Note: I haven't published in quite a while. A number of incidental events have kept me away from the computer and out of my study. I am doing some work for a parish nearby...including teaching a couple of classes, preaching and presiding at various Sunday and weekday liturgies. Also, I am moving through some shifts and changes, which seem to have curtailed my desire to set experiences to words. More on that another time. Glad to be writing today.
We have been official Florida residents (again) for a little over eight months. Both of us know that this was the right move and the right place, and that we are being and doing what is best for us. Retirement isn't boring. The word "bored" has not been in my vocabulary over the 62 years of life I recently celebrated. I like too many things and can almost always find something of interest, or to distract me when I am not "on my game." Life is good most of the time.
However, when we left Kansas City, I left something behind of great importance to me: Barbecue! Yes, I truly enjoy (love?) good barbecue. Now, I have a lot of friends in places that make claims about their ability to produce top rated barbecue, and I mean no disrespect to those places (Texas, Memphis, North Carolina among the top), but I found Kansas City barbecue to be simply outstanding...the best in my personal opinion.
Kansas City has an abundance of excellent places to get delectable barbecue, and the annual masters competition happens in Kansas City. A number of parishioners at St. Andrew's have been top rated in their creative genius with the Smoker. My very good friend, Bruce Bower, is right up on top of that group of masters not in the business full time. He has a team of guys who specialize in smoked pork butts. Their motto: "You can smell our butts for miles."
A couple of months ago, I was having a chance chat with a long time Sarasota resident in a supermarket checkout line. I happened to audibly lament the fact that I really missed Kansas City barbecue. The guy brightened up and said, enthusiastically, "Oh, you obviously haven't run into Perry yet." No, the name and identity were unknown to me. I was told that the Phillippi Creek Farmers Market would open in a few weeks, and he always had his smoker there. "Can't miss it...either by sight or smell." He was right! (Note: "Phillippi" is pronounced with a long "e" at the end. One will be immediately corrected if one ends the name with "pie" sound. Same as the name of the biblical city after which one of St. Paul's letters is written).
Florida farmers markets are most active between October and the end of May. Our growing seasons here are different, due to climate and rainfall. Fresh produce is to be had here in mid-December. I was just at Phillippi Creek outdoor market a couple of hours ago.
Three weeks ago, I was out running errands. It was a little past normal lunch time, and I was getting more than just a might peckish. As I came upon the Phillippi Creek bridge on Tamiami Trail (US Hwy 41), I could see a plume of smoke raising from the grouping of white tarps that shaded the temporary market stalls. This is on a park lawn that was once part of a plantation. As I got up to the market area, there, near the highway, was a smoker about the size of a three-quarter ton pickup truck. It might be the biggest of its kind I have seen.
Winding through the entrance drive and into the parking area, I avoided all temptations to study the various foods, handicrafts and products being sold at the various stalls. My destination was across the sizable tent village....straight to the booth that fronted Perry's smoker. Perry isn't a small man either. He obviously enjoys his work. He is an affable, always smiling black man, who has had some kind of laryngeal problem. His voice is strained and pitched a bit high. Nonetheless, he loves to talk and greets everyone with a traditional southern, "howdy," when you get to the front table of his stall. He usually has a helper, who fills orders, while he chats away and tends the various cuts of meat in the smoker: pork butts, beef brisket, ribs and chicken...and lots of them.
Perry is a very generous man. First and foremost, he is generous with a great smile and kind words. Someone told me he never forgets a face. I was to learn this. "What's to our likin' pardner?" A whiteboard menu hangs from the support rod. Not only does he have smoked meats; he has an array of side dishes: collards, mac and cheese, cole slaw, green beans, baked beans and potato salad. On my first visit in mid-November, he noted immediately that I was new to his enterprise. "Here, try some of this, walk around and come on back when you decide." On a small paper plate he deposited a small beef rib and a piece of pork butt. The young person helping him squirted a generous portion of sauce on the plate. Sauce, the substance that can make or break good barbecue. I was skeptical.
Nevertheless, I took my samples and ambled along the various stalls. At my second bite of rib meat, I was hooked! I simply stopped all forward movement, finished the samples...and the sauce...and headed straight back to Perry's booth. Damn! That was good barbecue!
I was greeted with a big smile, as Perry looked over the shoulder of the person serving the food. "That was quick, buddy." "I'm hungry, and this just can't wait any longer," I exclaimed with obvious eagerness. I ordered and received a rib lunch special...four large ribs and two sides for $9.00. There was a lot of meat on those ribs too. It was really hard to wait until I got home to eat. The sauce was obviously a work of love as well. Perry doesn't have it for sale. It sits in big plastic jugs that are carefully emptied into the squirt bottles used to create the desired meal.
Today, I was running errands again. I have been off my feed for a few days...just not feeling much like eating and drinking mostly water and tea. I turned from Clark road north on Tamiami Trail, and, within a quarter mile, I could smell Perry's work. Oh, yeah, it's Wednesday. The farmers market is happening. I had someplace to be, so I kept moving.
On the way back, I found my way into the Phillippi Creek Park parking area and ambled to Perry's stall. This time I went via the very large produce area to pick up fresh veggies and some assorted fruit. When I got to Perry's place, he was busily slicing brisket for a customer. He pitched me his broad, welcoming smile and said, "Hey pardner, I haven't seen you in about three weeks. You been doin' okay?" Uh, it has been exactly three weeks. He remembered me...not my name...but he had me pegged. As we made some small talk, he kept throwing up a hand to wave at a passerby...calling them most always by name...same huge smile.
Today, I chose the pulled pork sandwich. No sides. A good amount of sauce on the side.
As I was paying and preparing to leave, a lady walked up. Perry greeted her by name. "What can I do for ya' today, dear one?" She said that she had promised her husband that she would pick up some brisket and mac & cheese. "That would be his favorite..." Yep, Perry knows his folks AND his barbecue.
Florida has barbecue, but it isn't noted for that. Let me tell you...my friends from the barbecue states...Perry is a contender...A SERIOUS contender. To my dear friend Bruce Bower: You best get your boys together and get down here. Watch your butts. Perry is certainly watching his.
With sauce on the 'stash, I send much love,