We spent one of our finest days of the fall of 2010 in Roanoke, Va. A first obligatory stop is, of course, the Virginia Museum of Transportation, especially because of its impressive collection of vintage trains from the great days of American railroading. Part of the collection is stashed away safe and dry under a roof, and some of the steam monsters are even climbable uponable by ways of installed stairs and mini-porches.
Other items of interest are baking in the open sun, somewhat sadly left to rust away in wind and weather.
To climb about in an old GG1 electric locomotive from the Pennsylvania railroad may be exciting…
but it makes hungry too, and so we eventually leave the museum to find our way into downtown Roanoke in search of some real, true and authentick Southern food:
The Blues BBC Co, as we can read on their website, “was started in 2004 with $20,000, a truck and a dream. Two brothers, Patrick and Chris, decided to give the people of Frederick, MD “Real BBQ!” Most of the BBQ found in Maryland was less than average and mostly over-cooked. Dried-out beef and pork could be found at almost any BBQ Restaurant. Good BBQ needs to be smoked over wood. Great BBQ needs to be smoked over a wood blend for the perfect amount of time, at the perfect temperature-and lived! That’s what we strive to do.“ Apart from their Restaurant in Roanoke, The Blues BBC Co can indeed be found in a truck in Frederick, Md., and they are planning to open in Carroll Creek, Md. and Jacksonville, Fl.
After reading the menu outside, we enter a dark, pub-style establishment and are greeted by bellowing music and a waitress with a hi-guys-what-can-I-do-for-you-today type of professional smile. A quick look around the yet empty place makes us decide to settle outside; a choice we do not regret, because the weather is brilliant and we are able to catch most of the afternoon sun.
Kelley, a prolific BBQ producer and connoisseur in his own right, suggests the dry-rubbed Pulled Pork; the rest is an eclectic mix of everybody’s choices, with hush puppies to start, and fries, collard greens (“Grandma style” with ham hocks and bacon) and creamed succotash (Lima beans and corn in cream sauce, actually) as sides.
Hush puppies and collard greens are Firsts for me; the former nice and crunchy, but I guess you must have grown up with them in order to get truly nostalgic about them (in a few years, I’ll probably take a bite and sigh, “Aaah, Roanoke!” or something).
Collard greens are a revelation, and they actually do provide that nostalgic jolt for me. No wonder. Genetically, this variant of Brassica is close to kale; long-cooked kale with smoked meats is a winter specialty of Bremen where I grew up. So here I am sitting in the afternoon sun on a beautiful September day, trains still spinning through my mind, and all of a sudden I am transported to a misty November in the marshlands of the River Weser, a pile of steaming potatoes to the right, a huge bowl of kale cooked into utter submission in the middle, assorted sausages, smoked Kassler from the neck and cooked smoked bacon on a platter to the left, and an icy glass of vodka within reach. Food can do that to you. The collard greens at The Blues are very satisfying.
The pulled pork (and the fries), needless to say, are great as well. Somehow one would think that the technique of slow-smoking dry-rubbed pork on selected types of wood cannot be all that hard; at least, for me it has not been impossible to produce some type of edible pulled pork on my old and battered grill here in Sweden. The usual problem with this kind of slow-prep food is that people have no concept, no dedication, and above all, no patience. So let’s make this clear: someone at the old Blues does have that type of dedication, and the result is truly worth a try, perhaps even worth a trip.
I am a little less convinced about the succotash, and if it is only because I have quite strict ideas about what should be done with Lima beans. I will post my recipe one day. The beans here may be nice and young, but seem to have spent part of their lives in a can, and the “cream reduction” from the menu is simply some slightly sweetened cream, but not much of a reduction at all. So perhaps, creamed succotash and I don’t fully mesh – somewhat but more likely, someone behind the screens should have avoided making some shortcuts.
One would wish for the interior of this restaurant to be somewhat more welcoming, and especially less dark. Otherwise this is a place I would return to any time.