Farewell to a Barbecue Icon
Oklahoma City lost a venerable member of the restaurant community last week, when County Line Barbecue shuttered. My relationship with the regional County Line chain dates back 34 years to the original restaurant, which is still open today. As with any loss, reflection is the first reaction.
Until I was 8 years old, pit barbecue held a place in my imagination next to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Living in California until that age, barbecue was a fairy tale my father, a native Texan, told from time to time, speaking in melody about smoked ribs and brisket smothered in sauce that tasted like liquid gold.
We lived in Chula Vista in San Diego County where the only barbecue purveyor was called Love’s but my father dismissed as “Yankee barbecue.” My mother said they had hair in their food, a common ploy she used to dislodge my attention from an unwanted eatery.
In 1976, two years removed from his retirement from the Navy, the motherland beckoned. I didn’t take kindly to the announcement. I was trading Sea World, the Padres, the Chargers, the San Diego Zoo and the Pacific Ocean for little more than barbecue.
When we made the move that fall, the kitchen appliances arrived after we did. So, we ate out the first week. The first night we drove five minutes north on Loop 360 onto Bee Caves Road where we headed west another five minutes and wound our way up a hillside road to a ranch-style house gleaming with neon and stuffed with people.
That place was called The County Line, the first place I ever ate barbecue.
The menu was on a Big Chief tablet like one I had at home. After my glass of coke arrived, I notice my father’s iced tea came in a glass twice the size. And when the waitress refilled his glass throughout dinner, the wheels were set in motion for my conversion from soda to tea. These were the days before free refills on soft drinks that weren’t tea or coffee.
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