“Play hard, eat well and don’t forget to share.” As we gazed around the highly electronic room—lots of televisions and other kinds of diversions—at the new Lee Roy Selmon’s in Bradenton, the slogan seemed perfect. The restaurant is a division of the burgeoning Outback Steakhouse restaurant group; and in contrast to my reaction to most chain restaurants, I look forward to more meals at Lee Roy Selmon’s.
This came as a bit of a surprise. Confession: I’ve never been that keen on barbecue. There are too many uncertainties. Utensils never get to the juiciest parts of ribs or chicken, but should I really pick up a rib with my fingers? Then there’s the sauce issue. I swear there are more barbecue styles than classic French sauces. But barbecue is suddesnly popping up at roadside stands and at parties in Sarasota’s best back yards, and I have to admit I loved what I tasted at Lee Roy Selmon’s.
Lee Roy’s is the latest in a long history of barbecue joints originating in the southern United States, where grinning pigs are a roadside staple. There are conflicting theories, but the most plausible origin for barbecue is traceable to a West Indian term, barbacoa, which denotes a method of slow-cooking meat over hot coals. Barbacoa became “barbecue” in the lexicon of early settlers. Hogs hugely outnumbered cows in the South, thus barbecue became associated with pork—unless you’re from Texas, but that’s a different story.
How did Lee Roy Selmon, who was the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer to be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame and who was raised on a farm in Eufaula, Okla., become a barbecue expert? His mother, Jesse Selmon, is credited for all of the Selmon recipes, and who cares if she really does make quintessential fried green tomatoes? The tomatoes are firm and flavorful and hold up under the batter and fryer. And her horseradish sauce is ideal for spicing things up.
Smokin’ quesadillas are another good choice. Select your favorite barbecue meat—pulled pork or chicken—or have both, which was my choice, of course. The meat is spread on a tortilla along with onions, mushrooms and cheese, and grilled. It’s served with a sour cream liberally infused with barbecue sauce and was a huge hit at our table, where we were following the slogan by sharing.
Of course, Selmon’s has wings, but with ribs, pulled pork and pecan pie already part of my dinner order, I knew I’d have a hefty price to pay at the gym for the next six weeks. So you discover them for yourself. Appetizers are in the $6-$10 range.
The chopped salad includes several kinds of lettuce, red peppers, corn, tomatoes, Monterey Jack cheese, bacon, chicken, and probably more that I’m missing. All are tossed with honey mustard dressing and on top, crunchy fried potato “sticks,” a take on the fried onion rings you can buy in a can. I mean it as a compliment when I say that you could find this salad at a church supper. There are other salads, too, like citrus shrimp, smoked chicken and the usual iterations of Caesars. Salads are large and easily can be shared or taken as a righteous dinner, most priced around $10.
Ribs, slow-smoked using hickory wood, are billed as “St. Louis-style” pork ribs. St. Louis-style ribs are also called spare ribs. Technically, what that means is that in carving the ribs, the chine bone and the brisket bones are removed from the bottom of the rib rack. That’s just a little piece of rib trivia you can quote while taking a breath from inhaling the ribs. And inhale them you will—the meat is that good.
Chicken is smoked, then grilled in the barbecue sauce; the result is chicken so tender you can cut it with a fork. Finally, I loved the pulled pork, a staple of Memphis-style barbecue. The pork is smoked for 12 hours, and it’s sweet and infused with that lovely, smoky flavor from the hickory. And the Memphis-style sauce, molasses-based, is fabulous with the chicken.
Selmon’s does steak, too. You can have it smothered in gravy with grilled onions, or prepared in their proprietary way—grilled and topped off with Parmesan garlic butter.
I would skip the steak and go for the killer meat loaf. It’s another Mama Selmon recipe, a blend of ground pork and beef with chopped green peppers and onions in the mix. It’s baked and then grilled with a light brush of the Kansas City sauce—excellent.
The twisted Southern chicken is also a winner. Chicken breasts on top of mashed potatoes are topped with creamed corn (there’s a hint of bacon and maple flavoring there), along with cheese and sour cream. Think of a nacho on steroids.
Entrées run from $9 to $19 and arrive with your choice of side dishes. The cheese and bacon grits were so rich I had to reluctantly push them away. Apple-jack coleslaw adds the crunchiness of fresh apples to the cabbage mix to bring a different, tart taste to the mix.
If you can find the room, several desserts beckon. The pecan pie, which I did save some appetite for, was the only disappointment of the night. It’s served with ice cream and praline sauce, which is overkill on this űber-sweet pie. Other desserts, all in the $4-$6 range, include bread pudding and peach cobbler.
This is the sixth Lee Roy Selmon’s to open in Florida, with a seventh planned for Fort Myers. Lunch is another option, with burgers, barbecue sandwiches and a kids’ menu to tempt all comers.
LEE ROY SELMON'S
8253 Cooper Creek Blvd., Bradenton
Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Friday 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Saturday 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Sunday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Parking in shopping center lot
All credit cards
Bringing Home the Barbecue
Nancy Krohngold delights in pointing out the irony of “a nice Jewish girl being so involved with pork.” With a grin, she adds, “Of course, I was raised Reform.” Krohngold is not only involved with pork; she may be a contender for the very best barbecued pork on the planet. And it’s only available in fine homes locally. Nancy’s Hickory Smoked Bar-B-Q is a catered product.
What a fabulous idea! When a friend turned me on to Krohngold, I had doubts, but the idea took traction. Why reserve catering for fancy little cocktail soirees and sit-down dinner parties? To do barbecue correctly takes oodles of time—deciding on the type and the sauce, gathering special wood, stoking fires, slow cooking and making appropriate side dishes. Much better to let someone else undertake the endless details.
Krohngold’s pork is spectacular. She calls it “North Carolina-style” and starts with a dry rub. The pork shoulder (the cut is a “Boston butt”) is coated with the rub and slow-cooked for at least a half day. Krohngold can pull the meat for you, but prefers to deliver it whole, along with the utensils to pull the meat yourself. This is a seamless process; the meat literally falls off, and it’s difficult to describe just how delicious it is—smoky, a touch of sweetness, a bite, tender and chewy. There’s that delectable coating from the dry rub, too. Barbecue aficionados call it the “bark.” The sauce is thick and rich and would suffice for me, but Krohngold provides a “finishing sauce” that can really heat things up.
Chicken is also a specialty, and it’s sweet with stealth spiciness. Mainly, it’s tender and satisfying in a way that only slower cooking can achieve, because it doesn’t dry things out.
Side dishes are inventive yet traditional. Nancy’s coleslaw is refreshingly wholesome. Shredded cabbage and carrots are the main ingredients, and it’s lightly dressed. The most creative side is the edamame succotash, a terrific takeoff on a traditional dish. The soy (edamame) beans are firm and subtly flavored, well suited for the sweet corn. The beans maintain their structure even though the dish becomes creamy. I loved it so much that I ate it for breakfast the next morning.
Another favorite is the cheesy, creamy potatoes au gratin. The sweetness of the dish balances the heat of the barbecue well. I looked to the baked beans doyen, my husband Jack, for an evaluation of Nancy’s beans, and got a grin and a thumbs up.
Also included in our catering box were rolls to make sandwiches, sweet bread and butter pickles, wipe-ups and the equivalent of a mini-history of Southern barbecue staples. This was displayed on a menu board that Krohngold creates (she’s also a graphic designer) to place with the food. The history is fascinating and created lively conversation throughout our dinner, mainly surrounding other great barbecue experiences and the differences between regional sauces and methods of cooking. It was one of my best dinner parties ever, and all I did was meet Krohngold in a parking lot off of I-75 to load the food in the truck.
There is an a la carte menu and also several different packages; for instance, a barbecue “crate” for 12 is $170. The package we experienced, a “box” for four, runs around $45.
NANCY'S HOCKORY SMOKED BAR-B-Q
48 hours advance notice
Free delivery to residential addresses west of the Trail from University Parkway to Siesta Drive and downtown west of U.S. 301 from Fruitville Road to Bayfront Drive. There’s a $10 delivery charge for other areas.
What I’m Drinking
Rick Lewis is owner of Sarasota’s Capital Investments Management, a jazz trumpet player and all-around beer enthusiast. “I love the taste of beer and the various complexities,” he says. “Much of what I drink depends on the kind of mood I’m in or what I’m doing. And I usually try to match the beer to the food.”
Since barbecue and beer are indelible partners, we asked Lewis what he’d pair with barbecued meats. “Something light, like chicken, calls for a lighter beer like Corona,” he says. “For pork, I’d like something like a Bitburger, and for a steak, something with more hops in the brew, like a Sam Adams.” And if you go for an Asian, teriyaki-like sauce, he suggests “a Japanese beer, and for me that would be Kirin.”
When he travels, he always tries beers local microbrewers. “I love Fat Tire, a microbrew out of Colorado,” he says. “It’s an ale, which is a very distinctive breed of beer.”
He also enjoys the oldest beer in the U.S.A.—Yuengling, a lager that’s made in Philadelphia. “Erhdinger is my very favorite wheat beer and it’s non-filtered—very hearty and filling,” he adds. “The trend is to top wheat beers with a slice of lemon or orange. Pilsners are interesting, too. I’d say try a Stella Artois on tap—great stuff.”
Lewis holds a spot on the wall at Shakespeare’s on Osprey Avenue for drinking one each of the pub’s 90 beers from around the world. “Quite frankly,” he confides, “I didn’t know there was so much bad beer around the world.”
Memories of Nana
My grandmother inspired me to become a restaurateur.
When I was growing up in Connecticut, my family occasionally went out to dinner. We dined at Vito’s in Vernon for veal Parmesan and enjoyed Sunday night dinners at Song Hayes’ Chinese Restaurant in Hartford. But it was my Nana, Pauline Kopper, who really introduced me to the world of restaurants.
I still remember how captivated I was when she took me to the automat in New York City. For mere quarters, you would open a little glass door where piping hot macaroni and cheese awaited, along with what seemed like endless shelves of sliced pies, cakes and jello, cut into cubes of various colors with whipped cream piped on top.
There were other discoveries with Nana, like the Broadway Diner, where we consumed boiled chicken and little side dishes of French fries and corn (the only vegetables I liked in those days). It never ceased to amaze me how many choices were offered. I could have a grilled cheese and side of potato salad while Nana had a piece of broiled fish and baked potato. Or she could eat cream of tomato soup as her appetizer while I enjoyed a half grapefruit with a maraschino cherry.
It was the endless flow that really grabbed me, though: the waiting lines to the outer door, the owner seated by the cash register, ringing numbers and conducting endless exchanges of dollar bills. I knew this was the place for me. If I could make 25 cents selling my lemonade-grape juice combo to the mail carrier, I could certainly tweak a few recipes from the Easy Bake oven file and become an entrepreneur. Of course, in those days there were not restaurant consultants like me to say, “Stop! Don’t do it—too many hours, too much work for too little profit!”
So in 1984, I opened my first restaurant in Gloucester, Mass. The Main Street Café was a tiny spot, with seating for 42 and a wonderful screen door that let the aromas waft down the sidewalk, calling hungry bankers and lawyers at every corner. There were many exciting moments—the first dollar bill, the first good review, the first time we broke even—but nothing more monumental and meaningful than the day Nana came from Yonkers, N.Y.
We were actually closed that day, a Sunday, and I had invited my family for brunch. I was busy in the kitchen, preparing Aunt Helen’s recipe for blintz casserole, corned beef hash like Mom used to make, the infamous Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin recipe that was kept under lock and key in my family, and strawberry shortcake because my sister Hilary loved whipped cream. But at some point, I peered out of the kitchen and, to my dismay, did not see my little Nana anywhere. Mom pointed to the screen door, through which I could see Nana sitting on a park bench. As I approached, I saw she was wiping away tears with her embroidered handkerchief.
“Nana,” I cried, “don’t you like my restaurant?”
“My sweet Judi,” she replied. “I love your restaurant. I was just remembering our times when you were so little and you would come to Yonkers and say, ‘Nana, let’s play restaurant.’”
Then she smiled and reminded me that I always wanted to be the one to take the money.
For more from Judi Gallagher about Sarasota food and dining, go to her blog, Foodie's Notebook, on our Web site: sarasotamagazine.com.
Chef Judi Gallagher uses fresh basil to make a versatile pesto sauce.
Enjoyed for its trace of mint and clove with a mild peppery flavor, basil is one of the most popular herbs. It thrives in heat and sunshine, making it easy to grow in Florida lanais or back yards. This fragrant herb has a slight sedative action, making it a homeopathic remedy for anxiety, headaches and digestive problems.
Basil leaves proliferate when you pinch some off; you can use them to infuse olive oils and vinegars as well as to season food. Once cut from the plant, basil leaves should be used immediately, although you can freeze them once they’re washed and patted dry.
Basil is the perfect partner for fresh garlic and an elegant, light flavor enhancer for pizza, pasta and eggs. A simple omelet of fresh mozzarella cheese, chopped tomatoes sautéed with garlic, olive oil, a dash of kosher salt and fresh chopped basil makes the perfect summer supper. Or whip up a batch of pesto, that classic sauce of garlic, cheese, pine nuts, basil and olive oil, to serve with pasta, over fresh tomatoes or even as an accompaniment to fish.
Pesto freezes well. Prepare and store in ice cube trays up to six months. This allows you to use only the quantity desired for each recipe. For best freezing results, omit the cheese and add to the thawed sauce before using.
If you are using pesto with pasta, add a small amount of the pasta water to the basil, which enables the cheese to melt and coat the pasta.
3 large cloves garlic
½ cup pine nuts
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
Approximately 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil*
(*the key here is high-quality, first-pressed olive oil)
Turn the food processor on and gently drop in the garlic. Stop the motor, scraping the sides if needed. Add the pine nuts, cheese and salt and pepper. Blend slightly. Add basil until finely chopped. Slowly add the oil while the food processor is still running; blend until mixed but not too smooth.