Respect the Brisket

Brisket dreams and other goodies.

Way back when, I did a column for this magazine called Answer Man, writing it anonymously. Yes, it’s Clark Kent confession time: I essentially had two editor’s columns a month, until Answer Man succumbed to Kryptonite (overwork) two years ago. But one of the first questions I answered, in 2011, was this: 

“Is it possible to lose one’s mind while trying to park at 4 Rivers Smokehouse?”

“Let’s just say that Answer Man had never seen a 16-point turn until a recent weekday afternoon at the immensely popular barbecue restaurant on Fairbanks Avenue, east of I-4,’’ I wrote. “That was just one of the remarkable sights as motorists, overtaken by unbridled lust for tender brisket, jockeyed for the eatery’s few parking spaces or improvised and squeezed their cars into tight spots not meant for vehicles.’’

Of course, that was when the solitary 4 Rivers was housed inside a converted brake shop. Now owner John Rivers rules over a multistate, 14-location empire of barbecue. 

But people will still do just about anything for that brisket. Which is why this year it has been inducted into our Dining Hall of Fame. It’s sure to be a tender moment at our awards ceremony.

Speaking of which, this issue is mostly about food, glorious food, the kind you have a chef and his or her kitchen make for you. And we’ve got lots of winners. Critic Joseph Hayes has made 18 picks (I think the coolest is his choice for Best Chef), while readers have weighed in on 60 categories, from seafood to food trucks, Chinese to steak houses. And there are four other new members of the Hall of Fame in addition to Mr. Brisket that you’ll want to read about.

This issue is a keeper for another reason: food for the soul, the kind that poet Billy Collins provides. If you are not familiar with the works of this former U.S. poet laureate, who lives in Winter Park, you are in for a treat reading Michael McLeod’s profile and some samples of Collins’ magnificent verse, which will draw both laughter and tears.

Elsewhere, McLeod previews the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival; Cheri Henderson educates us on the benefits of honey; and Extra Pulp columnist Laura Anders Lee explores the culinary preferences of her two boys, whose palates gravitate toward peanut butter and scallops.

You likely won’t find that combo heralded in Joseph Hayes’ new dining blog, Savor Orlando. But you will find news, views, reviews, and comings and goings, along with some insightful, hilarious observations on life as a critic. Check out his writings at

A closing blast from the past: Who did our readers honors with Dining Awards at the dawn of Y2K? Emeril’s at Universal’s CityWalk was selected as the "Restaurant of Choice,'' as we called Best Restaurant back then. Other honorees in the May 2000 issue: California Grill (American); Bahama Breeze (Caribbean); P.F. Chang’s (Chinese); Le Coq au Vin (French); Olympia (Greek); Clay Oven (Indian); Del Frisco’s (Steak House); Siam Orchid (Thai); and Johnny Rivers’ Smokehouse & BBQ (Southern/Soul Food). No not that John Rivers. Nevertheless, when it comes to local barbecue around here it seems that a Rivers has run through it.

Barry Glenn

Categories: Column