PALMETTO — A propitious thing happened to Dennis Carrino when he stopped here a year ago.
His Porky-N-Beans Bar-B-Que Cooking Team won Best Ribs at the 2008 Gulf Coast Rhythm & Rib Fest, then proceeded to win or place in 21 of their next 23 competitive barbecue events.
“We started our year off right and never looked back,” said the 60-year-old Port St. Lucie resident.
So, understandably, Carrino has good vibes about the 2009 Gulf Coast Rhythm & Rib Fest this weekend at the Manatee County Fairgrounds.
“I believe in what they’re doing,” he said. “Plus, I love the area, the people and the restaurants around there.”
The third annual Rhythm & Ribfest is the first event of a season that will take Porky-N-Beans to 20 cities in 15 states across America from Boston to Pleasanton, Calif., from mid-May to mid-September.
They’ve been on the circuit for 28 years, earning more than 350 titles between their ribs and sauce, Carrino said.
Pretty good for a guy who started out at his own family Italian restaurant, Mama Mia’s, in Parma, Ohio.
From pasta and pizza to ribs? “I get asked that all the time,” Carrino said.
It started after entrepeneur Gary Jacobs started the National Rib Cook-Off in Cleveland in 1983, an invitation-only affair that drew grilling teams from around the U.S.
The event and its concept got Carrino’s attention.
“We weren’t about ribs at first, but like every other restaurant we just did it. People expected it,” he said. “We tried this, tried that. I had to make mine better. We got invited to the national and didn’t win, but it got into our blood. We had fun.”
Carrino gives his customers the personal touch, joking with them even while his team is amidst preparing 1,500 pounds of ribs under nephew Gary Carrino’s direction.
Take it from Patrick Carnegie, the United Community Centers executive director and 2009 Gulf Coast Rhythm & Ribfest promoter.
“He always has an animated conversation with each of his patrons,” Carnegie said. “He makes visiting his operation an enjoyable experience. He understands there’s more to it than just grilling.”
Carrino gets it, all right. Especially in this economy.
“My theory is no different than if you came into my restaurant. I want you to feel you’re my best and only customer in the world,” he said.