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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Kennedy's Bar-B-Que, "serving Canton, Ohio since 1922"

Sitting on the edge of Canton's Memorial Park and a short distance from the final resting place of the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley, is a diminutive building that has been serving bean soup and sandwiches since 1922.

Over the years, the surrounding neighborhood has changed and today is decidedly blue collar. People long ago stopped getting off the train to visit the park developed around McKinley's mausoleum. Local blogger Sean Posey unfortunately describes an area that today has to be "heavily policed after dark."

On the Saturday mid-afternoon when I visited Kennedy's Bar-B-Que, a steady flow of customers came for the pork, ham, turkey and beef sandwiches as well as its famous bean soup made with the same recipe passed down from when the place was known as Spiker's.

Jack Kennedy bought the place located at 1420 7th St. NW in 1960 and ran it until his death 49 years later. Ernie Schott, proprietor of another Canton landmark, Taggart's Ice Cream Parlor, bought Kennedy's in September of 2009 and reportedly made no other changes except to expand the lunch hours.

My sampler platter of Kennedy's sliders
“We’re keeping the recipes, the menu, everything the same,” Ernie Schott told the local newspaper, The Repository, after he bought it. “It worked all these years, so why change it?” 

Like the menu, Kennedy's is small and simple. I can imagine that the eight stools at the counter, the three tables and four booths get much more of a workout during the week.

You won't find hamburgers on the menu. All of the pork shoulders, pork butts, turkeys, beef roasts and Sugardale hams (Canton's own) are turned on mechanical spits over a gas fire in an eight-foot-by-15-foot smokehouse next to the restaurant.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Evansville's Big "B" Pit Cooked Pork, "barbecue in a jar"

Here I am, before dinner

When I was growing up, my mother tended to shy away from the more processed meats for dinner, such as Manwich sloppy joes, canned chili and spam. Of course, like all kids I did eat my share of hotdogs.

With those memories in mind, we recently decided to try barbecue in a jar.

While passing through Evansville, Ind., we were intrigued by Big “B” Pit Cooked Pork with Barbecue Sauce, a popular local staple found in area Schnucks, Wesselmans and Beuhlers grocery stores. You’ll find it in the same aisle as the barbecue sauces. It also has been sold on the QVC home shopping network.

Big “B” Pit Cooked Pork has been made in Evansville since 1962, the same year John Bonenberger bought Baugh’s Barbecue restaurant, a family-owned diner since the 1920s. He renamed the place Big “B” Barbecue.

While the restaurant is now a memory, the family business continues to produce its jarred meats and sauce. The Bonenberger family also bottles its tomato-based sauce as well as sauces for other private labels across the country through their company, FarmBoy Food Services.

In 1965, Bonenberger became the sole owner of Farm Boy Food Services, but a year later he passed away suddenly. His two sons, Robert and Richard, run the business today. Today, Farm Boy is part of UniPro, the largest food distribution cooperative in the world.

According to a company profile in Evansville Business, the pork for Big “B” barbecue arrives in 2,000-pound bins and is cooked separately from the sauce, which is prepared in 500-gallon kettles in about 20 minutes. Afterwards, the meat and sauce are combined and packaged for distribution in two-pound, 32-ounce jars.

Big "B" Barbecue on a bun.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sorry, Cookie, but Virgil's Barbecue Road Trip Cookbook may not be for you

As I sit to write this review of the new cookbook, “Virgil’s Barbecue Road Trip Cookbook,” I am reminded of the old Pace Picante television commercials.

In the memorable ad, a group of cowboys is gathered around a camp dinner. A cowboy finishes off the last of the Pace sauce and the camp cook, “Cookie,” hands him a jar of another brand of salsa. The cowboy looks at the contents of the other salsa and angrily says, “This stuff’s made in New York City!”

Soon, someone’s asking for a rope, and an announcer says, “Pick up the original.”

By using this comparison, I am not suggesting that Virgil’sReal Barbecue, a fixture near Times Square in New York City, is that bad. The restaurant, founded by Artie Cutler in 1994, was started as an attempt to bring barbecue to the Big Apple.

As discussed in the book’s introduction, Cutler realized that that “authentic barbecue is like a big old tree that grows from four different regional roots: Memphis, the Carolinas, Kansas City and Texas.” 

He, his wife Alice and his business partners went on a road trip that many of us would covet, driving across the South, tasting everyone’s pulled pork, spare ribs, chicken, beef brisket and “just about everything else that’s ever found its way onto a grill.”

According to the book, they ate at eight barbecue restaurants or roadhouses in one day.

The intelligence they gathered was then used to open Virgil’s at 152 West 44th Street (there also are locations at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas and the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut).

In the interests of full disclosure, I have never eaten at Virgil’s. Many reviewers at sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, OpenTable and Urbanspoon will attest to its quality. But many others question whether it can be “bonified,” as some Southerners might put it. 

That’s kind of where I am when I review “Virgil’s Barbecue Road Trip Cookbook (St. Martin’s Press).”

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Book review: Melissa Cookston's "Smokin' in the Boys' Room"

Viewers of the popular television program “BBQ Pitmasters” are familiar with brash, cocky celebrity judge Myron Mixon, who always is introduced as the “Winningest Man in Barbecue.” 

But Melissa Cookston, a frequent contestant and judge on the show and a three-time whole hog champion at Memphis in May, easily can say she’s put out a new cookbook that is superior in content, detail and flavor to Mixon’s and many other "good old boys."

Smokin’ in the Boys' Room (Andrews McMeel Publishing)” not only provides information that instills confidence to the novice and experienced barbecuers alike, but it also shares excellent insights about replicating Mississippi Delta delicacies and deserts, including Meyer Lemon Pie (Yum!).

Cookston doesn’t need to bill herself as the “Winningest Woman in Barbecue;” but her female perspective doesn’t hurt. In the book’s 180 pages, she comes across as warm and encouraging. She never assumes that you know too much and never dumbs down the text either.
The co-owner of MemphisBarbecue Company restaurants in Horn Lake, Miss., and Fayetteville, N.C., Cookston has been serving up barbecue since 1996, when she entered her first barbecue competition with her husband Pete.

From the first chapter, Cookston offers details missing from testosterone-fueled tomes, such as information about what to stock in your pantry, the tools she’d rather not do without and several practical tips.

Before getting to the meats, “Smokin’ in the Boys' Room” provides recipes for rubs and seasoning blends for grilling, marinades and sauces and the tools you'll need.

“My barbecue and cooking are about building layered tastes that unite on the palate to create a wonderful full-flavored effect,” she suggests. “I tell every judge to put a little sauce on his or her finger, then on the front of the tongue. The flavor should travel all across the palate – a little sweet, a little acid, a little salt and kick at the back to tell you it was there!”

It’s the kind of practical advice anyone can use.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

New book "Eat Dat" offers readers an excellent guide to New Orleans' food culture, both pre- and post-Katrina

Michael Murphy was an outsider, something he acknowledges in his author’s note introducing his fabulous new book, “Eat Dat New Orleans: A Guide to the UniqueFood Culture of the Crescent City (Countryman Press).”

Like me, Murphy is a Midwesterner who grew up in the 1960s “raised on Steak ‘n’ Shake and Chicken in a Biscuit.” He moved to New Orleans just five years ago, too long after his first visit there in 1983, leaving behind the book publishing scene in New York City.

“Having been in the book business many years and having witnessed memoirs by Joe the Plumber, the nine-year-old Slumdog Millionaire star, Rubina Ali, writing about the trials and tribulations of her first eight years; and George W. Bush writing about decision making. I am less concerned about have the credentials to write a book,” Murphy wrote. 

“But a book about my beloved New Orleans and its iconic food culture was another matter,” he continues. “However, in the writing of this book I have learned that most of the top food critics brought little more to the job at the beginning than a passion for New Orleans and a love of our food. Those I have in spades.”

From all of us Northerners who have had a taste of the South and wish we indulge in it more often, thank you. I bring the same passion to this barbecue blog, when I am able to sit down to write.

I made my first trip to the place Murphy unapologetically calls “the greatest city in America” back in 1987 and sadly have only been able to return a handful of times. As with barbecue, I do my best to replicate some of its flavors here in my Indiana kitchen.

“Eat Dat,” Murphy’s 256-page guide to New Orleans, is more than a restaurant guide. It is a loving re-introduction to a place many sadly still mainly associate with Hurricane Katrina and its legacy. He opens the book with a “brief and (mostly) bona fide history” of the city’s food.