Sunday, May 5, 2013

Curtis' All American Barbeque (Putney, VT)

I love barbeque; always have, always will.  It is unpretentious, seemingly simple food that tends to
"The 9th Wonder of the World"
involve a lot of pork, a lot of spices, and more food than a reasonable person should ever eat in one sitting, and that seeming simplicity falls away as you eat it; it is often, in fact, tremendously complex.  Curtis' All American Barbeque, in tiny Putney, VT, is a fine example of open pit barbeque, a concept that few people are used to in the north.  The meat is smoked first, then put over the open wood fire,where it caramelizes and finishes cooking, adding something just short of a char to the exterior.

Curtis does ribs and chickens, and while the ribs are damn good, the chicken is sublime.  It is not often that a person like me, who craves good pork, would choose chicken instead, but I have at Curtis'.  After all, good ribs aren't that difficult to find, or even make; great chicken though, is a true rarity, something that you can't find many places.  The skin becomes a little crispy, though not the glass-like crunch of a fried chicken.  A little smoky, tender, and surprisingly moist, it is the best chicken I have ever eaten that wasn't thrown into a vat of hot oil.  The ribs have a little smokiness to them as well, and aren't quite the fall off the bone tender that you would find in Kansas City or St. Louis style ribs, but Curtis' method, like the man himself, is from Georgia, and there's some more tooth to the meat.  I actually like this, as texture is important to me, but I have some friends who have tried it and don't love his food for that reason.  It is therefore important to go to Curtis' with the understanding that this is not North Carolina, Missouri, or Tennessee barbeque; it is entirely different.

Curtis himself, finishing a dozen or so slabs under the supervision of his pig CJ
Sauce places a huge role at Curtis', another issue for some purists, who believe that sauce should barely be involved, if at all, in good barbeque, and that the meat should speak for itself.  Well, the meat does speak for itself here, but the sauce adds to that and enhances it, with two options to choose from, a simple mild or a tangier hot.  The mild is a little sweet, with some vinegar coming through, but it's primarily a ketchup based sauce.  The hot is essentially the same, but with, obviously, more heat, and thus less sweetness, or at least the sweetness is masked by that extra heat.  It's not that hot, not even enough to give your mouth much of a burn, but it's more interesting than the mild.  It's good on everything from the ribs to the chicken to the sweet yams.

My gigantic lunch; loaded potato and "small" side of collards
This trip, I went with the loaded pork stuffed baked potato, a mountain of food that is truly scrumptious, improvable only by adding some chicken to it, though maybe that would just be too much.  A potato cooked over the wood fire wrapped in foil, it is perfectly tender without completely falling apart, split open and filled with shredded pork and topped with sour cream, chives, (real) bacon bits, shredded Vermont cheddar cheese (only the best), mushrooms, and barbeque sauce.  There isn't much to say about this other than YUM!  I added a small (a relative term) side of collards, which were fantastic.  Cooked so that the leaves are soft and the cores still with a little crunch, the collards are great as well, with bits of crispy lardon mixed in.  Normally collards are cooked until they are essentially mush, which can taste good, but again, that texture thing keeps popping up; I like a little bite, and the textural differences between the leaves, cores, and lardon is exactly where you see that complexity that I mentioned earlier.  With a bottle of water, I was out about $18.50, which isn't cheap, but well worth both the price and the 45 minute drive.

Curtis' is great for more than just its food; Curtis himself is an incredibly friendly, jovial man, who
CJ "supervising" Curtis
clearly enjoys himself and his work, spending time talking to his customers, his three (at least) dogs, and of course, his pet pig.  CJ is a gigantically fat fellow, who bears more of a resemblance to a wild boar, tusks and all, than to the pigs we eat, and he is the successor to Curtis' old pet Isabelle, who he had for 13 years; the joke he tells is that he assures the pig that he only cooks chicken, a joke he tells with relish and a hearty chuckle each and every time.
CJ eating a carrot Curtis gave my friend to feed him
Curtis' is only open seasonally, from about April to late October, and seating is available inside a large covered pavilion or at a variety of umbrella covered and open picnic tables.  Today there was a pretty decent guitarist playing and singing, which added some decent ambiance, but you're not coming here for elegance.  It is down home, legitimately good southern comfort food, and I do feel comfortable when I leave.  Make sure you bring cash, as Curtis' does not take cards or checks.  They sell some merchandise on both their website and on site, including bottles of their own sauce.  This is one of my favorite place to go, and the best barbeque I've found north of the Mason-Dixon line, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The covered seating

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