But the truth is that for one weekend in June, Manhattan is the center of the barbecue universe. The 10th annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party will draw over 100,000 visitors to Madison Square Park to enjoy the wares of 18 of the country's best pitmasters, including four from New York City. Admission is free for the event, which runs June 9 and 10, and plates of 'cue from the vendors will run about $8. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait in line with thousands of Yankees to buy those plates, so eaters in the know invest the $125 to buy a FastPass.
The FastPass entitles you and a friend to cut to the front of the teeming masses and pick up your samples from all the vendors in a special express line. You'll also receive $100 toward food, beverage and merchandise, so it's really only $25 to pig out like a rock star.
Since it's the 10th edition of the block party, they're pulling out all the stops this year. The Southern Foodways Alliance will be shooting one of their excellent food documentaries profiling the pitmasters who have attended all 10. I've also heard a rumor that there might even be an air-conditioned trailer where attendees can screen some of Joe York's previous barbecue films. On a hot June day surrounded by all those people, that might be an excellent respite from the claustroporkaphobia.
So if you're already willing to drive, or you find yourself heading southeast on I-24 on your way to Bonnaroo, Monteagle, Chattanooga or the Atlanta-area Ikea, consider making a detour to visit Two Purple Pigs Barbecue in Manchester, Tenn. Heck, it's not even really a detour, since the restaurant is located about 100 yards off the interstate at Exit 110. There's even a billboard right before the exit to remind you to hit the brakes.
Affable owner Bob George is liable to meet you at the door. He's a native Tullahoman, but learned how to cook in the army and how to cook barbecue, specifically, while living in Memphis. Tell him if it's your first visit, and he'll offer what he gives to all newbies: a free sampler platter of his pulled pork, brisket, smoked ham, potato salad, baked beans and coleslaw. George is not about losing money; after sampling, he's convinced you'll buy. "I guarantee we've got something you like. We just need to find it."
All the side dishes, sauces, salad dressings and even the ranch dip for the chicken wings are made in house. When I asked if the ranch dressing came in a jar, George proudly averred, "It comes in several jars. I mix them together to make it special." And he's not lying.
The coleslaw is mild and not overly creamy, with just a touch of dill. George calls it his "redneck wine" since it's an excellent palate cleanser between bites. The mustardy potato salad was also quite tasty, with a nice light consistency. The baked beans obviously came from a can, but they also benefited from the kitchen's tinkering with the addition of some extra brown sugar to add some sweetness.
But enough about the sides, how's the meat? Quite good, actually. Two Purple Pigs manages to get quite a variety of meats out of their custom smoker behind the restaurant. With his use of a combination of cooking methods to ensure meats with different cooking times manage to arrive hot and fresh on your plate, it's obvious that George has learned a lot in his almost two years of operation.
You may recognize Papa Turneys's last name from Mama Turney's Pies, a side business that grew out of success of the pies that Turney was selling out of his restaurant's previous location in Whites Creek. A true entrepreneur, Turney has grown the pie company into a million-dollar business supplying stores such as Kroger, Publix, Piggly Wiggly and convenience stores, as well as Robert Orr Sysco and several restaurants like Swett's and Jack's Bar-B-Que.
Papa Turney now spends Thursday through Saturday behind the counter of his new restaurant location at the back of the parking lot where his smoker is still located. The small dining room is next to Shooter's Sports Bar and Grill at 5835 Old Hickory Blvd. With only a few tables available for dining in, Turney is not afraid to juggle a few seats around to accommodate larger parties. Still, much of his business is carry-out, and it's good to call ahead to see what specials are coming off the grill that day and to get your order in before he runs out.
The specials are what really makes Papa Turney's stand out. A whole lot of interesting things percolate in that smoker all day long, limited only by Turney's imagination. The expected pulled pork, ribs and brisket are especially smoky and benefit greatly from the house-made sauces, especially the hot version and the "hottest" sauce that Turney keeps behind the counter for special masochistic requests. Because the meats spend so much time in the smoker soaking up that hickory flavor, the ribs and brisket literally fell apart under our attacking forks. Some diners at the table really loved the tenderness, but I personally like a little more fight in my meat.
The owners have done a wonderful job fixing up a flood-damaged home into a very attractive dining space. The walls are covered with Hatch Show Prints that venerate everything porkalicious, and there is some sort of a garage/racing theme that manifests itself in the form of the bright red rotisserie smoker and a clever rolling toolbox stocked with napkins, plasticware and condiments. Outside, they have constructed a huge deck that will likely prove popular once the weather warms up a little bit.
Lunch combos are available in the $9 to $12 range and include one side and a drink along with a pork, chicken, smoked link sandwich or a hamburger. Plates cost a couple bucks more and include two sides. Both St. Louis and Baby Back Ribs (when available) can be ordered as plates.
Orders are placed at a counter, and my service was efficient and friendly. My one disappointment was that they did not have any baby back ribs ready when I arrived at 11:45. The staff was apologetic, but I was sorry to miss the ribs since I'd heard good things about them.
In a serendipitous event that most probably was not planned, Saturday is also the date of the annual Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival at Municipal Auditorium. Although the VIP tickets have already sold out, regular tickets are still available for the regular session from 2 to 6 p.m. The VIPs who jumped early on the tickets will have a two hour head start on you, but there should be plenty of pork and beverages for everyone.
Over 60 beers and 40 bourbons will be available for tasting, and several pitmasters are bringing the hogs to soak up all those delicious "samples." Pace yourself, people. Nobody likes a fan who's sloppy before the game even starts.
The Downtown Franklin Association and Heineken are sponsoring an official Memphis Barbecue Network-sanctioned competition tomorrow and Saturday, Oct. 28-29, as part of the 28th annual Pumpkinfest. If you you've never attended this fun event on the square in Franklin, you should definitely get your kids into their best costumes and fill your flask up with a toddy and head down for a day of frolicking. A word of warning — the main drag into town gets kind of crowded as you search for parking, so leave a little early and listen to college football on your car stereo.
More than 50,000 people are expected to attend, and this year includes a new slate of fun events on Friday night, including a street party with entertainment from the legendary soul band The ConSoulers. A Friday Night Sauce Fight competition will pique the crowd's interest and a Smoked Meat Feast will be provided by the award-winning local pitmasters from Puckett’s Grocery. The smorgasborgy will include barbecued lamb shank, smoked salmon Memphis-style, chicken sausage jambalaya, red beans and rice with smoked sausage, beef brisket chimichangas and more, along with a wonderful selection of side dishes. Celebrity judges, including one of our favorite Bites commentators, Beth Sachan, will determine the winners of the best homemade sauce, so this Pre-Party is one you won’t want to miss.
On Saturday, amid all the excitement of Pumpkinfest, prizes will be awarded, the public will have opportunities to taste the professional teams’ product and vote for the Peoples Choice Awards until at 4 p.m., the street party starts again. For a list of the professional and backyard BBQ teams entering their wares into judgment, point your curly tails here.
I've never gotten as many thank-yous for anything on Bites as the posts tipping off readers to Jonbalaya Catering and the pork products that pitmaster Jon Heidelberg serves up every Saturday morning at the Woodbine Farmers Market. We didn't try the "pork parfaits" he had last week of pulled pork, mashed potatoes and baked beans layered in a plastic cup, but the sampling we had of just the pork — caramelized bark, moist wood-scented meat — convinced us that maybe such a thing could work.
Heidelberg sent word via Twitter that he'll have whole smoked pork butts tomorrow for $35 at the market, which runs 9 a.m. to noon at Coleman Park, corner of Thompson Lane and Nolensville. If you haven't been, make it a stop on your Saturday-morning farmers market rambles. There'll be a family carnival as well as a gourmet cheese giveaway featuring Kenny's Farmhouse Cheeses — but for the latter, you have to visit the market's website and follow these simple instructions.
Watch also for zingy homemade fruit spreads from Bathtub Gin, the ever-popular Riffs food truck, and invigorating raw juices from Juice Nashville (especially the Oh Yeah, a concoction of kale, collard, apple and lemon squeezings that made me feel like I'd spent a week at a spa). And we can only hope to see the awesome Banjamin's Ghost Pepper Elixer stand, as our supply is running low.
Walking around the park looking at the various contraptions that contestants were using to add smoke to meat was like taking a stroll through the parts yard on "Junkyard Wars." From the two-story high tech edifice used by the Harley Hogs Smokers to a simple 55-gallon drum with a chimney pipe sticking out of it, if you could build a fire in it and find a place to cram some brisket or a pork butt in it, odds are somebody was making some delicious barbecue with it in Riverfront Park.
My personal favorite was the pink pig smoker fabricated by the Algood BBQ Pit Crew from just outside of Cookeville. The friendly members of the crew showed me all the brilliant add-ons that they had manufactured to improve the smoke flow of the cooker and also to make it, well just more fun.
In what I considered a surprising result, the Peg Leg Porkers team only finished fourth in the Whole Hog category, despite the assistance of Pitmaster extraordinaire Pat Martin who helped them smoke this amazing-looking pig. The PLP team did win the "Grand Ole Porker Award" award as the top scoring local team in all the MBN categories.
If you are interested in all the results or just want to giggle at a couple of the punny pig names that the teams use, here's the whole rundown:
You'd think that would have answered all of everyone's questions about the festival, but it didn't. I heard some of the old complaints like, "You can't taste any of the competitors' barbecue" and, "You can't even buy a pork shoulder sandwich down there" and, "It's nothing but a bunch of funnel cake stands." Plus there was a new one this year: "What about the Titans game going on Saturday night?"
Legitimate questions all, so I took a little walk down the riverfront during lunchtime to get the skinny on the pork fat so all you Bitesters will want to come down and give a visit.
First of all, unlike some other festivals in town, there is actually shade available at the Music City BBQ Championship. Between the trees along First Avenue, the numerous tents where cooking demonstrations are being held and under the shadow of the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge, there is at least enough shade to take a brief respite from the sun. Plus, the fun doesn't really get rolling until after 5 p.m. tonight anyway, when The WannaBeatles hit the stage.
New this year is the Corporate Challenge, where local businesses are encouraged to set up a tent, decorate it with piggy goodness, hire a band, hang a disco ball and throw the best damned party for their employees and customers on Friday night while the pros are working hard applying smoke to meat. Judges will choose whose soiree was tops and honor them on Saturday with an award of a custom guitar trophy from Gibson and the title of Party Kings. Having spent a few Friday nights with some smoker teams I can assure you that some of the best fun at a barbecue festival occurs after the gates have closed to the public. This sounds like it could be a heckuva good time.
Congrats! I'll have to check out the restaurant.
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