Friday, January 09, 2009

Kentucky 101: Part Two

Better late than never on getting back to this post, eh?

So, yah, like I was saying, I could go on for a while about the peculiarities of the state I call home. Perhaps I have the ability because, while I consider Kentucky home, I was raised in Illinois for the first 15 years of my life, thus developing a certain Midwestern practicality that allows me to be more objective about the customs and practices (and history) of the state I call home.

I still haven't, for instance, become blase about the local custom of the smashed sandwich. Or, let me rephrase, the smashed barbecue sandwich.

Barbecue, of course, in and of itself, is a matter of great importance to us Kentuckians and is unique to our geographical area (it sometimes even varies from town to town, as I understand it). It is quite unlike, say, Texas barbecue or Kansas barbecue (don't even THINK of comparing, oh, hell no). I think it's safe to say (but posting this will still make me a little nervous) that, generally, the sauce is not cooked into the meat, but rather the sauce is provided in a squeezy bottle to be added to your sandwich just before eating (and it is always home made sauce). The meat itself is cooked endlessly on a grill over coals and maybe sometimes wood chips but not always on the wood chips part. Most importantly the meat is slow-cooked until it hardly resembles meat any more in consistency. The meat is then either shredded apart by hand or, alternatively, chopped to smithereens, further ensuring it very far removed indeed from its original form.

Now, when you get a sandwich at the Barbecue on the River, it generally isn't smashed. Apparently, nobody wants to haul a smasher down there. But when you go to a local barbecue place that specializes in barbecue? The "good" stuff? Yah, your sandwich will usually come to the table flat as a flitter. Just....BAM! Flat. Understand, these are not sandwiches that started out thick to begin with. We're talking about cooked-to-death and then shredded or chopped (usually) pork between two slices of Wonder Bread toast.

What I figure happens in the kitchen is that they dish up the barbecue on to the Wonder Bread, then wrap the sandwich in wax paper, toss it on the floor, boot-stomp it a couple of times or until it is a little thicker than a Kraft Single, load it on to a serving tray that is then picked up by your waitress, a friendly buxom girl in a pair of mom jeans and a tee-shirt with a pencil behind her ear (to whom you're probably distantly related if you care to go a few rounds of KY Bacon), who then carries it to your table, and proceeds to deal each sandwich order out to her customers sort of like a Vegas poker dealer. They do not mess up your order. Ever. Because your waitress has been delivering and dealing smashed sandwiches to tables for a good 10 years and figures on doing so for another 20 before it's over.

Now, if I'm at your table? And they deal me my smashed sandwich? I'm going to rant a while about, "What UP with the sandwich smashing?", etc. etc. Fellow Kentuckians present at the table for my ranting react by...not reacting at all. Because barbecue sandwiches ARE FLAT. The natives (or lovers of the food) do not feel the need to analyze or discuss it. They just want to (inexplicably) relish the stuff and dress it up carefully with just the right amount of home made squeezy sauce and then proceed to savor it. The waitress(es) respond(s) to my ranting exactly the same way. Deadpan.

I would link to the places that serve the "good" barbecue, fyi, but, naturally, these places don't have websites. (What was I thinking?) Nor do they advertise. Places like Lee's, Harned's, Starne's, just spontaneously sprung out of the ground at some point. They don't need the internet or marketing. In the case of Lee's, they don't even need regular hours. The Lee family just shows up and unlocks the doors whenever they take a notion to, and everybody is just damn grateful to have the opportunity to slavishly wait for their smashed sandwich.

And, holy crap, I can't believe I STILL have not managed to get to my Kentucky history point. I have one, I swear.

Maybe next time. Or...maybe I'm on to something more here?


Brenda said...

LOL...great post! And you are so right about Leigh's (showing up when they please), but it is the BEST!

Suzanne said...

OMG...did I misspell Leigh's--OOPS! (I hate when I do that).

Suz said...

Terrific post! I'm putting KY higher on my list of places to visit just for the smashed sandwiches.