Labor Day weekend and a girl’s fancy turns to……pork ribs. And not just pork ribs, how about perfectly tart cole slaw, corn bread and honey, baked beans, grilled vegetables and peach pies with lattice tops–pies so full of farmer’s market Sweet Sue’s that you strain to carry the dish? Now we’re talking.
I’ve been a rib lover since I was three years old. Despite my allegiance to more healthful foods, I crave ribs at least once a year. It is my tried and true comfort food. I know good ribs from mediocre. According to my dad, I loved ribs so much that my folks put me in the bathtub to eat them. You could say I really got into the experience. Sauce in my hair, sauce on my face, ears, clothes….apparently the bathtub was the only alternative until I was old enough to clean myself up.
So when I planned a summer party with ribs on the menu, I had to suss out the best that Portland had to offer. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. The catering department of an outfit in town (who shall remain nameless) was doing everything else right, but their ribs were definitely second rate: heck, they weren’t even ribs! They were little hors d’ oeuvresy things: baked in the oven instead of smoked, smothered in a sticky sweet sauce and over seasoned. And where was the delectable meat falling off the bone? Bird bones was more like it. It was time to find a smoked rib purist, somebody steeped in the culinary art form.
On the trail of the holy grail of summer, we started out with the farmer’s market. The verdict: ribs done in a real smoker? Yes. Local meat? Surprisingly, no, and with a rub that was too aggressive for my taste. Also the meat was dry. After that we checked out the online reviews and tried three other well-known places in town. All disappointing. A great spot in NE didn’t deliver or do large orders, so that was a no go. Time was running out.
Then we discovered SlabTown Ribs and BBQ, a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint at 2606 NW Vaughn. Hard to miss it —the smoker out front is the size of a rail car and just as grungy, the way a smoker ought to be. Inside you can check out the awards and trophies lining the walls while you figure out whether to go with the brisket, the pork ribs or something else on the menu. And sauces?
The staff will offer you one of three sauces: Kansas City Classic, Texas Hot, or Carolina Style Mustard, but like me, you may figure out that the meat is so fall-off-the-bone tender and the flavor so succulently smoky, that you don’t even need the sauce.
The morning after the garden party, I came downstairs to raid the refrigerator still wearing my white cotton nightgown. What is better than ribs and peach pie for breakfast? Only roasted turkey, gravy, and stuffing sandwiches the morning after Thanksgiving has the same cachet.
I pigged out. I gobbled up three ribs and two pieces of peach pie before feeling completely decadent and satisfied. Then I noticed the fallout: my perfect glossy red manicure covered over with sauce, sauce on my chin, cheeks, and unfortunately, all over my white cotton nighty. I looked like an extra from Dracula.
It occurred to me to call Dad to tell him about the successful party, but should I tell him about the fiasco unleashed all over my face and nightgown? Besides I already knew the answer. He’d just say: Susie, my girl, why didn’t you have your breakfast in the bathtub?