About two weeks ago I was sitting in Dreamland, the barbecue joint in Tuscaloosa made famous by ribs and Crimson Tide football. Next to a wall filled with decades of Alabama football memorabilia, I nursed a plate of ribs and light bread as a friend told me about an architect in Texas who quit his job to ride around the Lone Star State eating barbecue every day, writing about it on his blog and Tweeting about burnt ends and perfect pork. That career change may seem drastic until you hear that the venerable Austin publication, Texas Monthly, has hired him to be its first ever Barbecue Editor. That is almost as good as the guy I know who is a professional Scotch drinker. As jobs go, it’s tough to find better professions than those. Well, unless you drive around all day giving away MoonPies and shooting the breeze with people. So I’m not complaining.
Since 2008, former architect Daniel Vaughn (@BBQSnob on Twitter and http://fcg-bbq.blogspot.com) has been writing about Texas barbecue and according to recent stories, has driven over 10,000 miles across Texas in the last 6 months, eating ‘cue, collecting recipes and writing a book about his travels – the soon to be published in April, “The Prophets of Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue.” He has sometimes eaten in 10 restaurants a day, which means my business-saavy cardiologist will, no doubt, be trying to call him any day now.
I’ve been to my share of barbecue joints over the years. More than I want to admit. Just today I was at Buz and Ned’s – a place locally famous in Richmond, Virginia for beating Bobby Flay in a barbecue throwdown – sitting under a tent fronting the tiny place near a baseball stadium. Next to me at the picnic table was Lawrence, a die-hard Virginia Tech alumni and his wife, June. They were talking football and complaining about last season, so to change the subject, I asked him about his thoughts on barbecue and Mr. Vaughn’s new job.
“I should check out his blog,” said Lawrence. “I lived in Texas for a while. That guy sure picked the right place to start his new career. There is some great smoked meat down there. It’s like they think they invented it or something.”
“Maybe we did,” said his wife. “By the way, I’m from Dallas.”
“I met June in Dallas while working my first job in Plano,” he said motioning toward his wife with a spoonful of baked beans. “Here’s what I think: if your job is eating barbecue and getting paid to do it, then you’re way smarter than me and most engineers I know, so God bless your hardening arteries.” He raised his beer as a toast.
“Since you lived there,” I asked, “what’s the best Texas barbecue you’ve ever eaten?”
“Well, let me think,” he said. “I always liked Sonny Bryan’s place. But there was this other joint. It was back in the 1980’s just north of Fort Worth. It was a shack. What was the name of it, honey?”
“Angelo’s,” said June. “It’s still there.”
“Yeah, that’s the place,” he said. “Angelo’s. It had a taxidermy bear wearing a t-shirt at the front door, right?”
“Yes it did, sweety,” said June.
“Big, open joint where the waitresses yelled a lot,” said Lawrence. “But the barbecue was serious, the beer was cold and there was plenty of it. I was happy. That one night was pretty awesome.”
“For you,” said June sarcastically. She smiled at me. “He was drunk.”
“Now darlin’,” he said, mouth full of pork and slaw, “We don’t know this man well enough for you to be getting all honest with him about such things.”
She smiled again. The same exact smile as before. A Dallas smile. And there is such a thing if you’re in the know.
“So how about the best Texas barbecue you’ve had while sober?” I asked.
He chewed his Buz and Ned’s pulled pork, sucked down a forth of his beer and curled a dirty look my way as he wiped his mouth.
“What’s the point of sober barbecue?” he said with a grunt. “June’s driving.”
“Oh the thrill,” she murmured under her breath while pulling on a straw-full of iced tea and smiling that Dallas smile again.