Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sticky Fingers BBQ Ribs

I've always loved beef ribs. Growing up in Thailand, I never got to experience them, but upon coming to the US, I found them to be among my favorite American foods. In the northeast, there's not much focus on the style of ribs. Rather, barbecue sauce has come to be a largely homogenous substance varying only slightly in flavor. I still love them though, one of my favorite's being Phoebe's BBQ in Philadelphia. When a new barbecue joint opened up in my neighborhood, the Italian Market, I was one of the first customers.

Bebe's BBQ was opened on 9th street by a fellow from North Carolina named Mark. A hospitable gentlemen, Mark would often offer my friends and I samplings of ribs, chicken, and sides as he made our sandwiches. His description of each sauce displayed a deep understanding of his art, and his eagerness for our feedback indicated a genuine love for barbecue. I never got the opportunity to offer my thoughts on his signature pork ribs, which passed under my nose into the hands of an eager sampler many times over. It was not at Bebe's BBQ that I first experienced the standby meat of southern barbecue. I got it straight from the source, in North Carolina.

While visiting my friends Tim, Abby, and Katie in Wilmington, NC this past summer, Tim learned of my newly liberated diet and insisted on a place called Sticky Fingers. Once we were seated, I had a regressive instinct and asked the waitress if they did beef ribs, an allegation she immediately denied. Well, I thought to myself, I'll take that as a sign. I ordered a half rack of Memphis style wet ribs with a side of baked beans and sweet potato casserole.

That second side, sweet potato casserole, was damn good. Upon tasting it I was momentarily distracted from the rib mission at hand and put a dent in half of it before moving on to the main part of the meal.

I separated the first rib from the rack. Being used to beef ribs, I was surprised by the ease with which it broke loose. This tenderness, Tim informed me, was a sign of a well cooked rack. In biting it, it revealed very little stringiness and the texture struck me as somewhere between a very moist broiled chicken and salmon. Of course, the flavor was far from either of these. Again, there was a slight sourness, though far less present than it was in any ham I had sampled. Perhaps that element had been cooked out in the slow grilling process. The sauce complemented pork ribs far more aptly than any sauce I had had on beef ribs. This is likely because sauces are perfected on the staple before being applied to other types of meat. The sweetness of the Memphis style sauce brought out the sweet elements of the meat, resulting in a flavor/texture combination that I hadn't expected. At that realization, I remembered what I was eating.

Being filled by this very heavy meal of pork had a new psychological effect on me. Again, I pictured the animal, though this time it didn't bother me as much. I felt undisciplined; that I had somehow faltered in my lifelong steadfastness. I later realized that through all those passed up ribs at Bebe's, ribs were the type of pork I wanted to try most. Having had it, I had shattered a mystery. Coming out on the other side, I was not disappointed by the experience. Rather, I realized that what I was missing out on was, in fact, simply meat. For the first time, I thought of how arbitrary the restriction of pork was. I'm missing out on kangaroo, shark, and elephant too, but those don't have the same allure, do they?

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