I am really excited about this week’s contributor to “My Favorite BBQ Joints”. I’ve been following Jim Shahin’s pieces on barbecue at the Washington Post for a long time now. He’s always insightful, honest, extremely passionate, and above all makes me hungry to visit the locations he writes about. I am honored that he took the time out of his busy schedule to write such a strong piece.
Jim Shahin writes the Smoke Signals barbecue column for the Washington Post. It appears every Tuesday morning on the Post’s website in the Food section’s “All You Can Eat” blog. A monthly article, published in the print version and usually with recipes, is also available online.
My Favorite BBQ Joints
By Jim Shahin
“Choosing a favorite barbecue joint is almost as mysterious as the process of making barbecue. Why does one place become a fave and not another? The food, of course. But often something else, as well.
A joint’s sense of history. Your personal relationship with the place. The joint’s meaning to the community. I have chosen only a few of my favorites, each for its own reason, sometimes having little to do with the food itself.
None of my recommendations are in the Washington, D.C., area. As the barbecue columnist for the Washington Post, I think it’s probably a bad idea to play favorites among locals.
The paradox about determining your favorites is that you start out searching for the best and find that there are many bests. Indeed, one of the greatest moments in a barbecue hound’s quest is when he stumbles upon a fabulous surprise. I happened upon a couple of those on family trips and go back every chance I get.
One is Eli’s Famous Bar-B-Que, a ramshackle take-out joint alongside a winding road on the outskirts of the small, beat-up Rust Belt town of Warren, Ohio (home, by the way, to Nirvana drummer and the Foo Fighters guitarist Dave Grohl, who merits an alleyway mural). Its meaty, flame-charred,charcoal-grilled pork ribs dripping in red sauce could give anyplace in America a run for its money.
The other is Q L Barbecue in Muncie, Indiana, where you call your order into a squawk box at a drive-up window in a decrepit house surrounded by fields across from a river. The weedy ruralness conjures up images of the Old South. So, commendably, do the serious sauce-slathered ribs and the smokey chicken.
Another type of surprise is how a barbecue joint can say something about the place where it resides, even though it is relatively new. Take, for example, Slows Bar B Q in Detroit. In 2005, the owners took a risk and opened Slows in a blighted stretch of road, which helped turn around a rundown neighborhood and, in turn, showed the resilience of a city that keeps finding ways to get back up after being repeatedly knocked down.
Photo of Slow’s BBQ courtesy of Sylvia Rector/DFP
For a different reason but a similar sense-of-placeness, I like Fette Sau in New York City because its impassioned pursuit of excellence honors tradition while at the same time recreates it in the image of that city’s tastes, turning out, for instance, a delicious house-cured pastrami.