Last year it was easy, Smoque had just opened, people loved it, there were long lines, absolutely nothing resembling a vegetable, seemingly perfect. He deemed it too clean, and they had a kid's menu, blasphemy. Before that we tried Fat Willy's, plenty of smoke smell when I made my preliminary drive by, somewhat rustic looking, but the horror, they served salad, and there was a waitress. He is always grateful but even I know, you should not find a Caesar salad on any real barbecue menu, lettuce and greasy meat do not co-mingle. Of course I was raised by the supreme beef eater, Gate's sauce was fed to me en lieu of ketchup from a very early age. My father thought Arthur Bryant's was the finest restaurant in the world, and be certain, they do not serve salad. They do not really serve anything, rather they to toss you, from behind a barred counter, an enormous mound of smoked meat on white bread, wrapped in brown paper with a smattering of pickles and a lard soaked fries. There are no waitresses, rather there are men with missing teeth and women who yell to move along when you pause to consider the pork or the brisket. Have both for God's sake but keep the line moving.
One year Uncle Kenny graciously shipped burnt ends and smoked pork with beans and pickles, wrapped in dry ice and delivered to our front door. As the cost was about the same as two plane tickets to Kansas City, I eliminated this as an option for future years. Jack generously plays along, feigning surprise when we pull up in front of Chicago barbecue option number 47; the girls delight in surprising their dad with his favorite food and I delight in offering him meat, once a year. Imagine my horror when I turned the corner this year to find that once again, I had selected salad place. He is kind but never effusive while he quietly scrapes the caramelized onions and horseradish sauce off his brisket. And this year he looked the other way when I dug into my sandwich, one of the finest smoked portobello mushrooms with tomato basil chutney I have ever had.
Perhaps the real hindrance to beef bliss is in allowing the near vegetarian to chose the barbecue. Maybe the greatest gift I could offer would be to put Jack in charge of smoked meat. Happy birthday Jack, will we be spending your birthday in Kansas City next year?