My last stop on this barbecue-eating trip took me to Gordonsville, Virginia, just a couple of hours from Washington. Rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll tell you up front that I was very pleased with the Barbecue Exchange. It’s well worth a visit.
Before I get into that, Gordonsville is a lovely little town. The main street is only a few blocks long, but all of the buildings are attractive, and the goods in the various shops, all owner-operated, are equally appealing. An antiques and art shops sells works by local artists. The dress shop includes dresses designed and cut by the owner. There’s a wrought iron shop, of all things. And just look at this antique shop.
Isn’t that pretty? The Town Hall is fronted by a pretty little garden, and there’s a pleasant visitors center where you can find out that there’s plenty to do to warrant a second and third visit, what with Monticello, Montpelier, and lots of wineries close by.
There’s also the Barbecue Exchange. It may be a little less elegant,
but they cook Campaign for Real Barbecue-certified True ‘Cue.
(The gas-fed cooker in front was being used for potatoes. The meat is cooked in wood pits.) I ordered a light lunch (no hushpuppies), a pork sandwich and some Brunswick Stew.
Let’s zoom in on that pork.
It was fresh, with a good mix of smoke and pork flavor, and without a hint of dryness. Some nice outside meat there. You can see in the first picture an exuberant amount of pickles and slaw there. I added the pickles — good honest pickles, without that insipid quality that so often infects homemade pickles — to the sandwich after tasting some of the meat, and ate the slaw separately. The slaw was fresh and crisp, and not overdressed at all. To me, the idea of adding mayonnaise to pork seems like gilding the lily — unless, of course, the mayonnaise is mixed with a lot of vinegar and pepper in an Alabama white sauce — but if you like slaw on a barbecue sandwich, as many do, this is a good one.
The Barbecue Exchange has six sauces. I chose the Old Carolina sauce. It has ketchup, a la Western North Carolina, and was well seasoned with a fair bite. I added it to the Brunswick Stew. I always add barbecue sauce to Brunswick stew for some vinegar and heat, consistent with my grandmother’s recipe, and the Old Carolina sauce was along similar lines to hers. This was good Brunswick Stew, thick enough to eat with a fork and filled with pork, chicken, and all the right vegetables (gotta have corn and butter beans). I enjoyed it.
There’s a lot more to enjoy at the Barbecue Exchange. I had a chance to speak with the boss Craig Hartman, and got a peek at their ribs. They looked good. The Exchange cooks their chicken over coals, as at those great volunteer fire department fundraisers. Hartman even smokes his own bacon, and I need to get back later this summer for a BLT and one of the combination sandwiches in which bacon figures — just for research purposes. And they’ve got a good selection of sides.
We also talked about his plans. If good barbecue and a lovely town isn’t enough to get you to Gordonsville, he’s capturing another part of Gordonsville history by opening a fried chicken place. Gordonsville already has a Fried Chicken Festival in honor of its early status as the Fried Chicken Capital of the World. Hartman now is about to open the Ice House, a craft brewery and fried chicken place. The lady at the visitor center is excited about it, as “Craig Hartman makes wonderful fried chicken.” I trust her judgment. We got to talking and she asked me, in the event that I got to Columbus, Georgia, where she used to live, to bring her a gallon of Brunswick Stew from Country’s BBQ.
I trust people from South Georgia as judges of fried chicken, and I trust the food judgment of people who dream of a gallon of Brunswick Stew from Country’s. Not that I could actually take Brunswick Stew that distance without eating it all, but that’s about trusting me, not her.
Right now, the Barbecue Exchange, has only outside dining. Eight picnic tables are under cover, with sides open on a pretty nice day. The tables are set a good distance apart, and everything is comfortable. Service is fast and efficient: the barbecue doesn’t sit around.
After all that, I hardly need say you should hot foot it down to Gordonsville, but I’m a recovering lawyer and I end up saying a lot no one needs to say … or hear. Go, and you’ll enjoy yourself.
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