There's a new gold standard for gluttony in Middle Tennessee, and it's the Franklin Food & Spirits Festival, which lured several hundred patrons to the Franklin Square in 90-degree heat last Saturday for some of the best BBQ this area has ever experienced. Granted, some of it can be sampled here round the clock--like pitmaster Patrick Martin's redneck tacos, crisp Frisbee-sized corncakes heaped with slow-smoked pork and cool, sweet slaw. You can find those at Martin's, well worth the drive to Nolensville.
But oh my God, the brisket! The Kansas City Barbeque Society was on hand with a truck ladling out huge hunks of crusted beef dredged through a vinegary dip. (It looked even better than the picture here, an image I swiped off the Commercial Appeal's BBQ blog.) I took a bite, and my knees buckled. I've had the heralded beef brisket at the Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, and I can tell you that this was better. I'm so used to the dry, crumbly brisket in these parts that I'd forgotten how juicy and melt-in-your-mouth tender it can be. Even the large pieces of fat, which normally disgust me, were buttery soft and velvety with a wonderful caramelized crust.
This pit-masterpiece was the handiwork of Tony Stone, a Cookeville chef who deserves a statue erected in his honor wherever beef brisket is worshipped. Many thanks to Wayne Lohman, the KCBS's man from Memphis, who has convinced me I need to attend the next KCBS training class for judges when it's offered in Middle Tennessee.
What else was there? More after the jump.
The afternoon was a sweaty blur of awesome ribs from Puckett's Grocery (a big surprise); chopped pork from legendary NC pitmaster Ed Mitchell (which convinced me, regrettably, that chopped pork must not be my cup of swine); peach and chocolate fried pies from Mrs. Armstrong's on the square in Centerville; fall-apart chicken slow-roasted in white sauce from the renowned Big Bob Gibson's BBQ in Alabama. I passed on the hot country-ham dip from Murfreesboro's Tomato Tomato (not in 90-degree heat, thank you) and the world-class smoked wings from 'Boro treasure The Slick Pig, just because I get those every other week by the dozen or six.
Also, I somehow missed out on the green armband that would have allowed me to sample the spirits tent, which included several amber ryes, single-barrel Jack Daniel's, and a Southern pecan ale from Mississippi's Lazy Magnolia brewery that people downed by the hogshead. I'm still kicking myself for missing that brew, but I'm not sure it would have made for a safe trip back up I-65.
I'm sorrier that I missed the book signing by John Egerton, John T. Edge and other giants of Southern food writing at the cool Landmark Booksellers store. But there's always next year...I hope. With its wonderful food, available shade, short lines and attractive setting--the only thing missing from this time-warp of early-century Americana was a barbershop quartet in a gazebo--this event should be a keeper. That it benefitted efforts to save the Franklin Theatre and the Southern Foodways Alliance only made the brisket that much sweeter. Many thanks to Jim 'N Nick's and the other sponsors for stoking the smoker.
CORRECTION: I had that Troy Black was conducting a judges' class June 14 here. Instead, he was scheduled to do a BBQ cooking class at Gaylord Opryland, but that was canceled. He'll be back July 25-26.