There is much news in the world about rebellion agains the Establishment. The success of the Brexit proponents and Donald Trump, and the near-success of Bernie Sanders, are just the most prominent signs of widespread disgust with the Establishment, with Brussels and Washington, of a feeling that government leaders don’t care about them, don’t understand their grievances, and don’t tell them the truth.
Regardless of how you feel about this rebelliousness — whether it is great or horrible, a sign of hope or collapse — there are real reasons for the distrust and disaffection toward Washington. Exhibit A is the Washington Post Going Out Guide’s rating of the best barbecue in the DC area, written each year by Tim Carman.
Let’s be honest: Washington is a lousy city for barbecue. Washington is a wonderful city with many great features and much delicious food. Sure, the barbecue situation is lamentable, but other cities have similar gaps. Have you ever tried to find a good Thai place in Lockhart or Ayden? The DC area is very strong on Thai and many other cuisines, but not barbecue. No city is perfect, and it doesn’t help to pretend that Washington is.
Man was made for Joy and Woe; And when this we rightly know Thro’ the world we safely go.
The Washington Post could, at least in theory, face facts squarely and have its Going Out Guide advise people not to go out for barbecue in or near Washington until there’s some DC area barbecue worth going out to eat. Or it could tell people to pack a bag, hop on a plane, and, a la Willie Sutton, go to where the good barbecue is. (As I write this, I’m in Lexington, North Carolina, specifically to eat barbecue.)
But Washington does not, cannot face unpleasant facts squarely. Instead, Washington denies, obfuscates and spins. And problems fester.
Sometimes the obfuscation is with clouds of empty rhetoric:
“the pulled pork is delightfully understated”:
sometimes it’s written using of a thesaurus rather than a dictionary:
“The other meats on Evans’s menu can have dyspeptic mood swings: The brisket can be smoky, spicy and decadent one day – and virtually without charisma the next”;
and sometimes it uses metaphors filched from Raymond Chandler (or Guy Noir?):
“the meat hangs loose on the bones like a cheap jacket.”
Most commonly, Washington tries to convince us that a horrible situation (the deficit, the Middle East) is just fine:
“The pork may be saucy – practically stewlike, in fact – but Curtz will tuck some ‘outside brown’ pieces in there to add muscle to the dish.”
(English majors will think of Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz, and film buffs will think of Col. Kurtz in Heart of Darkness), or
“Neuman cooks his pork shoulders and briskets on a custom-made smoker at Mess Hall and transports the meats to Solly’s for reheating and serving. The barbecue is better than you’d ever imagine: The sweet, piquant bark on the brisket looks and tastes as if it were fresh from the smoker.”
Tim carman gets paid to write this stuff. But, no. It doesn’t work that way. Pork with so much sauce that it’s “stewlike” cannot be fixed with a few pieces of bark. Brisket — especially the lean-only brisket they sell around here, does not taste “fresh from the smoker” after it has been trucked across town in DC traffic and re-heated in an oven or (Forgive me, Lord) a microwave. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s butt.
That’s Washington in a nutshell: move along, nothing to see here. Don’t look behind the curtain which, by the way is woven from free-range quinoa and locally sourced organic kale fibers by artisans trained by Tibetan monks. It’s very stylish, very on-trend, and money is no object.
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