Tuesday, September 04, 2007

BBTuesday - Owensboro

When I was growing up in Western Kentucky, bbq was so ubiquitous that I didn't realize how lucky I was until I left the area. And I certainly didn't realize that Owensboro held the cachet it's earned throughout bbq circles.

My hometown, Madisonville, was a mere 50 miles from Owensboro. We used to make the journey several times a year to visit aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who lived in the bigger town, which sits on the banks of the Ohio River. We'd make the requisite house calls to all, sometimes go boating on the river, and then almost always end up eating bbq. More often than not, that meant going to the Moonlight Bar-B-Q Inn. And when you go to the Moonlight, you don't leave without filling your belly with mutton.

Owensboro was settled in the early 1800s by sheep farmers. Steven Raichlen, in his "BBQ USA" book notes that the first recorded mutton barbecue was held in the town on July 4, 1834. Since that day, mutton has been the meat that made Owensboro famous.

I left Kentucky in 1973 and only get back on rare occasions now. Unfortunately, most of those occasions are funerals. The aunts and uncles are all gone. The few cousins are scattered about the rest of the commonwealth, although one or two still live in Owensboro. It was during a funeral visit in 2005 that I made my last pilgrimage to the Moonlight. Closing my eyes and biting into the mutton sandwich I flashed back on all those childhood visits - the whole family was there. Food is a wonderful time machine.

Thanks to the Internet, the Moonlight's bar-b-q sauce is available online. But it pales to being there to enjoy it in person. If you ever happen to be in the area, it's a must-visit. And a good time to go would be in early May, when Owensboro hosts its annual International Bar-B-Q Festival.

Nothing beats being there to taste the real deal, but if you care to take a shot at making your own mutton, here's a recipe from the Dizzy Pig Barbecue Company's site. It includes a recipe for a mopping sauce, but if you want one that's a little more authentic to the region, try my family's Kentucky BBQ Dip that I posted a few weeks ago.



Chef JP said...

I've been to the Moonlight Bar-B-Q Inn back in the seventies. I still remember the food & the restaurant. Excellent taste memories! Up here on the East Coast where I live (Long Island), BBQ has been the big restaurant fad for the last two years but as I see it, not many of these joints have gotten the food right! A real down home bbq experience is much like a holy sacrament. Now pass the hot sauce & let me finish these here ribs! chefjp

sullicom said...

The last time I was at the Moonlight they had a bbq buffet. Dangerous thing.