On Mortality & Barbecue

1. A few days ago, searching for something else, I came across this ad in the pages of the Cleveland Call and Post newspaper: Hot Sauce Williams — “The King of Barbecue Men”!

hot sauce williams photo

Hot Sauce Williams, it turns out, had lots of ads in that paper in those days. I’m sure his meat and his sauce were really something.

2. Tonight a dear friend broke to me bad news: what may have been my favorite barbecue restaurant on the planet — Allen & Son Barbecue, just outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina — has now closed its doors forever. I grew up on Alabama barbecue, and for a long time I refused to believe any other barbecues might be better.

Allen & Son — may it rest forever in peace — made me rethink everything.

3. Back in Alabama, in the town of Nauvoo, my other favorite barbecue place shut its doors several years ago — another awful, sad shock. The Slick Lizzard Smokehouse was the last vestige of a dead town, which had also been called (sometimes with two z’s, sometimes with one) Slick Lizard. It was an old mining town, and it got its name from the way the miners looked when they crawled up out of the ground, all black and wet and inhuman. The restaurant served good food, and its walls were covered with old photos and news clippings documenting the history of the town. There were sawmill blades on the wall, painted with pastoral scenes, and the waitresses brought you sweet tea in big mason jars. As with Allen & Son, I have many happy memories in that place.

They had a memorable slogan, too: “Fill Your Gizzard At Slick Lizzard.”

And now, alas, that place is gone — the last place there ever was that bore the Slick Liz(z)ard name.

It’s no small loss.

4. Be careful, of course: keep one eye on your health, so you can last as long as you can.

But in the meantime, be sure you enjoy your favorite barbecue joints, as often as you’re able. Because one day — very suddenly, and maybe soon — they won’t be here.

5. A long time ago, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a poem called “Ozymandias.” For many years, if you don’t know, Percy was really, really famous, way more famous than his wife Mary. But — once, on vacation, as a kind of a bet — Mary Shelley wrote a story that turned into Frankenstein. And now (for now), everybody but English majors remembers her, and not him.   

It’s a good poem, though, “Ozymandias,” about the fallen ancient statue of a once great king. As I thought tonight of Hot Sauce Williams, the King of Barbecue Men — and as I mourned the fall of Allen & Son, and relived in memory the day I drove up, hungry, on the Slick Lizzard Smokehouse, and first discovered it gone — Percy Shelley’s fourteen lines came to my aching mind. 

This is how that poem goes:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

6. Right now in Birmingham there’s a place called Saw’s Soul Kitchen. I can’t imagine life without it; as far as I’m concerned, nothing beside remains.

Look on it, ye Mighty, and despair.



Version 2

4 thoughts on “On Mortality & Barbecue

  1. Weave a circle round him twice, and lift your eyes in joy and dread, for he on barbecue hath fed, and ate the sauce of paradise.

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  2. A wonderful salute to barbecue! I am stopping by “The Smokehouse” in Wetumpka today for “take out” to share with friends tonight at our beloved Homestead on Lake Jordan, in Slapout Alabama. May The Smokehouse keep their fires going!

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