Cafe Society

Barbecue is international -- but at The Q Worldly Barbeque, North Carolina rules

Barbecue has a history and a long association with blues music and jazz music and roof-shakin', foot-stompin', Southern-tinted rock-and-roll music. It has a sweet Sunday side — all gospel hymns and stately women in enormous hats — as well as a dark-and-dirty Saturday-night side. At church picnics and in shotgun shacks that stank of cigarettes, stale beer, ripe sweat and original sin, barbecue was forked up and devoured by equal numbers of God-fearing Charlie Churchmice and white-lightning rummies, sucking bones and licking their fingers. And in both settings, there was music: growling guitar masterpieces about fun, fighting and fucking late on Saturday night, and Sunday hymns in praise of Jesus. Good barbecue — serious, secret, hoo-wee and slap-your-mama good — and good blues, jazz and Jesus music came up together in beautiful American harmony and synchronicity. For the one, all you needed was a pit, some sticks and a Zippo. For the other, a pawnshop guitar and something to howl about. And both the music and the meat were made for the same reason: to feel good for a little while after feeling bad all week long.

Barbecue has a history and a long association with immigration and multiculturalism. It is that most American of cuisines. It's what we've got — as homegrown as anything in our young and dwarfish republic. Stolen, sure (just like everything else is stolen), but ours because we have shouted loudest and longest that it is ours. But barbecue is also (of course) international, because barbecue is everywhere that there are men and meat and fire all together. An interesting sociology thesis paper could be written about the migration of barbecue to the States and from the States, about the barbecue that was carried here on the backs of a million Chinese and Thai and Filipino and Mexican and Argentine and Spanish and African and Indian immigrants, and then the American barbecue — all smoke and sex and longing — that was carried back across the borders and over the oceans.

For a lot of people in this country, the first Korean food they ever had was Korean barbecue (which isn't really barbecue at all), and that first sweet hit was like a gateway drug leading to the hard stuff later on — the kimchi and bulgogi and bi bim bop. Then it's on to Vietnamese barbecue and Mexican barbecued costillas off some gravel parking-lot grill, and the Chinese barbecued pork ribs that I always order every time I eat Chinese, sucking 'em down until my fingers are stained and I've got that candy-red sauce all gummed up in my hair like I was just on the receiving end of an all-clown gangbang.

The Q Worldly Barbeque understands all of this. It gets the vital intersection between proper 'cue and blues and jazz, and even though it's in the heart of Cherry Creek — just about the least sexy, passionate, sinful or dangerous neighborhood in this entire town — it does what it can: bringing the heat and noise, and sticking all manner of combos up on the little stage at the back of the bar five nights a week. And it gets that barbecue is an international thing, that there are other ways to enjoy your smoky pig bits than just naked, fresh out of the smoker and eaten while contemplating the weekend's evil and Sunday's sweet salvation. That's why it's called Worldly Barbeque.

But while I love the melting-pot history of barbecue, and even accept the PC urges of certain open-minded pit men and pig aficionados who want to give equal time to every barbecue tradition under the sun, I am a pork purist and a goddamn chest-out, finger-shaking snob when it comes to barbecue. Carolina smoked pig is the best there is, hands-down and argument over. More specifically, North Carolina pig. Even more specifically, pig in North Carolina tidewater sauce — all bittersweet vinegar and spice, thin as water, pungent as a face full of tear gas. It is the simplest of the historic sauces, the most bare, heavily regional and highly specific, coming up out of a dozen or two towns in eastern North Carolina. Tidewater sauce is not found in many places outside of that charmed stretch of coastline. But I found it at the Q.

At first glance, the Q doesn't look like much. David Pellegrin and Rebekah Donovan, who own Soleil Mediterranean Grill next door, opened it last year in a half-invisible subterranean location. Stairs lead down past the small deck and across the short cement patio into a dark space, smaller than it looks from the outside, with a dining room to the left and the stage, lounge and bar to the right. Even after a year in business, the sparsely decorated space seems new and unfinished, modern and (to a certain extent) soulless — like a starter house bought by a couple who blew their entire wad on the down payment and had nothing left for fixtures.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan