Vermontini & Other Delicacies

BBQ

Braun Hughes, a cook, center, stokes a fire while another cook, Andy Risner, keeps watch. Drew Anthony Smith for The New York Times

Last week at Chan Chich Lodge we had guests from Vermont who were on their 6th visit, the first having been back in 1998. This couple started at dawn each day and while primarily birding they witnessed plenty of the other wildlife. Each sunset they enjoyed a classic dry martini with olives, and some conversation with Migde (yes, that is the spelling, pronounced mig-day) the bartender.

By the end of the week watching their sunset ritual, I had the image of a martini we might create in their honor. Instead of their favored olives we would put a few small cubes of chilled Harrington’s of Vermont smoked ham. Perhaps just to humor me, they said they would like to try that during their next visit. In the last few days I have been looking into the matter and I can find no evidence that this is a good idea.

I can also find no evidence that it is a bad idea. So I am continuing the investigation. And today I am happy to see a review related to another form of smoked meat, quite different from that of Harrington’s, in this case at a restaurant in Texas. Pete Wells now holds my attention better than any reviewer, on any topic. Anthony Lane, for a long time, held it on the residual strength of the laughter produced by one film review in 2005; his predecessor Pauline Kael also held it a long time before that. In the era of crowd-sourced reviews, the professional is still relevant for a reason. Today’s restaurant review is a case in point:

AUSTIN, Tex. — “How much brisket are you having?”

That’s the first question the man with the knife behind the counter will ask when you reach the front of the line at Franklin Barbecue. He won’t stab you if you don’t have an answer ready, but I might.

By that point, you or another person who is either being paid by you or who just likes you very much will have been waiting outside for two hours or more — sometimes a lot more. The line starts earlier and grows faster on weekends and during South by Southwest, the festival of music, film and technology that metastasizes here each March and runs, this year, through Sunday.

Nobody reaches the front of the line accidentally. If you haven’t managed to work out how much brisket to buy when you get there, you are beyond my help.

I won’t blame you, though, if you double your order after the man with the knife cuts off a little block of meat and hands it to you. Look at it, the way it shades from nut-brown at the inside to cherry-jam around the border to black at the crust, stained by carbon and stubbled with coarse pepper. Smell it while the steam is still carrying the smell of burning post oak. Taste it, the way it combines the fat-bathed richness of fresh beef with the tight focus of meat cured by salt and smoke. Still want just half a pound?

Other considerations come into play, like the elasticity of your stomach and your taste for pork, smoked sausage and turkey. But brisket is the foundation on which Franklin Barbecue was built, brisket as it is seasoned and barbecued by Aaron Franklin, the chief pitmaster and an owner…

Read the whole review here. And if you have any comments on the Vermontini, please let me know in the comments section.

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