While spending last week in Reno and Sparks, which are basically the same place except Sparks has prettier street signs, I got a hankering for some good barbeque. (For the uninitiated, "hankering" is a technical culinary term utilized by BBQ connoisseurs to indicate a "strong epicurean desire.")
My first mistake was employing a 21st century solution to a 19th century problem.
The proper protocol in attempting to locate a provider of this uniquely American delicacy is to ask a sizeable sampling of the local citizenry "where can I find some good barbeque?"
It has to be this way, because "foodies" who run most of the recognized guides to restaurants and eating establishments are a snooty, uppity bunch. They refuse to acknowledge that barbeque qualifies as one of the basic food groups, and accordingly fail to include in Michelin's and Zagats the tumbledown roadside greasepots that always provide the absolute best offerings of sauce-slathered pork, chicken and brisket.
I don't know a lot about Reno, other than it seems to be locked in an epic daily struggle to undo the handiwork of their larger southern counterpart. Las Vegas is known as the place for speedy marriages performed by Elvis impersonators and elegant transvestites like Sister Love (who, incidentally, was the man/woman who administered the "I do's" when my wife and I tied the knot 12 years ago, and it seems to have stuck). Reno is the home of quickie divorces. According to recent uncoupling statistics, Vegas is still winning the race, but Reno seems to be catching up.
Because I don't know anyone in "America's Biggest Little City," I didn't have anyone to ask about the nearest barbeque joint. So we did what more and more people are doing when they don't have a carbon-based human friend: we got online.
In this instance, we fired up the Garmin GPS my wife bought me last year. Unfortunately, because the thing is barely more than 12 months old, it's about as accurate as an old telephone book that still lists phone numbers with letters, like "WEstmore 9-2745" (which was my family's phone number, 939-2745, when I was a kid. Yes, I'm THAT old.)
After plugging "Barbeque" into its little electronic question and answer session, it identified a couple of barbeque joints that were within five miles. The Garmin directed us to take the interstate, then an exit onto a major highway, then onto a smaller street, turning onto a dirt road or two, across three backyards, and finally arriving at a strip shopping center about 800 feet from where we started. Of course, when we got there, the purported BBQ place was now a dress shop for out-of-work transvestite ministers. Or maybe it was a Gap. I often confuse the two.
Like voters who just can't be misled enough, we checked the Garmin again for the next place on the list.
Two interstates, a dry creekbed, and four private driveways later (or about another 800 feet from where we started), we arrived at a building that looked exactly like your quintessential barbeque stand. It had a garish yellow paint job administered by someone with a surplus of Krylon, oversized exhaust apertures on the roof, and hand-lettered signage on the windows done in white shoe polish.
Unfortunately, instead of a barbeque joint, the eatery was called "JimBoy's Tacos."
Let that sink in.
Aside from the fact that we weren't going to get any barbeque, I was struck by the incongruity of the name.
"What's next?" I asked my wife. "Billy Bob's Chinese Food? Ricky Joe's Pizza? Big Bertha's Kosher Deli?"
We ended up at a nearby Sizzler, which is about as close to barbeque as a fish taco is to imported seafood.
Apparently, the good people of RenoSparks aren't supporting their barbeque community, and the eateries are going out of business.
It's a shame, because there are some hungers that simply can't be satisfied by a McRib sandwich or a $60 salad from Wolfgang Puck's.
So my advice to travelers is this: No matter where you're heading, seek out and support any food establishment that features this dying culinary art form.
Otherwise, we'll have nobody to blame but ourselves when the health food nuts finally manage to whittle our roadside options down to a string of Soylent Green drive-thrus.