Washington’s war on barbecue continues, this time with a stab in the back by, of all people, the Smithsonian Institution. Jim Shahin, the Washington Post’s quondam barbecue writer, has an article about the suppression of barbecue by, of all places, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. He writes:
Along with a little information about Africa, the tiny food exhibit features oysters, red beans and rice, greens, and black chefs. There are no photos of pitmasters. No bricks from an important pit. No acknowledgment of the role African Americans have played in creating and defining what might be called America’s Cuisine.
In any sensible city, the museum would feature a working brick pit, fired by hickory and oak, overseen by a team of pit masters. They might move the Gradys
and their pit building up from Dudley, NC. And the museum should have a tribute to the waitresses at Ollie’s of Blessed Memory, who never, ever had to write down an order. Only Harold, the only white, only male waiter, ever wrote down an order. And the waitresses never got one wrong, not even the time David and Debby and the quads, then about 5 or 6 years old; Nancy, Patrick, Liza, and I; PawPaw and his father, Grandfather Loflin; and Nannie Ruth, PawPaw’s mother ate lunch there together. Each of us had a different lunch order. That’s 13 orders from 13 people, each of the young ‘uns acting like 30. And she brought each order to the correct person. You try that.
(My order, by the way, was a large pork plate, half and half, fries and slaw, a co’ cola, and their incomparable coconut pie: perhaps the best meal on earth.)
So no brick pit, no pit master, no Grady’s, no waitresses. After that miserable start, I suppose it should come as no surprise that the museum cafeteria botches the barbecue offerings. They serve “Lexington barbecue” with a sweet sauce, of all heresies. And it comes with pickled okra. Now I like pickled okra as much as anyone, but in a barbecue place you get fried okra. You buy pickled okra by the jar. Where were these people raised?
They also feature bison with chutney on a brioche bun. Bison? Chutney? And a brioche bun? In the National Museum of African American History and Culture? Is that some kind of joke? If it is, it isn’t funny.
It turns out that the Museum food people view “their mission not necessarily as serving food in traditional ways, but extending the traditions to show the adaptability of African American culinary techniques and flavors.” Take away the Washington verbiage, and that means they screwed it up on purpose.
The main reaction from visitors is, “That’s not the way Mama fixed it.” That’s not history. That’s why people hate Washington. Go to Grady’s.
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