Thursday, July 15, 2010


We left on our coast-trip on Thursday morning, sailing along to Leonard Cohen’s sepulchrally joyous tones (first song when we hit I-65 is always CLOSING TIME, which we bellow out word for word, all ninety-nine verses, as we head for our first stop---McDonald’s down in Greenwood, where we get a BEC biscuit and one of those aching-cold tiny tubs of yogurt and strawberries with a little crinkly cellophane of yummy-crunch granola to sprinkle on). What can I say—most of our tastes are quite plebeian, plus a lot of our “dining out” is with folks under four.

We rattled along quite nicely, just cruising down and down, through Kentucky’s beginning-to-elevate, through the horse country, crossing into Tennessee, where the hills began to get serious. I love the looking-ahead, the peeping-over, the bluing of the distances as those great shoulders rise like distant ocean swells, every shade of green and blue that there is.

We’d decided on barbecue in Tennessee for lunch, and took an exit whose previous tall billboards had exalted smoke and pork to heavenly proportions. We took a right, then passed everything BUT barbecue spots, finally turning at what Chris calls a “whupper”---a place you can “whup” around and go back the way you came. As we reached perhaps the 220th degree on our circle, a name appeared, prominently featuring the word, Barbecue.

We took it as a sign---as if it had been set down there that very moment, fresh and new, just for our lunchtime. About nine pickups in the parking lot---a good sign for home-food, we’ve found, and though I sniffed no smoke in the air, a step inside the door rendered the familiar hickory-meat-sauce aroma of long-ago memory. It was as if the varnish on the knotty pine walls had been imbued with the deep-smoke scent, trapping it beneath the shine.

I ordered the usual: PP sandwich, slaw on, with potato salad and beans as sides---you have to taste all the regular items---it’s the LAW. On a table whose polyurethaned surface shone as slick as a Last Supper Clock, the accoutrements were: salt, pepper, a chrome finger-pinch napkin dispenser, and two squeezies, promising “Sauce” and “Hot.”

Chris retrieved our tray from the little order-window in the wall. After the blessing, first ritual is ALWAYS a pin-dot of each sauce onto rim of plate, then a fork-tine dip to tip of tongue. Squeezing the “sauce” bottle required the hand-strength of a bodybuilder---it was so thick it ribboned out in a little pile of loops which just sat there like cake frosting. A taste delivered naught but vinegar cooked thick with cornstarch, perhaps, and the “hot,” though a bit more liquid, was more of the same, but with a throaty afterburn.

Lifting of sandwich top revealed nice even clumps of soft pork---oven pork, if I’m not mistaken---with not the vaguest hint of crispins or edges or any association with a real pit, for the flavor was merely PORK, and boiled pork at that---no smoke at all, beneath the straight-from-the-plastic-bag bun.

Beans were adequate---big soft pinto-types in a sugar/tomato sauce, and potato salad was definitely the deli-case variety; each cube was squared off like machine-cut, and every third bite had the hard, undercooked consistency of a hunk of apple. I hoped no one was watching as I grabbed up napkin after napkin, spitting out and stashing the hard little cubes which were just not edible. After three tries, I was done.

We ate perhaps half of the sandwiches and most of the serving of beans, and passed on the peach cobbler. I do hope that there’s a good local following---travelers would have to happen upon the place, and I doubt that any would mark it for a return visit. I just keep wondering how it smelled like that. Perhaps there’s a company turning out aerosol cans somewhere, manufactured of dreams and memories, which dispense that lovely, unmistakable hickory-whiff tang of a REAL crusty-runged barbecue pit, laden with shoulders and ribs and sometimes a whole pig, watched and tended through the night, becoming succulent and flavored with the REAL taste of barbecue.
I think I'd buy a can of that.

And moiré non,


Marlene said...

Rachel, Welcome back. We learned quite some time ago not to trust the pick-ups in the parking lot. We "ran into" the most disgusting pile of Brunswick Stew, barbeque, and potato salad we have ever seen. Every trip to the N.Ga mountains we always teased each other about stopping where all the "good ole boys" eat.

Kim Shook said...

I'm loving the travelogue! I’ve been in those so-called BBQ places. Pure ersatz to draw in the innocent. I always figure that when some Yankee says he doesn’t like BBQ, THAT’S the kind of place that they’ve stumbled into. I do like the idea of smoke aerosol, though. Or maybe Yankee Candles could come up with a BBQ candle. But then there would be all the arguments – Tennessee? NC – East or West? Kansas City?

Chesapeake said...

Oh, my Dear, I shudder with/for you. As a North Carolinian born, the barbecue HAS to be from the pit, and sauce? Vinegar and hot red peppers, puh-leeze. And don't tell me that one can barbecue chicken or beef, either!

mustard seeds said...

Hilarious story. You get some real good BBQ around here (Memphis). Sheila