Last year yielded a lot of fond barbecue memories. But from a writer’s point of view, perhaps none were as enduring as those quadrennial follies we like to call the presidential election.
A few highlights:
* Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 20-year-old dig at North Carolina barbecue as “road kill.” Turns out, it was an apt description of the Republican’s short-lived campaign for president.
* Republican candidate Mitt Romney became a ‘cue-eating machine, stopping at barbecue restaurants and holding barbecue fundraisers in states such as South Carolina, Iowa and California. His campaign even tweeted a photo of his sauce-stained cuff.
* President Obama ordering ribs (inevitably ribs) with hot sauce (inevitably hot) at a barbecue restaurant in Clinton, a predominately black suburb of Washington, frequented by employees of nearby Andrews Air Force Base. The visit shrewdly catered to both his base and to the (Republican-leaning) military, a two-fer that showed the sophistication of his re-election operation.
* Romney’s desperate, last-minute ad blaming Obama for the demise of Bill’s Barbecue in Richmond, which opened in 1930. Many more barbecue restaurants had opened or expanded in the Richmond area than closed during Obama’s presidency. Not sophisticated.
The State Department launched something called the American Chef Corps to win hearts and minds through bellies. Incredibly, the corps has not a single pitmaster. In other words, America will not promote American food at its truest.
Unfortunately, Operation BBQ Relief was extremely busy this year. Hurricane Isaac on the Gulf Coast and Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast kept the non-profit organization racing around the country to feed and nourish residents impacted by those and other disasters.
In October, the Southern Foodways Alliance held a barbecue symposium in Oxford, Miss., with panels and readings and even a puppet show that examined, both seriously and fancifully, issues related to barbecue’s past, present and future.
In December, it was reported that Justin Timberlake is taking his Memphis-style Southern Hospitality BBQ restaurant from New York to cities across America, including Washington and such ’cue-centric towns as Austin.
Speaking of Austin, the barbecue earth shook a little there, but not at the prospect of Timberlake’s venture. Rather, it quaked when legendary pitmaster John Mueller, he of the fabled Louie Mueller clan (James Beard Award winners), was removed from the barbecue truck that bore his name. His sister, LeAnn, did the firing, reporting John to the police for embezzlement. She changed the name of the truck to LA Barbecue. She hired a former pit boss from Franklin Barbecue, run by “BBQ Pitmasters” judge Aaron Franklin and widely viewed as one of the best barbecue joints in America. (So said Bon Appetit magazine — and the people who stand in the long line waiting for the restaurant to open).
Other Texas barbecue joints made headlines as well, with City Market in the small town of Luling, about 40 minutes south of Austin, landing a spot on Newsweek’s list of the 101 Best Restaurants in the World.
In Austin, the longtime owner of Sam’s Bar-B-Cue, Dan Mays, died. Sam’s is a sentimental favorite of barbecue fanatics and pub crawlers. It was reportedly Stevie Ray Vaughan’s favorite barbecue joint; legend has it that the late Texas guitar slinger had its barbecue shipped to New York City when he played Carnegie Hall.
Mays would have made a fine candidate for the Barbecue Hall of Fame. Yes, there is such a thing (sorta). It exists in name only — no building or even a Web site. But the American Royal oversees this whatever-it-is and last year, oddly, inducted a guy not on anyone’s Top 10 list of important barbecue personages: Guy Fieri.
In Brooklyn, barbecue acolyte Daniel Delaney opened the much-lauded BrisketTown, proving that real barbecue (all wood smoke, no gas) could be done in the urban North. (Of course, Washington’s own Rocklands has been doing that for 20 years.)
Locally, smoked meats took one step back, two steps forward. Capital Q, a Texas-style restaurant in Chinatown that opened in 1998, closed its doors . Meanwhile, the PORC food truck guys opened the Kangaroo Boxing Club in Columbia Heights, and two former Palm employees opened a swanky barbecue restaurant in Arlington called Epic Smokehouse.
Hill Country delivered food to the National Mall for the Fourth of July fireworks. It did not deliver on its plans to open a pop-up food-and-music site on the grounds of the National Building Museum.
Oh, and President Obama gave the gift of a barbecue grill to British Prime Minister David Cameron. When one head of state gives another a grill, you know it has been a big year for barbecue.
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