ode to barbecue

We go over how it happened frequently. How we found this place. And like all the best places are found, it was completely unexpected. It’s kind of like talking about how you first met your boyfriend or puppy dog.

It’s a story you want to revisit over and over again.

We hiked to some high alpine lakes around Crested Butte and in our trusty guide book, it casually mentioned that down at the bottom of the valley, seven miles northwest of the trailhead, there was a good barbecue restaurant.

This was weird because Keegan and I were in the middle of nowhere.

Peering over the kingdom at 11,000 feet, one could not spot a road, vehicle, or building from this vantage point. There was a restaurant at the bottom of that verdant valley?

Being impatient and impulsive, I wanted to go, to go now!

That hiking book was beckoning us to discover some kind of wonderful in the aptly named town of Marble, Colorado.

(In case you are unfamiliar, the marble that created the Lincoln Memorial is sourced from this little town by the Crystal River in western Colorado.)

Tall friend Keegan told me that it was very irresponsible to hike somewhere we had never been, and depend on the kindness of strangers (through the forgotten art of hitchhiking) the two hours to get home. This was asking for trouble. I shrugged my shoulders.

All was not lost though. We could go, just not today, and we must set up a shuttle. Hiking up to these lakes had expended a lot of our energy. We must do it right, the responsible planning kind of way, bringing resources like water and snacks.

So on our next day off, we hiked to Marble with the exclusive reason to eat BBQ and check out this geographically farfetched restaurant. There were no guarantees that these smoked meats would amount to much, but was worth a go.

After descending barbecue valley, we finally arrived in Marble, Colorado. We would never be quite the same.

There she was, Slow Groovin. Note that there is no "g" to finish off grooving. They are too cool for extra consonants.

You smell her before you see her (in a good way). That is the smell of meats slow cooking for your personal enjoyment.

The building has a false front and outdoor eating space-a-plenty. Brisket (a very skinny black dog mix) roams the grounds. Utensils are in buckets. Sausage links are served in red plastic baskets. The screen door is constantly opening and closing.

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We sat outside in the shadow of Chair Mountain, in the shade of some bright white marble sculptures. 

From this deck there are views of people in four wheelers or jeeps driving on to Lead King Basin.

I am always surprised with how many people show up here, know about this oasis. But some places are worth traveling the distance for.

Keegan, Heidi, and I sat down and rested our feet. Shortly thereafter we were sipping root beer from frosted mugs and struggling to decide what to order on that big laminated menu.

1. Root beer and barbecue pair well together.

2. Hiking makes food taste really really good.

3. The margaritas here are 2 die 4.

Over the past five years, I keep going back to this sacred place, Slow Groovin. And it’s become a big part of my life in the summer. The commute is a little bit intense. I now drive there mostly. 30 miles over dirt Kebler Pass, and then up and over McClure Pass where a fault is ripping the high way apart, and construction crews are always attempting to fix. It takes about two hours to get there driving.

The rewards outweigh any challenges.

It’s about the savory pulled pork, and the Colorado sweet barbecue sauce from a squeeze bottle. It’s about the Hilly Billy Nachos, which are an extraordinary culinary achievement by themselves, but also double as a competitive eating challenge. What about the little caldrons filled with mac n cheese where the cheese is so gooey it stretches from your fork?

It’s eating the most heavenly coconut cream pie when there isn’t any more belly room. Because this is such a small sacrifice for that pie. The yellow custard is equal parts sugar, butter, and coconut, everything nice. We don’t deserve this pie, but Slow Groovin takes pity on us sinners and allows us this unbelievable grace.

I know this description is over the top, but I am extremely passionate about this pie.

Sitting under that blue sky, with a table full of friends, and too much good food, dogs begging for scraps at your feet, it’s one of those moments that Kurt Vonnegut talks about.

I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

But really, happiness is barbecue in the middle of some steep mountains, in the sunshine, or in the rain. Just as long as you are far away from everything, with barbecue sauce on your fingers.