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Harry Henson

The Barbecue Experience
by Grace E. Pedalino

    Barbecue. No one living in the North can understand the passion that barbecue excites for many Southerners. I had no idea that there were barbecue rivalries, Carolina barbecue vs. Texas barbecue, chopped vs. pulled. I not only had no idea what pulled pork was, my experience of barbecued pork (when I was still eating meat) was char siu, Chinese barbecue pork.  It’s true, I’ve never eaten barbecue. So when my husband suggested that we go to the Barbeque Exchange, in Gordonsville, for dinner, and I checked their online menu for something I could eat, I got excited. They had barbecue tofu. And while it wouldn’t be the true Southern barbecue experience, one involving  meat, I could at least get some idea of what all the fuss is about. 

I was looking forward to this. Would they smoke the tofu? Shred it? Would the sauce be sweet or hot? I’d done some homework; I knew there was yellow barbecue sauce, Piedmont  sauce and red sauce. A world was opening up.

We arrived at the restaurant. The décor was distinctly pig-themed. Happy pigs delighted with the idea of being someone’s dinner. Photos of pigs on the wall, cast iron pigs, concrete pigs, pink sugar pigs on the Rice Crispy treats and, weirdly, a rendition of Van Gogh’s Starry Night collaged out of what appeared to be photos of pork products. One of the staff was wearing a Porkapolooza t-shirt with “Celebrate Good Swines” on the back.

It was Sunday afternoon, and it was crowded. Barbecue is clearly celebrated here. Unlike many restaurants in a weak economy, this one is in no danger of failing. The clientele was varied, although there was a fair amount of camo in evidence, including camo-wearing women and children.  The line was long; service was cafeteria style. We got in the queue and studied the menu. Yes, the tofu was listed, along with chicken, pork, beef and salmon. But pork was king. Even the donuts contained bacon. My husband, who had originally decided he was going to have tofu too, decided salmon sounded awfully good. And no, I don’t force him to eat soy products. I suspect his family thinks I do and they feel slightly sorry for him.

Soon it was our turn. Now I must confess that I felt a bit uncomfortable with the idea of ordering tofu in such a clearly meat-oriented public place. Not ashamed exactly, but a little like someone would feel if they were caught reading porn in church.  I was sure everyone was going to stare at me, maybe laugh and point. I looked at the server and said, “I’ll have the small combo sandwich,” and I leaned forward and whispered, “…with tofu.”

She smiled, picked up a roll and started to slice it. Turning to the kitchen she yelled, “One barbecued tofu.” I winced slightly. And then from the kitchen we heard even louder, “Eighty-six on the tofu.” The server stopped slicing the roll and looked at me. Probably so did everyone else, but I was staring at the floor.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “I had no idea we were out of tofu.”

I stepped away from the counter and asked my husband to order while I checked the menu. I turned to her and asked for the fried green tomatoes. She looked genuinely upset. Didn't I want something else? No, just the tomatoes. How about some nice broccoli salad?  To be honest, I’m not a big fan of raw broccoli. Among the staff, I had become a project. Another server said, What about a mixed salad? I realized then I would have to say those words some vegetarians dread:  “I’ll have the salad.”

To be fair, the tomatoes were delicious, and so were the hush puppies my husband got. My husband loved the salmon. And the coffee was good. The salad was yet another mixed green salad, but at least it wasn’t iceberg lettuce.

We’ll go back again, I’ll make another attempt at that barbecue tofu, I’d still like to experience at least a little bit of such a Southern tradition.  I’d like to try the fried pickles. But this time if they are out of tofu,  I will not have  the salad.


The Barbeque Exchange

Even without the tofu, the BBQ Exchange is a fine place to get authentic barbecue. Seating is available both indoors and out, with paper-covered picnic tables. Each table has a selection of sauces in a caddy on it, including Chef Craig’s own creation, as well as a bucket of crayons for the kids to create art on the paper tablecloth.

The meats are dry-cured with the chef’s special ingredient rubs and are hickory smoked out back. Chickens are grilled over live coals, and the pork shoulders and spare ribs are slow-roasted. Desserts and breads are all house-made, featuring cornbread, pumpkin muffins, cupcakes, brownies and those Rice Krispie treats with the sugar pigs. Rounding out the menu are homemade pickles, salads, slaws, hushpuppies and mac and cheese (I’m going to have to try that next time) that are served with the sandwiches or available as sides.

Home-made sweet tea is on the menu, something getting harder to find these days, to the sorrow of many Southerners. Those who want a little something stronger to drink can order beer and wine.

If your children don’t like barbecue, the kid’s menu includes mini-corndogs, chicken tenders and, of course, excellent fries that the grownups will be filching. Family dinners can be ordered to take away and the sauces are available by the bottle for your home barbecues.


Barbeque Exchange
102 Martinsburg Avenue
Gordonsville, VA 22942

all photos © Virginia Real magazine

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