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February 25, 2013

The Barbecue Exchange — World-class 'cue comes to my Podunk town

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I happened on an article about The Barbecue Exchange when I was downtown Friday and was struck by the emphasis on pickles.

I love pickles and everything pickled and fermented and the story waxed on eloquently about Craig Hartman, the establishment's owner, and his relentless pursuit of pickling nirvana.

I figured what the heck, I'll stop by on my way back from Sunday's 5K in Richmond — Gordonsville is about 20 miles from my home in Charlottesville, sort of kind of en route from Richmond.

Good decision.

It turns out Craig (center below, chef Tiffany Gieser and pit master Van Jackson)

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is a classically trained chef with 40 years of experience at the very highest levels, interspersed with teaching at Cornell University's School of Hotel Management.

Three years ago he decided to open a little BBQ shack as a kind of hobby away from his day job as chef at Keswick Hall. 

One thing led to another and before you know it he was open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the people kept coming and coming and now the restaurant is his crown jewel.

His Belly-Q — sliced pork belly (to the right in picture up top) — is world-class, melt-in-your-mouth perfect, with a secret spice rub that melds perfectly in texture and aroma with meat, fat, and crust to create something sublime.

It alone is worth the trip.

I needed no sauce on anything — the mark of great 'cue. 

But let me interject that I couldn't avoid noticing the sauce selection — Hog Fire, Colonel Bacon, Craig's Carolina, QX Sweet, and Soo-eet — in the center of each table.

I tried each just to see and detected not the usual nondescript flavors and tastes you can find in the supermarket aisle in jars and containers but the masterful hand of an expert saucier. 

These sauces are no small beer (and you can buy them in containers or bottles and take them home).

The ribs (below)

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were perfect — fall off the bone delicate and tender, with a dry rub as good as — yes, I will dare to say it — that of Charlie Vergo's in Memphis, which up to yesterday was my high bar for spare rib nirvana.

These ribs are the equal of the Tennessee master's.

But I was just getting started.

I continued with pulled pork, beef brisket (below, in the bespoke cooker called "The Beast," created by Craig's brother-in-law Jim Kush and able to cook 48 shoulders and 108 racks of ribs, working on it own convection and fired by bbq hardwood charcoal and hickory logs) both sliced and chopped,

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and sides of bacon-studded baked beans and pepper cabbage, good vinegar-based slaw being one of my favorite — and very difficult to find — accompaniments.

I sampled a medley of pickles but I must admit: I was so taken with the Belly-Q and ribs that I wasn't really paying the closest attention to the subtlety of the pickle assortment.

I plan another trip in the near future to sample the rest of the menu in detail, a meatless visit that will feature a medley of sides along with pickles: that list will include but not necessarily be limited to the following:

• Macaroni and cheese

• Collard greens

• Spicy cole slaw

• Home-style cole slaw

• Potato salad

• Macaroni salad

• Fried pickles

• Fried green tomatos

• Fried onion rings 

And those pickles:

• Garlic pickles.

• Sweet pickles

• Horseradish pickles

• Mustard pickles

• Spicy pickles

• Dill pickles

• Pickled onions

• Pickled green tomatoes

• Pickled sweet peppers

• Hot peppers

These deserve my total focus and concentration will receive just that when I return.

Below, Craig with the woman who keeps the trains running on time, manager Jaclyn Conlogue.

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A third trip will be required for Brunswick Stew, Hog Wings ("small pork shanks fried until they are crispy and tossed in sauce of your choice"), pulled chicken BBQ, Fu-Q (smoked tofu — true!), hush puppies, french fries, the soup of the day, corn bread, and pumpkin muffins.

Craig was nice enough to take me back into the kitchen where I saw the dough for each and every muffin and roll being made from scratch by hand, as is everything served by this remarkable establishment. 

This is one superb restaurant which, if located anywhere near a major city, would be a mecca for BBQ enthusiasts from around the U.S. and the world.

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Above, the menu.

Sayonara, pit master Van Jackson —

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hasta la vista.

February 25, 2013 at 08:01 AM | Permalink


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Comments

I would be a frequent flier!

Posted by: joepeach | Feb 25, 2013 6:38:03 PM

Good barbecue houses are located in the sticks. Two of the best in Texas are found in Elgin, and hour's drive from Austin.

Sounds like a wonderful place. Makes me wanna come to try it. Spend a week eating barbecue.

Posted by: antares | Feb 25, 2013 5:51:11 PM

Jealous, so jealous.

Posted by: tamra | Feb 25, 2013 11:42:12 AM

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