Smoked, sweet and soulful
While no one wants to see smoke in the Vail Valley this summer, an aromatic cloud wafting across a small dirt lot at the Edwards Main Intersection is a sign of good things to come – slowly.
“Our meats are cooked on Applewood, 100 percent smoked, which is pretty unique because not many places use hardwood,” says Mike Fernandez, who in true Southern fashion and with plenty of friendly flair reigns over the “pig rig,” a portable smoking oven at Moe’s Original Barbeque Tin Top Drive-In, a rustic road side stall, located at Edwards’ main intersection at U.S. Highway 6 and the Edwards Spur Road. A few rough-hewn tables invite patrons to forget fine dining habits, grab a generous helping of paper towels and enjoy Southern soul food with impromptu lunch mates.
“We roast our meats for 16 hours until it just pulls apart and is very tender,” says the 36-year-old Fernandez, part-owner of the Vail Valley’s newest barbeque outlet.
Though less than a month old in its current location, Moe’s has history and a certain amount of cache – at least in the world of barbeque. Fernandez was first introduced to the secret of smoking cheap meat cuts into tender taste treasures 14 years ago by Moses Day – an Alabama legend for his smoking skills.
“All over Alabama people are really proud of their barbeque; Moses is pretty well known as “the Barbeque King,'” says Fernandez, who “studied” under Day for almost four years after abandoning a career as a “professional student” in Latin American policy.
“Moses is a very fair man. I worked next to him for about for four years,” Fernandez adds in that Southern way of speaking in which every sentence turns into a song and vowels are melodiously stretched across several syllables. “I thought he would never turn me loose as far as the smoking goes. There are things like where the fork hits the meat when you turn it and how long you smoke it on one side – that is just how detail-oriented barbeque people get. It all has to be done just the right way.”
Fernandez and friend and business partner Jeff Kennedy, 29, eventually decided to move to the Vail Valley for a change of scenery. They brought along Ben Gilbert, 26, who according to Fernandez “just hung around the bar a lot.”
The three some ultimately settled in Minturn and went about establishing their careers in the area’s culinary scene. And last year, the trio decided to build a “pig rig” from scratch, or rather from junk.
A used 500-gallon water tank became the coveted center of backyard parties and “the word started spreading, so we started catering,” says Fernandez.
When the lot in Edwards became available this summer the three didn’t hesitate for long.
The result is Moe’s, open daily except for Sunday from 11 a.m. until the day’s batch of smoked meats is sold. The menu starts at $3.95 for pork sandwich and goes to $7.95 for a “‘Bama-Style” box lunch of chicken barbeque. Daily specials go from $7.95 to $9.95.
If its slow and takes time but comes out sweet and tender, it’s almost always something Southern, connoisseurs of anything south of the Mason-Dixon line will tell you.
“This tastes like home,” says Kristi Novellas during a recent break from a weekend of wedding preparations with her soon-to-be husband, Benno Scheidegger, and a gaggle of flown-in wedding attendants.
“Ribs that fall of the bone; that’s good barbeque,” Novellas, a Atlanta-transplant, tells a barbeque novice across the table.
“I love that your choices are sweet tea, lemonade and water – that’s so Southern,” adds Julie Bowlen, one of Novellas’ bridesmaids.
Though Fernandez insists barbeque is actually good for you – body, too, not just soul – because the meat is lean, fat still plays a big role in the appeal of Southern food.
“We in the South know how to cook vegetables,” says Atlanta visitor Emilie Henry, Novellas second bridesmaid, admiring a glistening glob of mustard greens pile on her plastic fork. “You just add fat.”