Monday, August 9, 2010

Heating Up Hot Springs

McClard’s Barbecue
Hot Springs, Arkansas

Arkansans might not want to admit it but Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee have a lot in common besides hailing from the same state.

They both love big government and high taxes – and they’ve both had problems maintaining a healthy weight.

Why? Because with all the good food around, it’s doggone easy to get fat in Arkansas!

And the number-one food to chomp on is barbecue.

Unlike Texas where beef is what’s for dinner, and Carolina where “the other white meat” is slow smoked to light tan, Arkansas citizens have refused to allow themselves to be “boxed in” with culinary ‘cue restrictions.

Pork, beef, chicken, ribs, armadillo road kill. It doesn’t matter. Arkansans will smoke it and sauce it.

For all the reasons listed above, I was flat-out excited to visit McClard’s Barbecue in Hot Springs.

And as I got closer to the restaurant and smelled the smoke, so did my tummy.

First started in 1928, the barbecue joint has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s finest.

The walls are adorned with Arkansas heroes like Jerry Jones and politicians like Blanche Lincoln and Bill Clinton  -- who humorously has his photo placed right next to a framed Playboy Magazine review of McClard's.

Of course, sometimes such public recognition is a double-edged sword.

Many restaurants, after earning such a reputation, rest on their laurels and succumb to what I call “lame-creep” -- like rock bands that have only been around for five years and start releasing “greatest hits” albums.

Would this be the case with McClard’s? There’s only one way to find out.

I ordered the pulled pork plate with coleslaw and beans. Also, because I noticed a small number of Mexican-themed dishes on the menu, I went ahead and ordered a tamale.

To drink? Come on, this is barbecue! It HAS to be sweet tea.

But . . . “We only have unsweet.”
When the waitress told those mind-bending words, I reacted like she told me Rudy Giuliani was going to run for President again.

I was shocked, angry, worried, and disappointed.

No sweet tea?!?!?!

Was this not Arkansas? Did I step into a space-time continuum and somehow end up in Maine?

I ordered a Coke and wrote the beginning of a scathing review on the typewriter in my head.

But it turns out, McClard’s normally unforgivable sin of failing to provide their customers with sweet tea is because they don’t do sweet.

They do HEAT.

And they’re not shy about it. They have one type of sauce and it’s spicy.

They pour it all over the meat and dare you add more.

Turns out, while tomato-based, it’s very similar to a Carolina-style sauce flavor-wise. It’s vinegary, salty, spicy and whoever was in charge of the sugar container must have taken it out back and run it over like an armadillo.

The beans were also top-of-the-line. Again, they weren’t sweet like typical baked beans. They had an infusion of Mexican spices that actually worked very well with the barbecue.

The coleslaw was probably the sweetest thing on the plate.

The hottest was the tamale. Beef and heat filled, the tamale had me downing my second Coke before I got too full to finish all my food.

In total, my bill was about $15, but I increased my tab by making a rookie mistake.

Briefly forgetting I was living in America, I ordered a bottle of barbecue sauce.

Barbecue sauce, of course, is a liquid.

And our heroes in the TSA frown on such things because it’s a well-documented fact radical Islamofascists plan to use liquid to force the entire world under Sharia law.

Don’t laugh. Those Muslims are bloodthirsty.

They probably have their camels pointed at us right now.

Hoping for legendary government incompetence, I decided to risk it and take my sauce through security instead of paying $25 to check my bag.

The sauce was great, but I wasn’t paying $25 to keep it.

Unfortunately, I got the “extremely serious” version of the TSA screeners, instead of the lazy slacker I was so hoping for.

My TSA screener was the forehead-vein bulging white guy who is probably ex-military and is still in denial about his lawless punk Uncle Sam still being "basically a good person."

Well, I hope his wife gives him an extra pat on the back when he gets home because he found my sauce.

Not only that, but he smiled with self-satisfaction as he confiscated and trashed it -- no doubt believing in his heart he truly EARNED that day’s pay.

I played dumb like I forgot it was in there and sarcastically thanked this dedicated public servant for his proud service to our Great Nation.

The TSA agent actually thought I was serious and nearly teared up with appreciation.

But in reality, thanks is the last thing I feel as a I watch TSA agents play their part in chucking everything that once made this country great in the trash bin -- along with my bottle of McClard’s Barbecue Sauce.

Rating: Bought the Shirt.

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