When Pork Barrel Met Pork Barbecue

When a pol’s pork barrel was as big as his stomach.

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Like Calvin Trillin, I am a man who takes my barbecue seriously. All those years on the road as a national political reporter have allowed me to search the country for good ribs, and sauce, and brisket.

I have been known, after getting a gristle-y serving at Gates in Kansas City, to dump it in the trash can and drive over to Arthur Bryant's.

The best sauce I ever found was at a place called The Rib, in my adopted hometown of Rockville, Maryland. And I regret to this day that when Joe shut the place down and retired to Florida, I didn't follow him there and beg for the recipe. For 20 years I have tried, unsuccessfully, to duplicate it.

I lost another fine recipe in the late 1980s—I seem to remember that it was called Chickasaw Barbecue Sauce. I tore it from the food section of The Denver Post, or maybe The Boston Globe. In any case, it ultimately disintegrated from repeated use, and I was never able to find another copy.

My favorite surviving concoction is from The Pink Adobe restaurant, in Santa Fe. It involves frying bacon and mixing pineapple juice and brown sugar and molasses and Karo syrup, and I am told that Rosalea Murphy was given it by an old waitress or fry cook who worked for her there.

I bring this up because Trillin has entered a new chapter in his own search for heavenly barbecue in this week's edition of The New Yorker. He and his friends at Texas Monthly magazine have discovered a joint—Snow's BBQ—in Lexington, Texas, that they say is the best in Texas. Which, if it's true, is sayin' something.

Snow's sounds like a sort of ramshackle outfit, way out in the boondocks. And that made me think of Homer's Dixie Pig. 

Homer was a barbecue man who, in the 1970s, ran a small "restaurant" in the yard next to his trailer, off in the woods near Ft. Meade, Maryland.

If, in the course of eating at the Dixie Pig, you had to use the facilities, you knocked on the door of the trailer, and Homer's wife or kids would show you to their bathroom.

Long before it was trendy, Homer used staves from old whiskey barrels to make his charcoal and smoke his meat. And I learned the first rule of a good barbecue restaurant at the Dixie Pig—the excellence of the product is in reverse proportion to the number of matching chairs.

Well, the Annapolis press corps stumbled on to Homer's, and before long the politicians at the State House, and the leaders of the local government, were coming around.

At that time, the county executive's name was Bob Pascal, an old Duke football player who knew his way around a plate of food. And, sure enough, he was enraptured by Homer's talents. Instead of summoning his inspectors to shut down a place that was violating every kind and sort of health regulation, Bob had Homer catering his fundraisers.

This was back in the day when politicians of imagination could still capture the loyalty of voters who had not yet forgotten how to laugh. Back when slipping a sweet little pork barrel appropriation into the numbing text of a 400-page highway bill was considered good sport, and a serious test of political skill.

And if Homer's business plan had a failing, it was that the Dixie Pig was hard to find. You took a two-lane state road to a two-lane county road to a one-lane track through the woods and, if you knew where to turn, drove down a dark and rutted dirt path to Homer's home and pit.

So Pascal, being a politician of imagination, exercised his authority.

And one night, going to Homer's, we took the two-lane state road to the two-lane county road to the middle of the woods—and came upon a quarter-mile stretch of one of the finest, brilliantly-lit and smoothly-paved four-lane highways ever constructed in the state of Maryland.

It wasn't a road to nowhere, for it led directly to Homer's door.

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