Country Store has a nostalgic feel about it, from the hot, freshly hand-sliced meat served simply on brown paper placed inside soda delivery trays to the large ice buckets that keep the beer and sodas cold.

Thankfully, the nutritionists haven’t led Rudy’s to trim the blackened fat from the meat, which is so tender that it melts in your mouth. My grandfather wouldn’t have needed his dentures to eat here.

A plaque near the entrance tells the story of founder Mack “Doc” Holiday, who died in 2007.

“Doc put his own unique touch into an existing neighborhood general store and gas station called ‘Rudolph’s’ and helped to create a true ‘Barbecue Joint’ like the roadside barbecue stands he used to frequent as a kid,” the plaque reads.

“Through the years and with the growth of additional locations, Doc continued to put his unique touch on everything, including our team members and guests that have been and continue to be a part of Rudy’s,” it continues.

“He believed that good barbecue is a celebration, especially when it is shared with family and friends. Doc always had a smile for everyone and his hospitality served as a role model for all of us. Doc will be missed but not forgotten by all those he touched through his words and barbecue.”

It is obvious that the people carrying on Doc’s legacy have taken these words to heart. I asked someone why they serve the “worst” barbecue and not the best. I was told that everyone else says they serve the best barbecue, but at Rudy’s they never give up on trying to make it better.

A sign near the fire pit says, “Don’t tell us how good it is. Just come back with your friends and family.”

I wish I could come here more often.

Be sure to try their creamed corn, which is made according to their own recipe, as well as their sausage. They use fresh peaches in their cobbler.

There are now nearly 30 Rudy’s locations across Texas and in Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico. I can’t vouch for any of the other locations, but if they’re half as good as the original, they’re worth stopping for.

Location we visited:
Rudy's Country Store
24152 W. IH 10
San Antonio, Texas

Brisket, ribs and sausage. It's all good.

Rudy's Country Store & Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Original Market Diner: Feels Like Home

The famous Natelie Woodley, left, with my wife and our waitress
Editor's note: Barbecued Adventures will be relaunched in early 2014 with new posts about barbecue, pitmasters and related travel. This post about a delightful place for a good Southern breakfast dates back to Jan. 23, 2011. Thank you for reading and please come back often.

For many years, a former Army cook named Bruce Collier ran one of my favorite restaurants at 620 W. Fifth St. in Bloomington, Ind.

Bruce's cafe opened at 3 a.m. each morning to appreciative diners who had either spent the night drinking or studying.

Before closing 12 hours later each day, Bruce's would serve a broad cross-section of individuals who likely saw it as an extension of home.

I always enjoyed sitting at the counter so I could watch Mr. Collier move with perpetual motion to efficiently handle food on the griddle, while also maneuvering to make toast, pour coffee and handle other tasks.

Of course, he never could resemble the multiple-armed Hindu goddess Kali, but I would imagine that she couldn’t have done much better making breakfast, breaded tenderloins or the occasional fried brain sandwich.

In 1985, the breakfast special -- two eggs, sausage and biscuits and gravy -- would run you $1.40, plus tax. I often added the hash browns for another 70 cents. Coffee would take the tab up to $2.50.

Bruce’s closed in 1989 and has never really been replaced. In this era of Cracker Barrel, it has become even more special when you find places like this on the road. We found such a place in Dallas, Texas, appropriately called the Original Market Diner.

Just like Bruce's, the Original Market Diner has a counter.
The Birmingham Post-Herald (which folded in 2005) once had a columnist named Mitch Mendelson who once proclaimed, “Praise Greeks for the restaurants they grow.” No surprise, the Original Market Diner has its roots in Greece.

Built in 1954 as a drive-in in the Stemmons Corridor, about 35 years ago Sam and Kathy Vergos purchased it and ran it under various names until the early 1980s. Current owner Jimmy Vergos recalled, on the diner’s home page, that his Pappou (Greek for grandpa) used to serve beer on tap and his Yia Yia (Grandma) worked the cash register.

The family reacquired the restaurant in 1989 and Jimmy took it over in 2001. It was so difficult to decide what to order from their expansive breakfast and home-style favorites that we ate here two days in a row (Yes, it has a daily Blue Plate Special).

Like Bruce’s, not only can you get biscuits and gravy but hash browns too. The three-egg omelets were amazing and my only regret was that I didn’t order from their array of waffles.

It’s no surprise that the Original Market Diner has been frequently honored by the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Observer, D Magazine and Texas Monthly.

Also making you feel at home at the Original Market Diner is a colorful and well-adorned waitress named Natalie Woodley. From the moment you walk in the door, you can’t miss her big black beehive hair, thick makeup and more jewelry than is humanly necessary.

Natalie was not our waitress , but she gladly spent a couple of minutes with us after paid our tab. In 2007, she was described in the Zagat guide as "the sassiest host in Dallas.” Last year, she was named "Best Waitress" by readers of the Dallas Voice news weekly (Our waitress was great too).

She told me about her first career at an insurance company and showed me a picture of herself with actress Sharon Stone. She told me how many of her customers got together to hire one of the actors of “Will and Grace” to help her celebrate her birthday.

I have to admit that I felt a little overwhelmed being around such a celebrity.

Location we visited:
Original Market Diner
4434 Harry Hines Blvd.
Dallas, Texas

Original Market Diner on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Smoked Fish With Whiskers

Editor's note: Barbecued Adventures will be relaunched in early 2014 with new posts about barbecue, pitmasters and related travel. This post dates back to Jan. 11, 2011. Thank you for reading and please come back often.

Before saying anything further, while visiting the historic Fort Worth Stockyards, we should have eaten at the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, where chef Tim Love and his team are renowned for an inventive menu that includes steaks, lamb, seafood and wild game, including deer, kangaroo, quail and wild boar.

Next trip.

A few years back, Love appeared on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” and defeated Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in a “Chile battle.” He has been extensively written about in several national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Wine Spectator, Food & Wine, Southern Living, Esquire and New York Times.

I’m sure my review of the Lonesome Dove would have been glowing. We were impressed when we walked in the door. Call me a fool, but in all honesty, it was only the third night of our vacation and I didn’t want to blow the budget. So we went back around the corner to Riscky’s BBQ and Steakhouse, 120 E. Exchange Ave.

As the story goes, in 1911 Polish immigrant Joe Riscky came to Fort Worth and went to work at Armour Packing Company in the Stock Yards for $9 a week. A year later, he married fellow immigrant Mary Bunkervitch, and in 1927 they opened a grocery a few miles from the Stock Yards. They began offering lunches featuring their homemade barbeque, which led to a business that today operates six barbecue restaurants, Trailboss Burgers and the steakhouse where we would eat this chilly night.

Other than the nearby table of holiday revelers, it was a quiet night at Riscky’s. We thought about ordering the Calf Fries (think deep-fried Mountain Oyster pieces) and their trademark cabbage soup, before settling on their “famous” pork spare ribs for Donna and smoked catfish fillets for me.

Sadly, no amount of “Riscky Dust” could save the ribs. We were later told that they had been cooked elsewhere at another location, which explained the re-cooked aftertaste. However, the smoked catfish was a whole other story.

One might wonder why I didn’t opt for beef brisket or a thick steak, but I was drawn to trying something I didn’t expect to find in Texas. Here in Indiana, deep fried catfish is an art if really done well, and it doesn’t seem to be in the same culinary category as whitefish and salmon, which you’ll find smoked and served in all the best Jewish delis.

You'll find numerous smoked catfish recipes online but Riscky’s offering was unique. The way it is served, it stands alone. It is not blended with a sauce and no liquid smoke could have been used. They simply served it naked with a honey mustard dipping sauce, which provided a nice accent.

Eating the catfish was a simple, delicate pleasure.

A friend once told me that a chicken is delicious “before it is born and after it’s dead.” In our next entry, you’ll join us for some wonderful huevos rancheros.

Location we visited:
Riscky's BBQ and Steakhouse
120 E. Exchange Ave.
Fort Worth, Texas

Riscky's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Going Whole Hog in Little Rock

Editor's note: Barbecued Adventures will be relaunched in early 2014 with new posts about barbecue, pitmasters and related travel. This post dates back to Jan. 9, 2011. Thank you for reading and please come back often.

Many of us backyard barbecuers dream of getting more than a few compliments from the family and friends. Winning a local cook-off would offer some street cred, particularly if it has a name like “Ribstock,” “The Big Oink,” “A Pig Off” or a “Pig Jig.”

You’ll find a good list of these events online at The National Barbecue News.

The truly talented and brave pit bosses bring it to Memphis-in-May's World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest or the National Championship Barbecue Cookoff in Meridian, Texas, where teams compete for thousands of dollars in prizes as well as bragging rights.

However, it seems to me that it’s much more difficult for those who are successful in the competitive BBQ circuit to truly bring the same taste and quality to a restaurant on a consistent basis. Many have tried but not all can match their reputation to what ends up on your plate. A good reason is that the people preparing your food aren’t always the same ones who faced the judges.

I doubt that Donna and I ran into Mike “Sarge” Davis and Steve Lucchi during our first visit to the original location and headquarters of Whole Hog Café at 2516 Cantrell Road in Little Rock, Ark. However, this place lives up to the hype that has been spread by Fodor’s and TV food queen Rachel Ray

The people we did meet were awful nice folks.

Competing as the Southern Gentlemen's Culinary Society, Davis, Lucci and the late Ron Blasingame (who died in September 2009) competed in the Memphis-in-May championships and won second place for their ribs in 2000, the same year they opened the first Whole Hog Café.

Memphis-in May judges went on to award them second place honors again in the ribs category in 2002 and 2008 and secured their place in history with a first place in 2002 in the Whole Hog category.

Their walls and their web site testify to their many other honors, particularly in their home state of Arkansas.

Our first of two visits there was marked by a beautiful mistake. When I went back to pick up our order, I accidentally picked up the wrong plate and a succulent beef brisket sandwich, instead of a pulled pork one. I wasn’t paying attention until after I’d taken my first bite, but rather than be disappointed, I was ecstatic.

The brisket was so tender that you didn’t really need teeth to enjoy it. Their slaw, which rests on every sandwich, provided a nice counterbalance in flavor. My wife loved her ribs. While smoked thoroughly, they were very moist. To accent it, Whole Hog makes six different sauces available to you at your table. The sides are terrific too, particularly the sour cream potato salad and the beans.

It is easy to see why Rachel Ray included Whole Hog Café in her list of must-visit barbecue restaurants, which will include some others that will be written about in this blog. MTV also likes it and, of course, you will find President Bill Clinton’s picture on the wall there too.

There are now 12 Whole Hog Café locations (as of 2011). Based on other reviews, the apple did not fall far from the tree.

Location we visited:
Whole Hog Cafe
2516 Cantrell Road
Little Rock, Ark.

Whole Hog Cafe & Catering on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Life Is More Than a Moment

Editor's note: Barbecued Adventures will be relaunched in early 2014 with new posts about barbecue, pitmasters and related travel. This post dates back to Jan. 6, 2011. Thank you for reading and please come back often.

The genesis for this food blog was an unplanned barbecue pilgrimage that my wife Donna and I took to San Antonio in late December 2010. We wanted to escape winter and experience “a whole other country.”

Our road trip to get there took us from Bloomington, Ind., though southern Illinois, Arkansas and deep into the "Heart of Texas."

We had never been to our first stop along the way, Little Rock, Ark. But one of my favorite journalism professors at Indiana University, Will Counts, had taken me there before.

As a photographer for the Arkansas Democrat, Will had documented the desegregation crisis at Little Rock's Central High School in September of 1957. He should have won a Pulitzer Prize for his work.

One of his photographs showed a 15-year-old black student, Elizabeth Eckford, outside the high school with a white girl, Hazel Bryan Massery, yelling at her from behind. It was named by The Associated Press as one of the top 100 photographs of the 20th century and later became the reason for an acclaimed 2011 book by Vanity Fair writer David Margolick.

But he was denied the honor because of a decision by the Pulitzer board of directors. They felt that four prizes for coverage of a single event would be too much.

In 1997, Will and his wife, Vivian, arranged for Eckford and Massery to reconcile and they later appeared on Oprah.

He reflected on the experiences in his 1999 book, "A Life Is More Than a Moment."

Even though I pursued a career as a writer, Will was something of a mentor to me, as he was for many others. After returning to IU, we spoke often and I appreciated coming over to his home for a taste of Neely’s Interstate Barbecue, which he had FedExed up to Bloomington.

As I saw signs for Central High School, I reflected upon my friend. Will passed away in October of 2001, a victim of cancer. Like Birmingham, another flash point during the civil rights struggle, Little Rock seems like a better city today.

In my next post, you’ll learn about a barbecue joint Will would have loved. It’s also a favorite haunt of another Arkansas native son, Bill Clinton. We made a couple of visits to Whole Hog Cafe, which you shouldn't miss as you travel through the Natural State.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Another Food Blog Begins, Roll Tide

Editor's note: Barbecued Adventures will be relaunched in early 2014 with new posts about barbecue, pitmasters and related travel. This post dates back to Jan. 5, 2011. Thank you for reading and please come back often.

For many of us Yankees, it’s hard to believe that barbecue existed before authors like Steven Raichlen, Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby started the current wave toward making barbecue a national obsession. And before the Food Network and the Travel Channel.

But in reality, many good people had sought the proper alchemy between wood, fire, smoke and their choice of meat for centuries.

For me, a nearly lifelong resident of Indiana, it took a leap of faith to discover a cuisine that consumes me – my first job in journalism at the Birmingham News in 1985. My good friend and Louisville native Joe Kiefer encouraged me to follow him there, where a deeply ingrained and historic way of life still led to fascinating news copy.

It also led me to Dreamland, Jim n’ Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Golden Rule and the Hickory Pit. There also was that great little pulled pork place in Clanton, Ala., where a policeman shot himself (he was wearing his bullet-proof vest) to gain sympathy after his wife embezzled more than a $100,000 from the city – that was my first breaking news story.

Every time there’s a home University of Alabama football game on ESPN, the announcers have to remind me how privileged they were to venture out to the sticks for some good ribs and beer at Dreamland.

A favorite moment from my two years in ‘Bama was when friends drove through a rare snowstorm to bring numerous racks of Dreamland ribs (pork ones of course) from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham (an hour’s drive each way) so we could consume them at halftime of a televised game with the University of Kentucky.

Unfortunately, a managing editor with Machiavellian tendencies contributed to my abrupt and hasty departure from the Magic City. (In a delicious twist of fate, he later went from being the No. 2 person in the newsroom to heading the paper’s advertising “Flyer Program”).

But I’ve never lost that love for pulled pork, smoked quail, barbecued chicken, ribs and every sauce imaginable. I’ve added to it a craving for beef brisket, sausages with natural casings, smoked catfish and mutton. As a Greek, I’d like to think that roast lamb belongs in this list as well.

A recent road trip through Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas sparked my decision to begin this blog. My wife Donna’s idea to do a barbecue version of “Julie and Julia” didn’t seem practical and my family doctor would not have approved. But I will bring you along, starting with our latest journey.

Don’t read this on an empty stomach.