I only thought I’d had good barbecue until my freshman year of college.
My friend Jimmy kept telling me we had to go eat at this hole-in-the-wall place he’d found in a not-so-great part of town. A barbecue dump right across the street from St. Vincent de Paul’s thrift store.
I’ll never forget the first time I ate at Harold’s barbecue. Jimmy and I went in there after the lunch crowd had died down and we had the place all to ourselves. That was before they expanded, so there was only a couple of picnic tables and a booth.
We sat in the booth, right by the front window that hadn’t been washed in decades.
Right under the swamp cooler.
And before we could finish our sandwiches, Harold had brought out a plate of ribs for us to sample, on the house.
I was hooked.
Since that day I’ve stood in lines that stretched clear out the door and around the building to get a taste of what I experienced that first time.
While you’re in line you can look at pictures of customers at the Great Wall, in front of the Eiffel Tower, from all over the world, holding jars of Harold’s Barbecue Sauce. Or you can watch whatever soap opera’s on the television during the noon hour.
Since 1979 I’ve eaten some of my favorite meals in that place.
Like the time Mike Lewis spilled a whole plate in his lap and proceeded to pick the meat up off the floor and eat it anyway.
I’ll be sad at the end of this month when Harold’s closes. I’ll miss that taste. I’ll miss chicken Fridays.
This past weekend Harold’s catered a retreat we hosted and I got to share that taste with some of the dearest people I know.
Brisket, beans, potato salad.
Damn hot sauce that will set your mouth afire.
Sweet tea and strawberry cobbler.
It’s funny how meals connect us with each other – how the taste of something can trigger memories – how relationships are fed over the simplest of meals.
No wonder they call it comfort food.