Friends, hop in your car right this minute and drive to Richmond while a passenger reads this exciting episode to you. ZZQ definitely is a Top Place.
After my delightful if ill-timed visit to SMoHK, I drove around a little to get ready to check out ZZQ. I like to wait at least a half hour between meals. Actually, I’d already stopped at ZZQ to verify that they cook exclusively with wood, and to present a Campaign for Real Barbecue window sticker (and promise a certificate to come in the fullness of time) before going to SMoHK. During that stop I got a tour of the place and a chance to talk with Chris Fultz the resident genius of ZZQ.
Then I drove around for a bit, got online, and ordered some food. Let’s get to the food right away. Background can wait. I ordered a half pound of brisket, collards, beets (!), and, as essential adjuncts to Texas barbecue, some jalapeños and onions and white bread.
Behold the brisket, a mix of moist and lean.
Oh, my! It was delicious. Moist, tender, smoky, and just bursting with flavor. Even the lean was moist. That’s world class brisket. You can get excellent brisket here in the east at 2fifty Texas and Lewis BBQ, but ZZQ’s has to be the best this side of Texas, and it’s right up there among the best in Texas.
Oh, and that little nugget on top of the brisket? That’s as good a burnt end as you will find. It’s pure, just meat and a peppery bark. It isn’t tarted up with a lot of sugar. It’s unadulterated goodness. Wow.
In addition to the burnt ends, Chris gave me unbidden samples of pork and turkey.
I took a bite of the pork and was stunned at how good it was. It had been tossed with some vinegar and pepper, as pork should be, and it actually had good bark, a rarity for pork cooked in offset smokers. It was delicious, the best I’ve had in Virginia, and probably the best pork I’ve had in a Texas-oriented barbecue place.
In hindsight, I should have started with the turkey. It was good, the breast meat moist, tender, and with a good flavor, but after that brisket and pork, its’s easy for turkey to be overshadowed. I’m sure Nancy will get some when we go back — and maybe some chicken. (She’s already talking about a trip.) And I’ll try at least one of their sausages.
The sides: I ordered beets, which I’ve eaten mainly, possibly exclusively, on salad bars. Salad bar beets are, like most things on salad bars, okay, but nothing special. Actually, I can only remember one salad bar I’ve hit in years. But Alex recommended the beets, so beets I ordered. They were great. They were fresh (unlike salad bar beets) and lightly dressed in a simple but delicious dish. The pickled jalapeños were a great touch, and came with both pickled and raw sweet onions. It could hardly have been a better accompaniment to the brisket.
I also ordered greens. Ordering greens is pretty much brain stem activity for me. The greens were topped with chopped onions, which was a nice idea — a good balancing contrast in flavors and textures. They also were, it turns out, made with some blackstrap molasses. I am of the No Sugar Ever in Greens or Cornbread School, and I avoid molasses except in the form of rum, and even then only in the Tropics. I realize this is a minority position, so your results may vary. But they have a host of great looking sides that I hope eventually to work my way through.
Be reassured that I didn’t eat all of that at lunch. I dropped my plan to try a place in Norfolk and ate the rest for supper. It was still delicious, hours later.
The leader of this effort, Chris Fultz, grew up in Central Texas, the heart of Texas barbecue, and the Texas barbecue tradition clearly is in his blood. He was trained as an architect and had a successful career in Virginia, but eventually succumbed to the siren song of barbecue. He teamed up with his “pitmistress,” Alex Graf, a recovered vegetarian, and followed his passion to bring truly great Texas barbecue (and great sides) to Virginia. That meant top quality, all natural meats (prime black angus beef and Duroc pork), and in-house made sausage and sides: nothing is canned or processed. They even serve honest Mexican Coke (no, not that kind of coke) made, as was the original Co’Cola, with cane sugar.
ZZQ started as a pop-up at the beer garden of ARDENt Craft Ales in the Scotts Addition section. Chris is lavish in his praise of Tom Sullivan, the owner of ARDENt, for his support and friendship. Listening to Chris makes you feel the friendship. I definitely will have some ARDENt shipped up to DC, and meanwhile I’ll be on the lookout in stores.
The ZZQ pop-up was a huge success. It attracted crowds of customers and national attention. Soon, Chris opened the brick and mortar location, cheek by jowl with ARDENt. He continues to win honors all over the place, most recently with “Best” awards from Virginia Living and Richmond Magazine.
ZZQ is in a good-sized building. I wasn’t able to go inside at all because of the COVID situation, as to which ZZQ takes all precautions.
I was allowed, however, to see their outdoor seating, which may be open by the time you read this. It’s large, pleasantly shaded, and offers an enchanting view of Mabel, ZZQ’s first smoker.
The Texas mood is set by the music — Robert Earl Keen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Tanya Tucker, and Patsy Cline for a Virginia touch. I didn’t hear any Don Walser or Kevin Fowler, but I can hope.
The real mood is set by the food. When I was there, the morning pitmaster (there are four pitmasters, including Chris) was Mary Mac. She starts at 4:00 a.m. and tends the big cookers with a mixture of oak and hickory, the latter to honor the Virginia hickory tradition — and to make the food taste better. It’s impressive to watch her, no bigger than a minute, toss logs around, cart them over to the cooking area, split them, and feed them into the fire.
The thing that really struck me was the conviction of each person with whom I spoke. Each said that what they were doing was important, that making great barbecue without shortcuts was a statement. No, more than a statement. It was something important, a craft expertly executed, but more than a craft, a calling.
Go to ZZQ. Order the brisket. Share some pork and turkey and sausage. Do try the beets. You’ll thank me. It’s well worth the drive from Washington or Philadelphia or wherever you are. There are people there doing something that they love, and that you will love, too. Go. Eat. Savor. Have an ale by ARDENt. And think about all of the skill and love that went into the food.
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