“best places to eat in Nashville”
That’s what I typed into the search bar on my phone this past Thursday at around 1:30 p.m.
I had just arrived in Nashville, Tennessee for the annual conference of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, where I would be speaking on Friday.
Hungry, and with my hotel room not yet ready for me and my small travel suitcase, I decided to set out on foot and take in some sights, sounds, and tastes of this famous music-loving city I was visiting for the first time.
After reading a few restaurant descriptions, I settled on Arnold’s. It sounded like an authentic Nashville experience. I enjoyed the half-hour-or-so walk to get there, but I ended up deciding that homestyle Southern cooking at a cafeteria-style restaurant wasn’t actually what I was in the mood for.
So I walked back out the door. That’s when serendipity grabbed my hand and implored me to follow. I acquiesced.
Little did I know a prime example of primility was in my immediate future …
The Peg Leg Porker
The billboard said “Peg Leg Porker” in big letters and had a picture of a pig on it. I don’t remember any grand claims of barbecue excellence, just simple instructions to turn left. And an arrow pointing to reinforce the message.
I turned left, surely looking like a strange sight on this nondescript side street with my red TOMS, white shorts, and purple button-down shirt nearly dripping with sweat thanks to the heavy Copyblogger-emblazoned backpack, containing my laptop and John Adams biography, that I had lugged the entire way.
I found the Peg Leg Porker a few hundred yards later and bopped on in. Immediately I was met by a friendly face who invited me to sit at the bar immediately to my right, which I did. I ordered a local brew (the “Angry Redhead” by Mayday, it was good), a pulled pork platter with two sides of beans (baked and green), and settled in for what I hoped would be a tasty and relaxing meal before walking back to the hotel.
The Peg Leg Porker delivered.
The pulled pork, drizzled with the hot BBQ sauce, was some of the best-tasting BBQ I’ve ever had. Granted, I’m no aficionado. I just know I loved it and savored it, and were I not slated to wear a tucked-in shirt the next day, I’d surely have had seconds (healthy food choices be damned).
The baked beans also warrant special mention. The only beans I’ve had that compare are at Ray’s Smokehouse in Norman, Oklahoma.
Bottom line: it was an A+ meal. If you go to Nashville, go to the Peg Leg. Your taste buds will love you for it.
Still, my favorite part of the visit was yet to come.
Primility at the Peg Leg
When I have a meal and experience as good as what I had at the Peg Leg, I like to bring home a souvenir: something as simple as a damp coaster or as substantial as a T-shirt. So before leaving, I trekked to the other end of the restaurant to scope out the merchandise.
With the T-shirts being made of a harder material than I like (I’m one of those who likes very soft T-shirts — judge accordingly), I decided a simple container of the Peg Leg’s signature spice mix would do. I was told it’s good on eggs, which sold me on it.
And then I noticed the three sheets of paper hanging over a few of the cubby holes that contained shirts for sale. I read them, then snapped these photos so you can too:
That last page is a bit fuzzy, so here is the entire letter verbatim and in full:
To all the armchair BBQ critics:
There has been a major buzz around the state and across the country in the last few days about Travel + Leisure magazine naming Nashville as the #1 BBQ city in America. I was taken aback myself but also flattered. I was mentioned in the article. It is an honor. What you all need to remember is that this is one magazine’s opinion. There are dozens if not hundreds of “Best BBQ” lists out there and this is just one. BBQ tastes are subjective, not absolute.
The comments that have accompanied that article are disturbing to say the least. I love the one’s that say that I don’t know anything about Memphis or Memphis BBQ. You see, my family settled in Covington, TN in 1827. They owned the cotton gin there and then my grandfather settled in Memphis as an OB/GYN after WWII. He delivered about half the children in that great city. My great grandfather on my grandmother’s side of the family was E.L. Bruce. He owned the largest hardwood flooring company in, you guessed it, Memphis. My mother and father both went to Central High School and I spent quite a bit of my youth in Memphis even though I grew up in Nashville. After college, I lived and worked in Memphis for three years. My uncle competed in Memphis in May #1 and I have competed in it for 25 years. During college, my grandmother cut out and sent me every article published in The Commercial Appeal or Memphis Magazine about BBQ.
My favorite BBQ places were in West Tennessee, in Moscow, Mason, Lexington and Memphis. The Rendezvous invented the Dry rib and it is actually Greek in origin. The atmosphere alone is worth the trip. Bozo’s in Mason has a hell of a sandwich. My earliest memory of BBQ was a Lewis’s store in Moscow where they had silver dollars in the floor. I would go with my grandmother and my granddad delivered the owners’ children.
I have had a lot of different Q over the years. I like it in Tennessee, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Kentucky, and most other places I have tried it. I don’t care how it’s cooked, what type of wood or if you use a commercial smoker, what matters is the end product.
You know, I didn’t even see a brisket until I was probably 21 but I just got back from cooking with a good friend down in Texas and had some incredible beef and lamb brisket. No less BBQ that we cook here in Tennessee, just different.
I appreciate your enthusiasm but some of you are just outright rude, mean and terribly ignorant. Don’t worry, I can take it. As a pitmaster of over 30 years, I have pretty thick skin. The only thing that you all are really doing is making your city or state look bad when you make hateful or uneducated remarks. You see for those of us that cook BBQ for a living, it is not a competition between pitmasters or restaurants; in fact, most of us are friends. We respect the differences and uniqueness of our particular region or style and those of our peers.
BBQ is family and it is something that should bring people together, not tear them apart. I often have drinks or cook with my fellow pitmasters from around the city, across the state and across the country. We share stories, advice and techniques. Why wouldn’t we. There is room for everyone at this table. It’s like my friend Jack Cawthon here in Nashville says, “as long as they aren’t making bad BBQ, it’s good for all of us”.
My point is this, unless you invented fire, you didn’t invent BBQ. It doesn’t belong to your city. You are not the undisputed keeper of the flame. Pitmasters can be white, black, yellow, green or red. They can come from any region, city or state. They can cook on custom rigs, commercial smokers or brick pits. They can cook low and slow or hot and fast. What they do need is an undisputed love of Q and the dedication to cook it over and over and over and over again, always striving for the best that they can do. It’s the end product that matters.
RELAX, we are not curing cancer, it’s BBQ. Now let’s all sit down at the table together and enjoy some great BBQ.
Peg Leg Porker
These words by Mr. Bringle are primility through and through. And you don’t need me to point out why.
I do want to just pull out this quote and highlight it:
You are not the undisputed keeper of the flame.
As Mr. Bringle alludes later in that paragraph, a pitmaster should certainly take pride in being a keeper of the flame, and in cooking over and over and over and over again to hone their craft … but everyone who cooks, eats, and compares BBQ needs to be humble enough to recognize and remember their place in that world.
While you and I may not be pitmasters, we can certainly learn from Mr. Bringle — who was described thusly in an article in the Nashville Scene:
Bringle is a gregarious one-legged man who I would never bet against in an ass-kicking contest.
With that letter, he certainly kicked the ass of any pitmasters and BBQ lovers whose pride in their own tastes, techniques, and talents are way out of whack.
What flame are you carrying?
We would all do well remember, no matter what flame we each carry, that we are not the undisputed keepers of it — more likely we’re just temporary carriers and caretakers.
So let’s do our jobs and keep the flames alive, maybe even helping them to burn a little brighter, but recognize that someone had it before us and eventually we’ll pass it on.
That’s primility in action.
My thanks to Carey Bringle and his staff for a great meal and a great reminder of this last Thursday.
How about you … ?
Have you seen any examples of primility out there in the world lately?
Please comment below or shoot me an email any time you do.