Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hog Heaven

Sykes_bbq_3 I’ve often said that barbecue is a lot like the martial arts – there’s enormous camaraderie around the subject in general, but everyone feels like they’re practicing the perfect form.  Honestly, the next time you get into a heated discussion about ‘cue think back to the great kung fu movies of the 70s where the typical set-up was two shaolin masters squaring off, one usually insisting the other’s monkey style was no match for his crane style.  Insert “ribs” and “pulled pork” or “wet” and “dry” in place of the kung fu styles and have a good laugh rather than coming to blows.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because I visited one of my “temples” of barbecue this past weekend: Bob Sykes in Bessemer, AL.  I hit other joints around town for, say, pulled pork and chicken (always slathered in white barbecue sauce, a true Alabama specialty), but for ribs, I head for Sykes.  I’m typically a baby back kind of guy, but the meaty spareribs at Sykes are something special.

A genetic predisposition to high cholesterol has, unfortunately, forced me to be fairly judicious in my intake of barbecue.  But when it hit it, folks, I hit it hard.  Such was the case this past Saturday night.  I recently completed a half-marathon (I’m an avid runner!), a race I diligently trained for and focused on for the past few months.  As a reward, I decided to treat myself to, you guessed it, a big ol’ plate of ‘cue.  Enter Bob Sykes.  My wife and oldest daughter were away at some big Girl Scouts camp, so I talked my youngest, Augusta (aka Gussie), into being my date.  (For the record, both of my kids fully understand their father’s a bona fide food fanatic.  To put it in terms they understand, I tell them daddy gets excited about food the way they get excited about Christmas morning.)

Gussie, who’s five, will eat barbecue with no problem, but she had her heart set on a “juicy hamburger,” so I agreed to swing by McDevil’s before heading to Sykes (her burger was anything but juicy).  I could smell the smoke two traffic lights away (which is always a good sign), so when I pulled into the Sykes parking lot I was in a full lather.  Once inside, I couldn’t help myself and went straight for the Combo Plate of ribs, pulled pork, slaw, and fried okra.  I was totally oblivious to the Final Four semi-final match between Memphis and UCLA that was on every screen in the restaurant – I was rack-focused on the barbecue.  And it was good.  After a rib or two I was back down to DEFCON 5.  Licking my fingers I looked up to see Gussie munching away on her burger and coloring, happy as a clam.  She looked at me and smiled, knowing daddy was loving every minute of his meal and hanging out with one of his best pals.  She knew I was in “hog heaven.”

I begin training for the Chicago Marathon in early July.  The race is in October, so you can bet, once the race is over I’ll be ready to knock back my share of  ‘cue.  Maybe this time I’ll see if Sykes will let me have a sleep-over next to the pit so I can dream of a most Heavenly barbecue-filled breakfast.

So where’s your favorite barbecue joint?

Where do you fall along the barbecue meat and sauce lines?

Have a great barbecue tale you’d care to share?

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