I went to Glen Allen to eat today. There I said it. It's not like I haven't headed to the hinterlands to eat before, though. There was beef stew in Hanover, here, breakfast in Frog Level, here, and even a fish fry in Dawn, here.
Today's occasion was twofold: barbecue and folk singer Judy Collins at a church in Glen Allen. And while I felt completely competent to navigate my way to semi-rural locations like the above-mentioned ones, Glen Allen is suburbia and I inevitably get lost in such places.
Knowing this, I enlisted a friend to go with me to ensure I came back alive ( a trail of breadcrumbs wasn't going to do me much good on 295). I even drove.
It worked out well. We found the enormous Mount Vernon Baptist Church (which looking nothing like a church, if you ask me) with its tent city spread out on the property. Hundreds of people were already milling about, making it by far my biggest community eating experience so far.
And although it had been barely two and a half hours since breakfast, the first thing we did was eat. First we perused the barbecue stands to make our choice. Oddly enough, the event was sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, so there was an interesting mix of barbecue types to choose from.
After our research was completed, we decided to start with Wicked Grill's BBQ appetizers. The six-piece consisted of two bacon-wrapped Italian meatballs in sauce, two European-style wings well sauced ("Just put the whole thing in your mouth and all that meat will come off in one suck...and it won't even mess up your lipstick," one of the proprietors told us. Somehow I think the lipstick comment was directed at me.) and two jalapeno sliders (a large half jalapeno stuffed with spiced cream cheese and apple wood-smoked bacon).
Wicked is out of New Jersey and they spend the summer on the barbecue circuit, something I didn't even know existed. I have to assume that explained how Italian meatballs ending up being sauced and served at their booth.
For our entree, we decided on Grady's BBQ, passing over Carter's Pig Pen out of Mechanicsville (VA/NC-style). Grady's is out of the 1925 Hotel Weyanoke in Farmville and boasted that their pig was slow-cooked over hickory and white oak. We chose the BBQ sandwich with cole slaw and beans, the ideal barbecue sides.
We took our plates to a shady location to devour, happy with Grady's flavorful meat enhanced with their Memphis sauce. Bacon-wrapped anything is good, the wings were incredibly meaty and the sliders gave my friend the hiccups (his usual reaction to jalapenos apparently).
But I'd also come to hear Judy Collins, having just recently finished her autobiography ("Of course you did," my friend responded when I told him why I wanted to go) and eager to see what a 71-year old musician had to say about life. Okay, I also wanted to hear what that singing voice sounded like.
She talked for nearly an hour, interspersing songs (Send in the Clowns, Amazing Grace) with anecdotes and projecting a vitality that belied her age. Her hair is still long and thick, but pure white now. Dressed in an elegant black pantsuit, she was as slim as she was when Stephen Stills and Stacy Keach were her lovers.
And she was witty, making fun of her alcoholism ("I was trying to kill myself by drinking. That's a really slow way to do it.") repeatedly and acknowledging how transformative finding the love of her life had been. She sounded like someone who had appreciated every step along the way, even the difficult ones, for having brought her to where she is today.
And where she was today was on the grounds of a mega-church in suburbia under a wispy clouded sky, even farther away from her home than I was. And if this living legend was willing to be in Glen Allen this afternoon, why not me?
How else would I have been able to say I sang along with Judy Collins to Amazing Grace?