LAKEWOOD RANCH — John Hennesey savored each tasty morsel of his barbecue sandwich Saturday during the first Main Street Barbecue Cookoff, which hopes to be an annual event.
“It’s good,” he said between bites. “There’s no such thing as a bad barbecue.”
Sponsored by MacAllisters Grill and Tavern, and Ed’s Tavern, two eating and drinking establishments on Lakewood Ranch’s Main Street, the event was a way for residents to kick off summer and a way for the restaurants to introduce themselves to people, said Karen Ronney, co-owner of MacAllister’s.
“This is summer and summer means barbecue,” she said. “It’s just a feel good, family event. Hopefully it’s a kick-off to an annual event we do every year.”
The barbecue was the idea of John Breiner, owner of Ed’s Tavern. He had been planning a barbecue cookoff with local firefighters when he thought it might be a good idea for Main Street.
“If we have a good turnout here today, we’ll have a bigger one next year,” he said.
Not only a chance to showcase Main Street’s eateries, the event was an opportunity for Braden River Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12055 to raise money. All of the money raised from the sales of beer and wine at the barbecue went to help veterans, said George Johnston, post commander.
“One hundred percent of our energy goes to helping veterans and we like it that way,” he said.
The post, formed about three years ago, has about 130 members from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War, but does not have its own building. Instead, they hold meetings at the local American Red Cross building.
Without an actual location, fundraising events like the barbecue become much more important, said
“We’re kind of limited on how we can raise money,” he said.
With the money they do raise from the barbecue, they will help distressed veterans in the area, and send care packages of snacks and personal items to the 143rd ESC U.S. Army Reserve unit stationed in Afghanistan.
The post had a large beer stand where barbecue devotees could purchase four different kinds of beer for $3 apiece. Wine was $5 a glass.
It was cool refreshment after people sampled some of the fiery offerings by the five Main Street restaurants. Since early Saturday morning, Breiner had been smoking more than 400 pounds of pork for the event to give attendees a taste of traditional pulled pork sandwiches.
“It’s not going to get any fresher than that,” said Breiner.
The Polo Grill was serving up what they called “Bad Ass Beef Ribs.” Owner Tommy Klauber said the ribs were seasoned with a salt and pepper rub, hickory smoked for more than two hours and roasted for an additional five. They were served with a house-made barbecue sauce.
“It’s kind of a Texas style,” he said. “I never met a barbecue I didn’t like. I’m down with any barbecue. Just bring it.”
But not all of the restaurants were serving traditional barbecue. Astoria Russian Restaurant cooked Pyrozhok, a puffed pastry stuffed with ground beef and spices, and Osetra fish, a Siberian sturgeon harvested from Mote Aquaculture Park.
“It’s a traditional Russian fish and it’s a unique fish,” said Alla Golubchik, one of the restaurant’s owners.
The French Bistro served a barbecue shrimp and chicken a la provencale, and also featured three of their 25 homemade crepes.
Barbecue attendees were offered samples of cuisine from each of the five participating restaurants. For five dollars, they could purchase a bigger portion.
After sampling the foods, attendees were asked to cast votes for their favorite. A trophy, fashioned by Breiner himself, went to the winner.
But the cook off wasn’t about the trophy, he said.
“It will be for bragging rights on Main Street,” said Breiner, smiling as he set up his booth.
As dozens of people meandered along Main Street, trying a bite of each, Jeff Chandler and his family were sure they sampled the frontrunner.
“MacAllisters,” said Chandler boldly as he dropped his ballot into the box. “Fantastic food. It’s just a great place and they have fantastic owners that live down the street from me.”
Bob and Eileen Felice tried MacAllisters’ barbecue beef with whiskey and mango salsa, and declared it a winner.
“That was very good,” said Eileen Felice. “It has a very tasty sauce.”