MEMORIAL DAY FOOD FESTIVAL
By LIZZIE LINTON
This years’ Memorial Day celebrating is shaping up to be one of the most ambitious and fun-filled ever. They’ll be music hosted by our local radio station WNGR, Shag dancing, contests, Mayor Titus Tomes is very tight lipped about a promised surprise and of course lots of food. Mayor Tomes has also arranged a barbecue chicken throw-down, amateurs only. Three slots remain open, so if you think you’ve got a winning recipe sign up soon. Yours truly, a barbecue aficionado, has been asked to be one of the seven judges, and naturally I accepted. To add to our expanding waistlines Over the Top dessert truck will be there with their incredible array of desserts including cupcakes, donuts, waffles, crepes and ice cream. The festivities will be at Bastille Park (Rosemeade), starting at 11:00 a.m. and a large fireworks display will wind up the evening after sundown. Weather permitting this should be a real blast.
Four local barbecue food trucks have reserved locations. As a restaurant critic I have the enviable job to dine, expense paid, throughout New Grace County. I get to experience the entire range of restaurants, pubs, diners and food trucks. None have given me greater pleasure and sometimes disappointment than barbecue joints. I’m quite familiar with these four food trucks and I would like to give the readers my opinion of each. I’ve eaten take-out from them many times and trust me, I know great barbecue when I taste it. I also know awful barbecue and there’s one of those in the bunch as well. Grilling and smoking for our delight this year will be the following food trucks favorites: Pig Heaven – known for their brunt ends, Finger-Lickin – a sandwich-centric take on bbq, Pork-n-Ride, the new kid on the block and The BBQ Buggy, the best of the bunch.
Let’s start with Pig Heaven. The dynamic duo of Pete and Willie (brothers from right here in New Grace County) have been routinely selling meals in front of our courthouse most weekdays. Their oak-smoked brisket is a minor miracle, perfected to a degree most indoor establishments will never touch. Fatty or lean, you can’t go wrong. But the real gem here is the bacon burnt ends. The pork belly cut is cured and cooked hot and fast with a peppery rub that balances the initial sweetness so you don’t confuse it with dessert. Pig Heaven would certainly be at the top of my list for this Memorial Day. Meats are served by the pound with sides (try the cowboy beans cooked with smoked meat and coffee) metered out in pints. If you’re new to the south, give their pickled okra or the hushpuppies a try. And get there early because the lines get long quickly and they sell-out early.
Finger Lickins’ Jeff Smith and wife Ellen are the wily veterans on the roster and have been serving smoked provisions around town since early 2013. I love the rustic-themed trailer with its very sandwich-centric menu. Sample the delicious pulled pork sandwich or the pulled pork nachos chicken sandwich. How tempting does this sound – Korean Gogigui – beef soaked in Asian spices, topped with veggies and slathered in sauce, a steal at $9? I would also recommend the Brisket Sandwich with purple slaw. The brisket is cooked for fourteen hours, redefining the expression “labor of love”. Despite the simplicity of this dish, it really all about the meat. The meat was far from simple– it was packed with rich flavors and so juicy that the meat practically melts in your mouth. I did find the loaded potato casserole (a new twist –baked with sour cream, butter, bacon, onion and three kinds of cheeses) a bit heavy, it could easily be a meal for one person. Any of these sandwiches accompanied with a can of Pilsner or Budweiser would make a satisfying meal.
I can forgive Pork n-Ride the utterly forgettable sides. The portions were small, bland, flavorless – really not at all inspired. The bourbon baked beans were dry, the black-eye peas cooked with collard greens, a dismal failure. But burned barbecue, thin, barely there barbecue sauce just shouldn’t happen this far below the Mason Dixie Line. Most weekend cooks do a better job than the owners do at Pork-n-Ride. The chicken I sampled one recent lunchtime was stringy and overcooked. The ribs on another occasion were tough and extremely chewy. I’m not sure how this venture can be salvaged to become successful. Perhaps it’s will be through their desserts and their beverages which are probably the best in New Grace. They make a truly great pecan pie, their brownies are heavenly – chocolaty and moist and the peach ice cream is to die for. They have an assortment of creative lemonades. I only hope that they can get a handle on the techniques and adjust their taste buds. Or perhaps just become a dessert truck.
If there is one barbecue food truck you have to try Memorial Day it’s The BBQ Bunny. It will send everyone in New Grace to hog heaven and back again, it’s dangerously good barbecue. The truck features the most comprehensive meat menu of any in the bunch, offering everything from smoked turkey and chicken to pulled pork, perfect sliced brisket, pork ribs and two types of sausage that sizzle. The flavorful rub on the brisket and ribs renders the homemade sauce optional, but don’t forget the red stuff, which is tangy and peppery in all the right places. Try the Carolina-style yellow mustard sauce as well; created just for the pulled pork, we’re told, but it’s also damn good with the sausage. After sampling these dishes, I couldn’t imagine finding something else that I liked more on the menu. But, I was 100% wrong. The last dish was undeniably my favorite. Their Brisket Tacos made my taste buds dance. Three tacos come in an order. The brisket is topped with jalapeño slaw, which added a nice texture and kick to the meat. There are two different sauces to put on any of their food items. There is a mild BBQ sauce and also a deliciously tangy white sauce. I used both of the sauces on everything and they blended together nicely with the flavors in every dish I tried. Any establishment with four walls would be proud to serve ‘que like this.