Where City Slickers Can Find Down Home Barbecue

Few American foods incite such passion and hyperbole as barbecue. Writers have devoted books to the fine points of cooking over a wood fire. Barbecue hounds feud fiercely over the best meats and cuts to use (beef or pork, shoulders or ribs), the wood that produces the most flavorful smoke (hickory, oak, or pecan), and how long to cook (at least 8 to 10 hours over a low fire, purists say).

And everybody has a favorite BBQ joint. "When I die," vows five-star chef Dean Fearing, a devotee of Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse in Dallas, "I want to be face down in Sonny Bryan's barbecue sauce with a rib in one hand and a Lone Star in the other."

MAIL-A-SLAB. Rural areas in Texas and the Deep South--famous for country lean-tos with screen doors, chipped Formica tables, and fuming pits out back--aren't the only places to get the ribs of your dreams. You can find barbecue bliss in big cities--or even pick up the phone and have it delivered to your door. Many good places now ship, including Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous in Memphis, Carson's Ribs in Chicago, and Doug's Bar-B-Q near San Francisco (table).

The Rendezvous is a Memphis institution that cooks meat "dry" in a vinegar base, which leaves it tender, not sticky from sauce. It ships frozen barbecued pork ribs and shoulder overnight. The Vergos family also offers tomato-based sauce on the side.

Doug's Bar-B-Q at 3600 San Pablo Ave. in Emeryville, Calif., charges $15 a slab plus shipping or $30 for a whole turkey grilled over black oak logs. Doug Keyes, once a Texas cowboy who cooked barbecue at rodeos for the likes of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, says his wonderful sauce contains plenty of ginger, a little vanilla, plus "some things I don't let nobody know." Carson's Ribs, with five locations around Chicago, charges $12 a slab plus shipping.

Then there are some shrines of smoke you'll just have to visit, since they don't deliver. They'll hit you with the sweet smell of woodsmoke before you go through the door.

Among the most famous is Arthur Bryant's at 1727 Brooklyn St. in Kansas City, Mo. The founder called it "the grease house." But don't let that scare you. Bryant's heavenly sauce inspired writer Calvin Trillin of The New Yorker to hail it as the world's best barbecue. Bryant's, like many great places, is jammed, and plain as linoleum; you may want to carry out.

SPLATTER FACTOR. Houston's Goode Co. Texas Barbeque is also famous. The original chow house at 5109 Kirby Dr. is crammed with Texana ranging from steer heads to rodeo posters, and a bigger place at 8911 Katy Freeway resembles a 19th century dance hall. Locals rave about the mesquite-smoked brisket, jalapeno cheese bread, and pecan pie.

Wherever you go, dress for the splatter factor, since you eat with your hands. Our correspondent got through dinner with only four napkins at Shorty's B-B-Q, 9200 S. Dixie Highway in Miami. But many places require more. Also, be prepared for rustic decor and no air-conditioning. Inside Shorty's rough-hewn log exterior, there are rows of picnic tables on a cement floor. Mounted on the wall are a boar's head, a water buffalo's head, and a deer's rear end.

One point to remember: Don't even think of asking for the recipe of your favorite sauce. We tried with Edith Colston of Edith's Bar-B-Q at 1836 N. Clybourn Ave. in Chicago. Since 1970, she has been serving up what some say are the best ribs in the city--delicate, meaty, and cooked over hickory. But Edith gets downright protective about her recipe. "Nobody gets that," she swears. "That's mine till I finally go."

      BY MAIL
      Name/Location                Phone number     Description
      CARSON'S RIBS                312 275-5000  $12 for a slab of baby back
      Chicago                                     beef ribs, plus shipping
      CHARLIE VERGOS'              800 827-RIBS  $85 for minimum 5 orders
      RENDEZVOUS                   of pork ribs; with sauce and
      Memphis                      special spices*
      DOUG'S BAR-B-Q               415 655-9048   $15 for a slab of beef ribs;
      Emeryville, Calif.                          $30 for a turkey, plus shipping
      MAURICE'S                     800 MAURICE  $49.95 for three pounds
      FLYING PIG                                  chopped ham in
      West Columbia, S.C.                         mustard sauce*
      * Includes shipping costs
      DATA: BW
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