Thursday, August 16, 2012

Surviving “Down South” in Yankeeland

Ernie’s Bar-B-Q
1843 S. Federal Hwy.
Fort Lauderdale, FL

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I like to dish out advice on how to find kick-ass places to drink and eat.

I’ve gone to great lengths to share my knowledge of the tell-tale signs of great barbeque.

Messy wood pile out back. Hickory smoke billowing out of the chimney. Jacked up F-150s in the gravel parking lot. Bars on the windows. The part of town no respectable citizen would ever venture.

You know. The basic stuff.

But my trip to Ernie’s Bar-B-Q in Fort Lauderdale reminded me that sometimes it’s easier just to explain what NOT to do.

As in do NOT go to any “BBQ” joint that brags about its non-barbeque menu items.

Barbeque is grueling, hot, sweaty, hard work. If you are doing it right, you have no time to dedicate to fried chicken, catfish or tofu burgers.

Or conch chowder, for cripe’s sake.

Barbequing is a more than full time job.

That’s why I immediately knew I was in trouble when I pulled up to Ernie’s BBQ and saw “Conch Chowder” emblazoned in neon colors over the front entrance.

Of course the lack of any wood pile, chimney or smoke confirmed my fears.

So why the heck did I order the “BBQ” sandwich?

To test my theory, of course. All in the name of science.

The sandwich was enormous. Thin sliced pork piled high between two thick slices of Ernie’s famous “Bimini bread” – a soft, squooshy white bread with a slight touch of sugar in the crust.

On the side came a warm cup of Ernie’s famous BBQ sauce – the weirdest concoction I’ve ever graced my barbeque with.

Like barbeque salsa, it was chunky with onions, tomatoes and peppers. Sweet with a vinegary tang, I had to admit, I kinda liked it.

In a weird kind of way.

But, man, that “barbequed” pork needed that sauce like Joe Biden needs a teleprompter.

Bland and tasteless, the meat was like thin sliced pork lunch meat.

No trace of smoke -- of course.

Which brings me to my other NOT to do rule of barbeque joints: DO NOT EVER eat Northern barbeque.

It’s like finding a virgin in the town of Gainesville after a Gator victory.

There’s no such thing.

Now, I know what you are thinking.

Northern barbeque? In Fort Lauderdale?

If I went any further south, I’d be smoking butts with Fidel Castro.

Has Suit757 suddenly become geographically challenged?

No. Not at all.

Florida is kinda like the Southern Hemisphere. The further south you go, the further north you are.

When I think of Florida, I think of boiled peanuts, fried pickles and cheese grits. Where the state flag is patterned after the St. Andrew’s cross of the rebel flag.

Fort Lauderdale is NOT that Florida.

THAT Florida ends somewhere a few miles south of Micanopy, hundreds of miles north of here.

Fort Lauderdale is drug dealers, Brooklyn accents and high rises full of Jewish widows.


NOT the place to come for good barbeque.

Oh well. Chalk it up to yet another priceless bit of Suit757 wisdom confirmed.

Now, there is one important corollary to the “Avoid Multi-Tasking BBQ Joints” rule.

While you can always count on lousy barbeque at these places, sometimes the food item they are more famous for can be pretty good.

See my prior review of Callahan Barbeque in the northern tip (i.e. “Southern”) part of the state, where everybody in Nassau County forgoes the barbeque in favor of pretty decent fried chicken.

So I figured I better give Ernie’s world famous conch chowder a try.

The chowder also came with two more huge hunks of that Bimini bread.

Kind of like vegetable soup with some minced conch mixed in, the chowder had a nice zesty kick to it.

Of course I’d have preferred a slightly lower vegetable-to-seafood ratio.

And I’d have preferred to have a game on the flat screen up in the “Sports Bar.”

The downstairs of this 55 year old institution (I think that qualifies for historical landmark designation in Fort Lauderdale) had the atmosphere of a funeral home.

That’s why I followed the naked mermaid on the bright painted staircase up to the patio deck and “sports bar” upstairs.

Except, instead of showing the Mets – Braves game, the sound system and all the TVs were tuned to the Olympic Closing Ceremonies.

Wow. I can’t think of bigger waste of our public airwaves than that.

I’d rather undergo a lobotomy with no anesthesia than endure four hours of pompous British flag waving and the faggity-ass screechings of long forgotten 1980s British pop bands.

What the hell does this have to do with “sports” anyway?

I needed a beer bad.

Unfortunately, after I made the bartender rattle through a monotonous list of over a dozen of the Earth’s most boring, ubiquitous, mass produced beers, I dejectedly opted for my default Florida second choice beer – Yuengling.

Glad to see Ernie’s is doing its best to uphold Floridians’ reputation as THE WORST BEER DRINKERS IN THE WORLD!

Would it kill one of these Florida bar owners to stock one measly six pack of something remotely interesting?

I’m not asking for a gastropub beer list. Just one interesting microbrew would do.

Just one. I beg you.

I’m not going to be hanging around this dive long enough for more than a couple anyway.

I suppose the owner figures none of the heavily tattooed patrons at Ernie’s would drink that “fancy yuppie” beer.

He might have a point.

I haven’t seen this much ink since I worked on the production of my high school newspaper.

A trio of scary looking dudes unironically wearing fedoras looked like they just came directly off the set of “Oz”.

I guess the one guy ran out of neck space and decided to move on up to the temple and forehead for further decorating room.

If I had the confidence that I might get out of Ernie’s alive, I might have mustered the courage to ask my bartender to change the channel.

But the tattooed locals smoking cigarettes seemed somewhat mesmerized by The Spice Girls and Pet Shop Boys.

I’m guessing kinda like how you can’t avert your eyes from a semi-truck versus motorcycle collision.

So I paid my $28 tab, polished off my conch chowder, choked down the last of my “barbeque” pork lunch meat, and chugged my old reliable second choice Florida beer and made a bee line down the stairs and out to my rental car.

Ernie’s was a fairly miserable experience all around but I left feeling somewhat smug about the depth of the knowledge I’ve acquired along the back roads of America.

I mean, I am one dedicated Suit.

I’m willing to waste an evening of my life I will never get back and put my very life at risk just to prove the validity of my own theories.

It’s a tough job being Suit757. But somebody’s got to do it.

Rating: Wouldn’t Wear Shirt if You Paid Me.

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