BBQ has achieved cult status in America. Like any fervent belief, splinter factions have arisen. Most people think of the tomato-based variety found in Kansas City and the deep south as "BBQ sauce," but adherents to the Memphis dry-rub sect or acolytes of the vinegar or mustard based churches of North and South Carolina will defend their take on slow smoked spirituality with manic passion. These churches and their branch faiths march under myriad banners, but they can all sit together at the same table and play nice under any tent serving beer. "Harmonious variety" would be an apt descriptor for the latest CTBites Invites event on Jan 12 at Bobby Q's in Westport.
Bobby Q's Barbeque & Grill is the creation of owner Bob LeRose, who partnered with Greg Zanella of Northeast Beverage Corp., one of the area's largest microbrew distributors to enhance four courses of beautifully prepared BBQ dishes and a final chocolate course with expertly paired craft brews. The evening started with a first course of house smoked pork sausage beside a southern favorite of pimento cheese dip and crackers. Smuttynose Robust Porter was placed on the table in the initial pairing. The malty, toasted aroma of this dark porter, and its rich, dry, slightly smokey flavor cut through the spicy lipids which roll around in the mouth after each bite of the almost kielbasa like sausage and spicy cheese, and cleanse the palate. It turns out the palates at my table needed a lot of cleansing, because all of the above disappeared nearly instantaneously.
The college of BBQ cardinals on hand for the event* had no problem turning to my personal golden idol of 'que, the exalted pig, for the next course. Slow smoked pulled pork and their St. Louis competition ribs with Bobby's original "Nice Rack" sauce with a petite cornbread muffin. The pulled pork was served as is, not necessarily needing any sauce, as it was moist, smokey delicious and lightly mopped during cooking, I'd say, but I found drizzling some of the available Blazin Rack hot BBQ sauce on the naked pork kicked it up into "involuntary exclamation of MMMM!" territory. This course was served with Aiecht Schlenkerla, a Munich helles lager style beer with its pilsner-like bright golden color and sweet, almost apple-juicy aroma. The light, bubbly helles has an almost summery feel, and its sweet grain flavor was an excellent counterpoint to the smokey, unctuous pork. Good any time of the year, this combination is a lead pipe lock to satisfy guests at a summer gathering.
Leffe makes abbey-style beers, and their Bruin (brown) ale is made specifically to go with spicy, hearty foods. The transparent brown ale with its lasting head and sweet caramel aroma was twinned with a slow roasted chicken thigh over a savory corn and black bean salad. The chicken had a mouth watering tanginess, glazed as it was with Bobby's Sweet Rack honey BBQ sauce. The sweetness of the honey and the beer juxtaposed with the piquant sauce and savory salad was the perfect blend. Our table kept on coming back to talking about how wonderful this pairing was, even as new dishes clattered to a halt underneath our noses. Serious props to Zanella on this one.
Texans, ever the believers in self-determination, will tell you that real BBQ is made with beef. That statement alone is enough to cause pandemonium if dropped in the Heart of Dixie. Beef?! Over pork?! Burn the heretic over his own mesquite! Well, the Lone Star cult may have found a few converts at Bobby's last week if the noises I heard a few minutes after the beef burnt ends and sliced brisket arrived were to be believed. The thin sliced brisket fell to pieces on the fork, and the heavy beef flavor was mellowed with a deep draught of the available Sierra Nevada Torpedo Imperial IPA. Torpedo has a citrusy air to it, with a serious hop bite, and good body without the imposing manner of many IIPAs. It held up well to the brisket and heavy char of the chunky, chewy burnt ends.
Dessert was a benediction, courtesy of Cocoa Michelle's Chocolate Trio: caramel, a purple S'more, and a green plaid half dome with habanero. The spice in this last arrived in subdued fashion at the back of the throat, and enlivened the palate for the thick, rich, Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy Russian Imperial stout that is so named because it pours like 10W-50 motor oil. This high octane beer has a noticeably alcoholic aroma, and is dense with the flavors of deep roasted malts, chocolate, and that boozy burn. The heavy mouthfeel swirled around with the chocolates and left an impression as lasting as the memory of the event is sure to be.
Attendees, parishioners, cultists... whatever you wish to call those at this latest Invites event, everyone is likely to have come away with a few new ideas, a selection of concepts to hold dear. LeRose has done his best to bring a bit of BBQ's holy lands to the center of Westport.
*Bob LeRose-Owner of Bobby Q's, Founder of Blues, Views and BBQ
Matt vander Els-Bobby Q's Pitmaster
Tim Doherty-Bobby Q's Chef
Steve Z-RSBQ Competition Team-Grand Champion Westport Blues, Views & BBQ Competition-CT State Champion and cooked at the Jack Daniels Championship. Co-Pitmaster of Bobby Q's "Nice Rack" Competition Team-1st Place Ribs at New London CT State Championship
Dave Conti-Red Planet Competition Team-Reesrve Grand Champion-Westport Blues Views & BBQ Competition-CT State Championship, Co-Pitmaster of Bobby Q's "Nice Rack" Competition Team-1st Place Ribs at New London CT State Championship