BBQ Ribs are my Favorite

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Today is Father’s Day of 2014 and we are going to one of my daughter’s apartments for a BBQ. This got me thinking about my favorite BBQ food, spare ribs.  Since nostalgia is a big part of our book and this blog, I will take this opportunity to share how even a food can be fraught with memories.

Who doesn’t like really good BBQ baby back ribs? Well I am no exception. From the time I was able to eat solid food I think they have been my favorite main dish. Add some good baked beans and coleslaw and I can imagine what heaven is like. Now that I’m sixty and watching my boyish figure, I can’t indulge as often as I would like. When I do, they had better be good. While I know a few great places in Chicago, so far we haven’t found any to compare in central Ohio.

Outside of going to a restaurant, lately I have been working on my own recipes. Since one of my current projects is a cook book, my rib recipe will have to be close to the rib perfection experienced as a child.

My first and probably best boyhood rib experiences were in my home town of Oak Lawn, Illinois. The Branding Iron Restaurant had a nice dining room with white cloth table cloths. I know they had a full menu, but they also had some of the best ribs in the Chicago area. As you walked up to the building, you could smell the intoxicating aroma of wood burning and charring meat. As a child the irony was lost on me. I had no idea that Oak Lawn was an all white community. However, in the glass kitchen there were always four or five Afro-American men who worked continuously on the ribs. I believe that they were the reason those ribs were so good. They knew the secret. I have often tried to imagine how, with all of the horrors of slavery, something so good was created. At times, I would stand with my nose up to the glass, trying to figure out the method. They would flip racks of ribs from level to level at just the right time, continually basting the upper levels with their wonderful sauce. When an order came in the next ribs in line would be dropped on a plate and handed out of the smoky area to the less skilled kitchen personnel. They had it down to a science. The results were never disappointing.

The Branding Iron was more than just a restaurant. I mean that literally and figuratively. It was literally more because in the same building was the Branding Iron bowling alley. The restaurant was far enough apart that you couldn’t hear the pins being knocked down. Figuratively, the restaurant was more than just a restaurant by being an integral part of my youth. Every birthday between the ages of eight and fifteen my parents gave me a choice between a party with my friends or a day with them, doing my favorite activities. I think I had one party with friends. The rest of those years my celebration would start with swimming in one of the downtown Chicago Hotel pools (my birthday is March 25th). My dad was more than willing to pay the small fee for the afternoon swim. Then we would return to Oak Lawn and the Branding Iron. Dad and I would bowl and mom would watch and encourage. The final part of the celebration was, you guessed it. We were all starving by that time. Those were the best ribs of my life.

The other memory of the Branding Iron occurred during; I believe it was, the summer of my twelfth year. In an effort to stimulate off season bowling the Branding Iron Lanes had a promotion. You could buy a card that allowed you to bowl one game a week at the ridiculous price of ten cents. My best friend Tim and I were all over that. Every week like clockwork, we rode our bikes through the suburban side streets about a mile and a half. We walked across the busy 95th street, parked our bikes, and walked into the usually empty bowling alley. We played our one game, unless our moms financed a second game at the regular price of seventy-five cents. Then we wandered over to the restaurant side and ordered a drink. I think I forgot to mention, whenever you sat down, the waitress would bring out the most delicious bowl of freshly made doughnut holes, sprinkled with powdered sugar. After we finished our drinks and every last doughnut hole, we headed home, very pleased with ourselves. It may be a little late, but I sincerely wish to apologize to all of the waitresses we stiffed that summer. Our parents never taught us to tip, and our piggy banks wouldn’t allow it anyway.

Fall 2013 104

One of my rib experiments on my Webber Grill

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