The BBQ experience

Do you love barbecue? For me, southern barbecue is an experience, not just a meal.

Every time I go south I seek out the saucy, smoky flavours of barbecue in order to satisfy my carnivorous cravings. It was thanks to proximity and that I found my new favourite barbecue restaurant while on a trip to Evansville, Indiana. Lucky for me, it’s a franchise with locations in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, and my new haunt in Indiana.

With barbecue establishments I typically find that you either get really good meat or really good sides, but not both. Even more rare is to find such good food at reasonable prices.

The waitress walked us through the menu, and explained that the meat is smoked and served “dry”; you add your own sauce at the table. There are five different sauces on the table and a sixth hotter sauce was available by request.

I’d read on TripAdvisor that you can even ask for samples of anything on the menu, and I decided to take advantage of this wonderful policy.

The starters listed fried okra and hot boiled peanuts among others. Hot boiled peanuts? The description didn’t have me drooling, “Green peanuts boiled in brine sauce” but that was followed by the statement that hot boiled peanuts are a southern delicacy. Not so sure about the peanuts, I ordered a starter of fried okra and enquired about the peanuts.

The waitress said that you either love hot boiled peanuts or you hate them, there’s really no in between. (All the more reason not to pay for them, I thought.) “One sample of hot boiled peanuts please, and can I also try the smoked turkey?”

Nine soggy looking peanuts in their shells appeared quickly, which I looked at sceptically. I was reminded of my first time trying edamame at a Japanese restaurant in Seattle (which I loved) and I decided to keep an open mind. I shelled one and saw the bloated looking peanut staring back at me. It tasted like a soft, salty chick pea. I was not converted to that delicacy, but the turkey was legendarily tender, juicy and smoky.

The menu says that their “pork, beef and turkey are cooked for 14 hours and the ribs and chicken for almost 5 hours” in a real hardwood pit smoker. The meat is cooked only with a dry rub and I learned that day that: “Real BAR-B-Q taste is in the meat, not in the sauce!” (as is stated on their menu).

I ordered the BAR-B-Q variety platter that had pork, brisket (beef), chicken, and ribs. By trying the turkey, I had then tried almost the entire menu of meats minus the smoked sausage and chicken tenders. For sides, I went with the Bar-b-q beans and coleslaw.

What happened next was a joyful attack of the platter of meat, trying to determine which of the barbecue sauces was my favourite. I felt like an artist with a palette of paints as my plate was dotted with the six sauces. I dipped my paintbrush of brisket into the first sauce and it met the canvas of my taste buds happily.

In the flurry of eating that ensued, the fried okra, spicy sauces, and coleslaw blended into a picture-perfect meal. The baked beans were also some of the best I’d ever had.

It was difficult to leave room for the donut holes… yet somehow… I managed. The warm, cakey donut holes covered with icing sugar took me back to New Orleans, as they were so reminiscent of mini beignets.

After dessert I sadly had to accept defeat. When the bill came I was surprised at how reasonably priced it all was. I really hadn’t looked at the prices on the menu, and considering I had rounded out my barbecue meat with a red beer, I was thrilled with the amount I’d be paying for the food and the experience.

I was so taken by everything that somehow I managed to leave my cell phone on the table when we left. This was bad news since I didn’t notice until I was back at the B&B, but good news because I knew that would mean a trip back there the next day.

Lunch the following day was also spectacular. I opted for the turkey sandwich, with a side of beans and a chunky applesauce. I topped the sandwich with my favourite of the six sauces, the St. Louis Sweet and Smoky.

I devastated the sides and sandwich too quickly, but I took comfort in savouring a smaller order of donut holes.

I will undoubtedly have my eye out for a Bandana’s Bar-B-Q the next time I am travelling through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, or Indiana, and their barbecue might even be reason enough to start planning a trip.

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