10th Annual Charleston Ribfest – Charleston, WV
I decided early in the week that I would attend Ribfest sans the Vegetarian Wife on Friday evening. Ribfest is in a new location between Kanawha Blvd and Virginia Street next to the Shoney’s. I like this location better than Laidley Field except for parking. I searched for a free parking space for several minutes before ending up at a “reserved” spot in the Municipal Auditorium Parking Lot. I wonder why CASCI doesn’t open their parking after hours for paid event parking.
I made my way to the entrance and stood in a slow moving line in 90 degree heat to pay my $4 gate fee. Children from 6-12 were $2 and younger child got in free. Ride tickets were extra. Once inside the gate I took a few minutes to survey the small ‘fest’ grounds. The advertised crafts were knock-off Coach bags and mason jar candles. Several trailers and tents were set up to distribute smokeless tobacco products. Next on my clockwise review I came to a variety of carnival or carni games. Pop a balloon or catch an unwhitting gold fish and win a prize. As I picked my way across the utility lines strung across the grass and asphalt I wondered if I would let my kids ride the variety of rides and slides.
After passing the throng of eaters under the dining tents my stomach told me that my prime rib sandwich from Fifth Quarter was long gone. I quickly checked out the stage as the evening’s act performed their sound check. The variety of BBQ was refreshing. All the varieties seemed to be represented – Texas, Carolina, Kansas City, and Memphis. I surveyed Texas Pit and Cool Smoke then bypassed Carolina Rib King. I enjoy Carolina Q, but with many things it is an acquired taste. I finally decided on Two Fat Guys BBQ. Why? Several reasons tipped the scale. They had a combo that contained what I like, the vendor was nice while posing for a photo, they had a mustard based sauce as an option, and I loved their name.
I went with the Fat Man’s Fiesta for $14. Four ribs, a pile of pulled pork, two sides and a roll. The ribs were seasoned and brushed with a light grilling sauce. The glaze had a mild spice and not over sweet. The meat was tender and stayed on the bone, which I understand is a good thing. The pulled pork was smoky and my portion had a nice mix of flavorful bark and tender meat. The beans were made with the traditional navy bean with kidney beans to add texture. They were more tart than sweet. The slaw had a medium coarse cut of cabbage and slaw. It was mixed with a thin, sweet creamy dressing. The roll was unremarkable and appeared to be store bought.
Where Two Fat Guys BBQ excel in my book is their five different sauces. Sassy Sweet, Blazing Batch, Fire Breather Hot, sweet mustard and spicy mustard. If you want great dry rub go to the Rendezvous in Memphis, TN. If you want sauce I prefer the thick tomato and molasses flavor that permeates Kansas City BBQ. Three of the Fat Guys’ sauces seemed to be made in this tradition. The dark, thick sauce with the smoky pulled pork is one fine meal. The medium sauce was the most enjoyable one to eat, but the hot sauce would go great with a WV hot bologna sandwich. My second love was the spicy mustard that goes great with chicken and pork. I have found that it isn’t popular here, but no Florida BBQ joint would be caught dead with out it, especially my favorite BBQ chain, Woody’s.
I took my BBQ eats to go, grabbed a bag of kettle corn and headed to Cilantro’s to grab some veggies for my girls. I love BBQ and good Que, especially ribs, demands a premium penny. The Two Fat Guys BBQ put out a good product, and if you are tired of Famous Dave’s or Blues then I guess a trip to Rib fest is in order. Know this – it is going cost you at least $4 to be allowed to patronize Two Fat Guys and there is heavy price fixing taking place. The price fixing is crazy. Every vendor has basically the same menu and charges the exact same price for ribs and sandwiches. At least the $4 gives you access to the carnival, music performances, and the crowning of the Ribfest Queen.
I wish Charleston hosted a real BBQ festival. Where sponsors provided prize money that would bring champion BBQ chefs shoulder to shoulder with the WV backyard chefs. Then the same vendors could set up shop without having to pay upwards of a $1000 to sell ribs and everybody could come enjoy ribs without the $4 surcharge.