Right around 9 o'clock last night, a cheer was raised in the kitchen. The overworked FedEx folk had finally delivered the barbecue.
It was Texas barbecue, and for one of the ten individuals staying in our home for the holidays -- Lance, he's called -- this is fable food, memory food. It came in a massive cooler from a legendary Texas meat temple called the Salt Lick. We got 30-some-odd pounds of the stuff. Ribs, brisket, enormous links of sausage, along with the necessary accouterments. Salt Lick hot sauce is somehow creamy, tart, and spicy at the same.
I loathe barbecue, but in the years I've known Lance, I've come to love Salt Lick. All of Salt Lick's meat is astounding. The brisket's especially so, achieving a synthesis of fat and muscle
unique. You see the stripe of fat, running almost an inch thick
midway through the brisket's bulk, but you cannot distinguish it in any
particular bite. The brisket's commingled meatiness and fattiness and
smokiness overwhelms the mouth, and then it's gone -- too
tender to last more than a chew or three.
Lance spends most of
the year in Singapore, which is surely one of the world's great food
the uncles who run the city's hocker stalls have yet to master Texas
barbecue. As Lance travels the globe on his business circuit, sampling
the manifold deliciousnesses of Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Dubai, and Cairo,
there is a part of his mind that says, at all times: "Yes, that's lovely
-- but where's the beef?"
Last night, the beef was in the
hall, in the oven, and then on his plate, and though my eight roommates
and I dug into the stuff enthusiastically, there was a uniquely
beatific smile on Lance's face. It was the smile of homecoming.
Lick has been run by the same family for generations, in a
one-stoplight Texas town called Driftwood, about an hour south of
Austin. Austinites regularly make the pilgrimage. Lance moved to
Driftwood almost half a century ago, and he left not a decade later. But
he keeps going back. Some moneyed ex-Texans fly into Austin's airport,
visit the Salt Lick kiosk (Austin's airport offers concessions only to
local businesses), and then fly out again, sated. Lance never gets that
crazy. But when he's in the States for any kind of special occasion, he
calls the place up, and Fed Ex goes to work.
night, as the roommates talked and laughed and drank beer, Lance sat,
quiet and happy, gazing indistinctly at the wall. I watched him and thought: What's the Salt Lick equivalent for a Fort Lauderdale boy like
There's not much. When I was a kid, the most delicious meal
in town was a sandwich and ice cream at a place on Las Olas called the
Chemist Shoppe. The Chemist Shoppe was an atavistic endeavor even then
("then," in this case, being the late '80s and early '90s) -- a pharmacy
and random-goods store, full of walking sticks and umbrellas, clocks
and tchotchkes. There was a sandwich shop on a raised platform in back of
the place, and there they served something called the Tudor. This was a
hand-whipped ice cream concoction served in a tall, narrow glass. There
was vanilla ice cream in there and fudge and marshmallow sauce and
little nuggets of bittersweet chocolate. The key to its awesomeness was
in the hand-whipping, which gave the thing a thick, silky texture I've
never experienced elsewhere and that I haven't experienced at all in
almost two decades. The Chemist Shoppe closed in the mid-'90s and was
replaced by an aggressively orange store selling overpriced objets d'art.
there was Pomodoro, a high-end Italian joint next to a boot store on
Commercial Boulevard. I'm pretty sure Pomodoro's proprietors were the
first to bring thin-crust, brick-oven pizza to South Florida. The
handsome pizza maestro, who didn't speak English and didn't have to,
stood beside the oven at the front of the bar, kneading, flipping, and
charring the dough, filling the front of the house with miraculous
smells. On the menu was something called "Quattro Formagi" -- a pizza
that combined mozzarella, goat's cheese, and
I-can't-remember-which-other cheeses with a dusting of basil. At 9
years old, I was convinced it was the best pizza I'd ever eaten. And it
was still the best pizza in town until 2008. But the owners, whoever
they were, sucked at advertising, and people stopped coming. As diners
by the hundreds gobbled up inferior pies at California Pizza Kitchen just
a mile and a half away, Pomodoro was serving five, six tables a night. It closed quietly. I don't know exactly when.
There have been
other great dishes from other great cooks in South Florida, but save for
a few lucky and probably overrated meals that have become famous -- the
burger at Le Tub, Michele Bernstein's fried chicken -- most are gone
forever. I truly believe no one will ever understand what's cool about
SoFla until they try Kilmo's gumbo from the now-defunct Alligator Alley.
And the greatest dessert ever served in Fort Lauderdale was, I'm
convinced, the kaffir and lime-leaf flan from the now-defunct the Four
Rivers -- an avant-garde Thai place that was too weird for the Floridian
palate but that would have become world-famous in Greenwich Village.
pleased to have grown up in South Florida and even a little proud to
have been part of the first generation to have done so on a large scale.
(Most Floridians more than three or four years older than me grew up
someplace else.) But watching Lance eat last night, I wondered and
worried, not for the first time, if maybe I hadn't lost something by
growing up in a city without a memory, in a place with tastes as
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transient as its snowbirds.