Barbecue So Good It Made Me Cry
I find myself on a road-trip from Los Angeles, California to St. Louis, Missouri. Long story. It wouldn’t be a trip through Arizona, though, without a stop in Williams, Arizona. The Gateway to the Grand Canyon, Williams is an absolute MUST as a stop along Highway 40, about thirty miles outside of Flagstaff.
There are ample reasons for a stopover and/or a stay in Williams, Arizona. It’s a genuine small town, but it serves a highly-traveled tourist route, so there’s a LOT of motels, shops, and restaurants. It’s a place that celebrates its position along the old Route 66, so it’s packed with history and personality. All of these things are reasons alone, but the food is something spectacular.
While there are a couple of sub-par “purely for the tourists” spots, there’s a restaurant that I never fail to stop at when I’m here. I’m talking, of course, about the famous Rod’s Steak House. I’ve been visiting Rod’s since I was seven years old, and I’ve never had anything but an incredible steak there. They have their own ranch where they raise their own cattle, and that brings a unique level of quality. I LOVE Rod’s steak house.
On this particular trip, however, they callously stabbed me in the back.
So, that was it, I figured. I would have to simply go to one of the other places in Williams, of which there are plenty, and have something other than the incredible $10.00 Rib Eye Steak lunch special, with a steak so tender and so perfectly seasoned and prepared that it practically liquefied on the tongue…
My traveling companion (my friend Lisa) did some internet searching, and found us another place to eat. She had to call and make reservations to “make sure we could get ribs.” That, right there, caught my attention.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys, girls, and children of all ages; if ever you find yourself in the state of Arizona, and you are blessed with the opportunity to be within driving distance of Williams on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, you will be doing your very soul and injustice if you do not visit the Singing Pig BBQ Restaurant.
Oh. My. Goodness.
We got our reservation and arrived a little early. It’s the off-season, so nothing here in Williams is busy. The Singing Pig looked like a little hole in the wall Barbecue place, which was fine. I’ve had a lot of good barbecue in little holes in the wall. Then I noticed something; there was a rough-hewn wooden bench on the outside of the building; a bench that ran the whole length of the block. How many people does this place serve in the peak season?
Inside, a single long table and a window into the kitchen. Nice, small, cozy… but wait. There on the white-board, it mentioned seating in the kitchen, the saloon, or the theater. Was there more to the Singing Pig than met the eye? Then another item on the white board caught my attention. They were having a special on Pig Balls.
We were seated in the Saloon… a little hallway in the back of the little entrance took us into a well-equipped, folksy, country-and-western bar. Now, that’s not the kind of place that I usually frequent; I’m not a big fan of country-and-western music or loud bars. This one, though, was homey and welcoming. On a cold night, it was warm and inviting and I got a little tingle.
I was in one of THOSE places. I was in one of those places that only a very few people know about. Oh yes… I was someplace special.
Lisa and I looked over the menu, and it was fairly simple. Barbecue ribs, chicken, burgers, pulled pork, and french fries. A few other little options. Nice and clean, nothing fancy. Lisa and I opted for the rack of ribs, as I’ve never had a barbecue chicken that wasn’t dry or tough or simply overcooked. The waitress assured me that the chef had chicken down, though. I’m not going to turn down an assurance like that; we got the ribs and chicken dinner, and started with a small order of Pig Balls.
Oh. My. Goodness.
The Pig Balls turned out to be beef and pork meatballs, deep-fried and drizzled with the house’s home-made barbecue sauce, and served with french fries. Crispy. Meaty. Juicy. The sauce had that smoky/sweet/spicey mix that you only get when someone knows what they’re doing. The Pig Balls didn’t last long.
The meal itself arrived, and something inside of me snapped. I need to digress for a moment, please bear with me.
We lost my father three years ago this month; I’ve shared a bit about that here. My dad was a man of his appetites; he was legendary for his love of food. We once drove eight hours to go to a hole in the wall rib joint in Illinois and then drove right back. Dad was like that. There wasn’t much he loved more than a rack of ribs, juicy, well-sauced, properly seasoned, and melt-off-the-bone tender.
Back to my experience at the Singing Pig; I got a chunk of chicken on my fork, and bit. For a minute, all that I had in my head was the phrase “Shut my MOUTH.” I couldn’t say it out loud, however, because my mouth was full of chicken. Juicy, succulent, amazing barbecued chicken. I’ve never had anything like it; it was RIGHT. I’ve eaten a lot of very close attempts at barbecue chicken from a lot of big, fancy chain restaurants and little holes in the wall alike. Chicken is a cruel mistress when you’re doing barbecue; it’s all too easy to let it go a moment too long, to turn away at just the wrong second. This chicken? The Singing Pig’s chicken? DAMN. There, I said it. DAMN. It was like grading a hundred tests, and seeing a lot of people get D’s, C’s, and the rare B’s, but never an A… and I finally found the A. They nailed it.
I was good, at that point. Between the Pig Balls and the Barbecue Chicken, I was happy. Then, I grabbed a rib. It pulled off of the rack without a touch of resistance; it was so tender that the only thing holding the meat on the bone was gravity. The babyback rib melted in my mouth, and it was GLORIOUS.
I transformed in that moment… I wasn’t merely Scott Corum, but Scott, Son of Bill. I fully channeled my father as I devoured the majority of the rack; it’s a good thing that Lisa was quick enough to get a few ribs for herself and pull her hands out of my way. I haven’t eaten that much food in a long time, but I could not stop. I literally could not stop eating those ribs as long as there were ribs on that plate. I almost ignored the other two items there.
There was another order of the french fries; hot and crisp and the perfect edible napkin to capture the sauce that I was flinging around. Then, there was the coleslaw.
It was NOT normal coleslaw; when I actually started to tire of eating the ribs, I had a fork-full of the wonderful stuff. The slaw sauce was tangy and had a clean, burning bite to it; it cleansed my palate perfectly and sent me back in to the ribs. I’m going to dream about that coleslaw.
I mentioned to our hostess, Kathi, that this was some of the best barbecue that I’d ever eaten, and that the chicken was, bar-none, the absolute best. She sent out the chef, Kevin. It wasn’t the first time that I’ve met a great chef and discussed food and my enjoyment of it, but it was the first time that I bonded with a chef.
Lisa snapped the pic, and I had to share. Kevin, along with Kathi, are the hosts of the Singing Pig. I couldn’t get him to share how he kept the chicken so amazingly moist; I’ll just have to keep coming back to see if I can figure it out for myself.
We were already in an indulgent state; we finished our meal by splitting a deep-fried Twinkie, which was also done precisely right.
On our way out, since we left past the kitchen, Kevin gave us a sample of his pulled pork. Just a little bit, in a paper cup with a plastic fork. Now, while I’m a somewhat prideful man, I will freely admit that the pulled pork was the last straw; I cried.
My dad cared about food like this. My dad enjoyed food more than most people I know, and I’ve inherited quite a bit of that. The incredible pulled pork (cooked for 14 hours) hit home hard; this was a place that my dad would have dearly loved. It would have been like a second home to him, a place that he’d absolutely have to go to every so often.
That’s what it’s like to me, now.
The Singing Pig is open three days a week, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. You’d best call and make a reservation when you go, ’cause when they’re out of food, they’re out. They’ll turn away a hundred people a night, but that’s the way it is. It’s a place where they make food because they WANT to, not because they HAVE to. It’s not just about a love of food, it’s about a love of doing it right.
Yes, you want to go. If you do, tell them that Scott, that crazy guy who cried over the pulled pork, sent you.