Sunday, February 18, 2018

Notes from the BBQ trail - Georgia, Tennessee, Michigan and Minnesota

I travel a fair amount, often by car, which gives me a chance to indulge in one of my passions - burnt pig.  Last month, I had a chance to hit a couple of places in the southeast, and try a new spot in Minnesota.  I make no pretense of rating fairly, trying to be agnostic about variants from different regions, or even pretend that vinegar based sauce is the only real sauce for pork (the others are all masking agents).

Righteous Que
1050 E Piedmont Rd, Marietta, GA 30062

It's not uncommon to find good barbeque in strip malls, but you normally need a recommendation to find them.  The folks I bought a car from (another story) recommended this place as the best in town.  No arguments - well cooked pork, good sides, good banana pudding (it's own food group in the south!)  I spent some time talking to the owners about the restaurant and their mission - they pick a local cause every year and donate a portion of their profits to that cause.
The owner was pleased to show off his cooker, and talk about sourcing top quality ingredients.  These were folks with a passion for their food and their mission.  I was pleased to have spent a few extra minutes visiting.

Food - A-; Service - A; Charm - B; Mission - A+

Peg Leg Porker
903 Gleaves St, Nashville, TN 37203

It was wintertime in Nashville, down on music city row. And I was looking for a place to get myself out of the cold... - The Pilgrim, Kris Kristofferson.  I've always wanted to have a chance to spend some time in Nashville, and go listen to music downtown.  There are 3 or 4 places that are legend to country and Americana fans, so when the opportunity presented itself on this trip, I grabbed it.  I stopped for a beer at a place just down the hill from Music City Row, and asked for recommendations for dinner.  When 3 of the 4 people standing there all recommended Peg Leg Porker, I'd have been a fool not to have followed their advice.  And I definitely didn't feel foolish.  A short walk further down the hill, and there I was.  
No idea how long Peg Leg Porker has been there, but it had the feeling of a long standing 'joint', with a bar at one end, service counter at the other, and lots of tables in between.
Good food and plenty of it.  Huge sandwich, good portions of sides.  I went for the smoked green beens and coleslaw.  The beans were surprisingly good. I was expecting some sort of gimmick, but they were delicious.  And the coleslaw was a good balance of savory, sharp and creamy.  Which wraps us around to the sandwich, which was just OK.  Not bad - it tasted OK, but it was also pretty much the same as you'd find anyplace across the south.  I'll give it a solid score because the sides were very good.
Food - B+; Service - B+; Charm - A

OK, it's got less than nothing to do with BBQ, although the smoke pimento cheese and Ritz crackers was superb,
but I can't pass out of Nashville without talking music.  The folks at the tap had also recommended The Station Inn (402 12th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37203) as *the* place to go for good music.  I'm pretty fond of bluegrass, and the chance to listen to a set or two of music looked like a great way to spend the rest of the evening.  What I found was beyond what I expected.   The Station Inn has been there since the 70s, and pretty much everyone in bluegrass (and country) has played there at some point.  I paid my $10 cover and since it was early and I couldn't figure out 'the system' with lots of empty tables to sit at (like where do the regulars sit), I did the obvious and went back to the bar to get a beer.  The bartender, owner, emcee and guest singer, Mr JT Gray, chatted a moment while he got my beer, explained that the tables with paper plates on them were reserved, and suggested I just sit at the end of the bar.  Perfect seat and a chance to chat with the band (The Grasscals) during their break.  It was a good show - honest music, some bluegrass standards and some from the band.  Given Nashville country's current vogue, I was really pleased to not listen to songs about beer, going to the lake and short shorts.  Give me a good murder ballad any day!
Yazoo Pale Ale - B+; Pimento cheese - A; Charm A++

Louie Louie's BBQ

3400 W M-32  Gaylord, MI 49735

It's been a while since I've been to the upper end of lower Michigan, but driving back from Leland a while back, I stumbled across Louie Louie's BBQ.  Louie holds court in the back of a Mobil gas station on the M-32, imports his hickory from the southeast, and cooks pig and chicken.  And does it right.  Chopped pork, coleslaw, there may have been a pickle there, but I don't remember it.  The sauce wasn't vinegar, but it also wasn't sweet red glop that buries the taste of everything it touches. 
If you are ever heading north on I-75 toward the Mackinac Bridge, by all means stop.  It's maybe a mile off the freeway, but well worth the stop.
Food - A; Service - B; Charm - NA.

StormKing Barbeque
16 1/2 W 26th St, Minneapolis, MN 55404

One Monday night recently, I was struck by the bbq bug.  It was 15 degrees outside, so firing up the grill was out of the question.  I did a quick check and found most of the bbq places in Minnesota are closed on Mondays.  Not sure if that's a winter thing or year around.  In any case, StormKing was open and smelled, well, like BBQ.  I'm generally less a fan of Texas style bbq - brisket and ribs are near the bottom of my list as a rule, but they also do pig here and, well, it was just fine.  Great staff, good sides (collards, coleslaw and potato salad).  I'm going to get picky here - Hawaiian King rolls are not the same as white buns for sandwiches.  And again - it's a regional thing, but molasses/tomato sauces are just not at the top of my list.  Still, I'll go back again soon.
Food - B+, Service - A, Sauce - C.