“I believe that good barbecue requires no decor, and that the best barbecue exists despite its trappings. Paper plates are okay in a barbecue joint. And paper napkins. And plastic silverware. And I believe that any place with a menu longer than can fit on a single page — or better yet, just a chalkboard — is coming dangerously close to putting on airs.” ~ Jason Sheehan, award-winning restaurant critic
No one will accuse Casper’s BBQ of putting on airs. Inauspicious doesn’t begin to describe the decor.
Fortunately, delicious is an equally inadequate description of the food.
We found Casper’s next door to the Family Dollar Store in Kenneth City, Fla. I swore we had the wrong place, since it looked like someone’s private home, not a carry-out restaurant. The property was cluttered with an eclectic mix of boats, vehicles, yard ornaments, and salvaged treasures of one kind or another. The big black smoker next to the converted one-car garage was a reassuring sign, as was the steady stream of customers.
The screen door closed behind us with a satisfying thwap, and the air was thick with the aroma of ribs, pork shoulder, chicken and beef brisket. The chalkboard menu also included smoked salmon and mullet. Amanda and I shared a half slab of ribs and a brisket sandwich, with beans and grilled cabbage on the side. The meats were exceptionally tender and flavorful, even without sauce. The beans benefited from a few unexpected chunks of tangy pineapple, while the grilled cabbage had just the right amount of spice. I washed mine down with a cold can of Ironbeer.
We joined three locals at the lone picnic table in the backyard. They were discussing menu options for an upcoming baby shower, which would be catered by Casper’s. That’s where we also met the adorable Molly, one of several pit bulls Dan (a.k.a., Casper) has rescued over the years. Her presence thrilled my daughter, Amanda, lover of big-hearted (and oft misunderstood) pit bulls.
As the lunch rush slowed, Dan shared his story about being an ironworker for years, until the work dried up. After some soul-searching cross-country rides on his Harley, he decided to do what he loved — making people happy with good home cooking. Dan even opened up the smoker to let us have a glimpse of his handiwork.
If you’re in the St. Petersburg area and you’re in the mood for elegant fine dining, you’ve got plenty of other options.
If you’re not afraid to get a little sauce on your sleeve (on the contrary, you believe it’s a badge of honor), go visit Casper’s.