Barbecue. It’s what’s for dinner (and lunch) at parks and attractions from Texas to Florida. The southern tradition not only borrows its flavors from longtime recipes that have been enjoyed by generations, but many of the dishes have been customized for family-friendly customers who are looking for a way to have a little fun – and to capture the spirit of the region.
The Westgate Smoke-house at the Westgate Lake Resort & Spa in Orlando, Fla., is just one destination famous for its St. Louis-style ribs that are rubbed with spices and smoked slowly over hickory for hours. The resort’s barbecue cuisine was even voted as the best in Orlando by the readers of AOL City Guide a few years ago, as well as a publication covering Orlando.
Locals – as well as resort guests – flock to the Smokehouse for a casual dining experience. The 7,000-square-foot eatery seats 220 guests with a view of the lake in what’s described as a “contemporary rustic” décor with wood paneling, cedar ceiling beams, stone fireplace and wrought iron details that all complement that barbecue-heavy menu. One of the incentives for families is that children under age 12 eat for free when accompanied by an adult who orders a standard entrée – anything from “cowboy size” portions of ribs, pulled pork and skewered meats.
A Gastronomic Wonderland
Buddy Mostyn, manager at Wonder World Park in San Marcos, Texas, said that while the park doesn’t cook up its own barbecue, they do offer hometown flavor at food service stands that are strategically located. Said Mostyn, “We pre-buy barbecue sandwiches for the snack bar.” Because everything seems to be bigger in Texas – just ask Mostyn – making sure the park features authentic regional flavor is important for business. While visitors may come to Wonder World to tour Balcones Fault Line Cave and the waterfalls of Mystery Mountain, many also make stops at the Wonder World Café, an indoor-outdoor eatery that offers sandwiches, beverages, desserts and family-friendly snacks. Many folks, said Mostyn, also take advantage of the picnic grounds to enjoy their barbecue sandwiches.
A Boardwalk Empire
At Kemah Boardwalk in the heart of Kemah, Texas – just outside of Houston – BBQ on the Boardwalk is a very popular stopping point for hungry families. The kiosk, operated by Landry’s Inc., is where Texas specialties are served up to visitors year round. “We serve Carl’s 24-ounce Eddy’s turkey legs and five-ounce award-winning Holmes pecan-smoked sausage on a stick,” said Mark Kane, Kemah Boardwalk’s general manager. “These are the eatery’s bestselling dishes.”
He admitted BBQ on the Boardwalk sells as many as 21,000 sausages on a stick and almost 15,000 turkey legs each year.
What makes these dishes – and other barbecue favorites so popular, said Brett Boswell, Kemah Boardwalk beverage operations manager, is “quality – from the brand names to the white oak wood smoking process, controlled preparation procedures and serving hot, exceptional, walk-around food to our guests.”
Visitors are lured to the restaurant after smelling the savory, smoked meat throughout the park.
“Kemah Boardwalk is filled with the smell of barbecue from an Iron Horse Train Smoker, which draws crowds to the plaza,” said Kane. The menu’s success has inspired the eatery to introduce even more dishes. “This year,” Kane said, “we will introduce barbecue brisket sandwiches and chopped barbecue on a bun.”
One of the ways BBQ on the Boardwalk keeps customers coming back for finger-licking-good meals is by always buying quality products from reputable vendors. “We also smoke our meat to perfection consistently with the same hard woods, and manage the timing and technique,” Kane said.
Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., isn’t only famous for its legendary musical namesake. Hickory House BBQ and other on-site eateries also cook up popular grub inspired by Ms. Parton’s own humble upbringing in the Volunteer State. Joe Lindsey, culinary director for Dollywood, said, “Hickory House offers award- winning pulled pork, chicken quarters and turkey legs. And in the Big Skillet concept at Hickory House, we are also doing fried Baloney sandwiches.” He describes the specialty as a thick cut slice of baloney fried in six-foot skillets and then served on a piled-high sandwich. “Pulled pork is the top barbecue offering,” said Lindsey, “followed by the fried baloney sandwich.” He attributed the popularity of these dishes to barbecue’s longtime legacy in the region. “Barbecue is big in Tennessee,” he said. “It has become a staple – almost a comfort food for our guests. The smoky smells and atmosphere feels like home to them.”
Lindsey and his chefs even elevate this home cooking to new levels by adding special touches to the menu. “We choose to use a sweet red sauce here at Dollywood because it is more traditional for this area and is more popular than the vinegar-based sauces you might find in the Carolinas,” he explained. “Barbecue rubs are more of a west Tennessee and Midwest phenomenon. We have tried all kinds of barbecue options, but our guests like the traditional.”
This year, Lindsey is even experimenting with some new food options for the Bluegrass and Barbecue festival that happens each year at the popular entertainment mecca, including St. Louis-style ribs and a barbecue chicken pizza. “Both of those, however, will be at barbecue-specific locations as a part of the festival,” he said.
His secret for perfecting the dishes? “You have to start with the basics – fine quality meat and sauce,” he admited. “The fire can’t be left alone. We use good hickory wood and our hosts make sure that it continues to burn consistently as it smokes the meat and provides the best flavor for our guests.”