Monday, January 17, 2011

The Vortex of Barbecue: Billy's Bar-B-Q in Lexington, Kentucky

BBQ, Barbecue,  Que, Q -- whatever you call it, we, Dave and I,  spend an inordinate amount of time seeking and savoring it.  Que seems to be one of the common threads that weaves its way through our travels. We seek it out.  We hunt it down.  We go way out of our way because of the signs.  It is the signs -- perched perilously on the sides of  mountains and propped up in the middle of cornfields -- that draw us inextricably towards The Vortex of Barbecue.

Highways, especially in the deep south,  are peppered with porcine images in various postures of pleasure. North, South, East or West -- these are happy pigs -- their smiling mugs seemingly oblivious of the impending doom of themselves and their brethren, which they happily promote. These mugging pigs sing to us -- as irresistibly as the sirens that lured Ulysses towards the rocks of certain destruction.

Billy's Bar-B-Q

This is not to say that we shouldn't have a modicum of self-restraint. But when it comes to good barbecue, why try?  Resistance is futile.  Stop. Enjoy. Partake. Every smoky morsel should be sampled and savored. Every squirt bottle of sauce should be tried -- its contents applied to the tip of your index finger and popped into your mouth - just don't double dip that nozzle.  Let that sweet, spicy, stickiness work its way across your taste buds.  Close your eyes and let the savory aromas slowly wind their way through your olfactory sensory neurons. If you're lucky, the joint was worth the detour off the beaten path.  Billy's Bar-B-Q in Lexington Kentucky is just such a place!

Mardi Gras anyone?

Not deep south but still south, Billy's is nestled into the apex of two streets near the old upscale Lexington neighborhood of Chevy Chase. This Lexington hog heaven, started by Bob Stubblefield and Billy Parham,  has been in business since 1978 and  resides in what looks to be a former corner Marathon Gas Station or maybe a defunct Bill Knapps restaurant. Do not be fooled by it's simple exterior. When you pass through the front door you are in southern 'que heaven!

Mugs of pigs in various states of smiling bliss line the walls, but that unmistakable  hard wood smoke permeates the air, setting off a salivary response.  Drooling is best accomplished in a booth with a beer.

Billy's owner Bob Stubblefield (left) sits at the bar


The Frickles (deep fried dill pickle chips) and the hand-battered onion rings are hot and crispy, the beer cold and refreshing.  And the que?  Well it's just down right delicious.

Bob the Pit Master checks his smoker as pork is pulled in the kitchen

The pulled pork, my personal favorite, is moist and juicy - a porcine perfection of perfectly pink smokeyness with those crispy, dark edges that are so treasured by die hard barbecue aficionados. I like mine served on a bun Memphis-style - with a scoop of coleslaw.

Pork before... and after! ( I picked off some samich pork before I took the picture -- I just couldn't wait!)

The smoker doing it's thing on chicken
 The regular sauce is good.  Sweet and slightly spicy.  The chicken is flavorful and moist with a nice smoky undertone. I'm always torn between ordering the chicken or sticking to my old standby - the pulled pork.

The walls are filled with celebrity diner  mementos - every one of them a fan. From Jay Leno to the Blues King himself.

Billy's serves it's own version of Kentucky history with it's Smoked Mutton and it's Burgoo. Historically, Burgoo was a stew made with any meat available, squirrel being a favorite. I figure it's another version of Brunswick stew. Billy's Burgoo, happily squirrel-less, is a wonderful smoky stew of flavors.

Lunch on a rainy Saturday - Billy's is a great place to spend the afternoon

 The sweet tea is what it is.  No one makes sweet tea as well as southerners. The trick is putting the sugar in the tea while it's still boiling hot.  The sugar melts in the hot liquid, becoming a simple syrup infusing the tea with a smooth sweetness. Some sweet teas are a little too sweet, setting your teeth on edge. Billy's sweet tea has no such problems.   A little lemon and you're good to go.  And if tea is not your fancy, try a bottle of Kentucky's own Ale 8 ginger ale.  But, be warned, while super gingery, Ale 8 contains a good jolt of caffeine.  I know this from experience, having consumed one too many bottles in one day, only to be plagued by the worst case of insomnia I have ever experienced. So if Ale 8 is your pleasure, tread carefully.

The beer selection is extensive, with daily specials on tap.  A cold glass is the perfect accompaniment for Billy's melt-off-the bone, slow cooked ribs.  Served wet or dry with rub, my husband, the rib king,  adores them  having worked his way through a goodly number (both Billy's ribs and tall beers) over the years without complaint.

The sign says it all
As for dessert, the cobblers are supposed to be tops.  But, I've never tried any.  It has never crossed my mind. When I'm at Billy's, cobbler is the least of my concerns. Give me Frickles, pulled pork, and sweet tea and I'm all set! Although next time, the chicken is on the agenda.

Billy's Bar-B-Q
101 Cochran Road
Lexington, KY  40502

Directions to Billy's Bar-B-Q

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