Race Review – Alexandria Turkey Trot

Hey y’all! Sorry I neglected you guys! I’m sure you’ve consoled yourselves with tons of leftover turkey.

But man, between training for the Las Vegas Rock N Roll half marathon, finishing up online scuba classes, major work projects (including a complete redesign of the magazine website and revamp of the editorial process), the usual house work, figuring out the logistics for our future trips (in-country air, hotels, etc.), watching all that reality TV and reading all those trashy tabloids, and I’ve been busier than a one-legged man at a butt kicking contest.

So, since I’m so dang busy, I figured I’d heap something else on my plate on Thanksgiving Day: my first Turkey Trot.

I don’t do a lot of Turkey Trots because I don’t like running in the cold. Thanksgiving is usually pretty cold. Too cold to go out and run a 5k. But the weather’s been pretty good here in these parts lately, so when I saw the last call to register on Twitter on Tuesday, I figured, why not? And it started at 10, which isn’t too early at all. Plus, it was right in my backyard – I walked to the start line from my house.

The Alexandria Turkey Trot was 5 miles and was a loop around the neighborhood of Del Ray, starting and finishing near a junior high school. When I say neighborhood, it really was in the neighborhoods, down side streets and past people’s yards, which was a mixed benefit. On the one hand, lots of families were outside cheering us on and giving us water, but with about 4,100 runners, it got a bit crowded at times.

The race fee was $20 and the organizers did something really nice which was give you the option of buying either a short sleeve tech shirt or a long sleeve cotton shirt for $10 extra. Your choice. I, of course, went with a tech shirt and since I did not know what the sizing would be like, I got a large, which is a bit large, but I did not want a repeat of a smedium incident.

Pick up was pretty easy, and there were plenty of places to donate canned goods to Alive Alexandria, a nonprofit organization of volunteers from over 40 religious congregations and the community working together to help those in need in Alexandria, Virginia. I did not, however, see a bag check place, which was unfortunate since I had worn a heavy jacket that I didn’t intend to run in.

It was an ok race. As always, my only goal was to run the whole race without stopping. But, I had some major stomach issues that really slowed me down. I had to stop a few times in a bit of a panic and with some cramping. There were no porta potties and I spent the whole race trying to figure out whether I would be brave enough to go knock on somebody’s door and ask them to use their bathrooms. It didn’t come to that because of sheer willpower. Also, the only organized water station I saw was at mile 3.5. I don’t usually stop at water stations unless it’s a really long run or really hot, but I did think it was a bit late in the race.

They also had a Doggy and Stroller participation, which people definitely took advantage of, but again, because the course was so narrow, it became a real issue at some points. I definitely saw one person using a double stroller to mow down another runner. Like, rolling up on her heels. And dogs, well, they want to stop and sniff a lot, so dodging them became a very big part of the race.

Hey, while I’m thinking about it, let’s go over some race etiquette.

1)      Don’t wear a marathon shirt to a five mile run. It’s douchey, ING dude. We get it: you’re a serious runner who’s gracing us with your presence today. Wear a race shirt of equivalent distance or less.

2)      This is just me, but I don’t wear the event race shirt until I’ve actually run the event. It’s kinda like being that dork at the concert wearing the band shirt. Again, we get it: you’re a fan, but save it for some other time. Maybe at another race (as long as it’s equal or less distance).

3)      Don’t stretch on the ground in the corrals. I know you need to stretch, I do too, but if people can’t see you because you’re on the ground, people will step on you.

4)      And children? Well, you can guess how I feel about that one.

I finished in 52.25 according to the race clock, but 50:10 according to my Nikeplus, which I paused whenever I had to stop and take a breather. Other stats: I was 903th woman out of 2,148women. 284th in my age group. 2,118th person overall out of 4,053. It was a disappointing race for me time wise. And I definitely took a few walk breaks of about 30 seconds, including a break about ½ mile from the finish, which is really demoralizing.

But, I got over it. At least I went out there and did it. Plus I ran 10 miles a couple days later. And I felt quite superior when I went and gorged later that day.

We’ve gone to our friend’s Matt and Melissa’s every year for the last six years and It. Is. Awesome. There’s usually about eight of us, most of us are repeaters. Basically, our responsibilities as guests are to bring some booze (wine and whatnot) and Matt and Melissa literally do everything else.

We get there about 2 p.m. and start eating. There’s a few appetizers (including pigs-in-a-blanket, my favorite) to munch on while Melissa works her ass off on the rest of the spread, which is a significant amount of food. Amazing turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and not one, but two types of macaroni and cheese. It’s crazy. Oh, and there’s a couple of pies.

It’s a lot of food. And, we always bring our own Tupperware to take home leftovers, which my Gordon-Ramsay-wannabe-for-life-partner XFE turns into amazing grilled sandwiches with avocado, bacon, pepper jack cheese on sourdough bread.

Oh, and sorrys, no pictures. I took a ton of pictures, but they were all on Melissa’s camera. Melissa actually has pictures from all six Thanksgivings, which we looked at this Thanksgiving and that was pretty fun. Some of us have held up pretty well, some not so much. Pretty hilarious stuff.

Speaking of somebody who’s held up well. Some gratuitous Petunia pictures. This is what she was up to while I was running. Neighborhood watch cat.




Food Porn: Meyer’s, Louie Mueller

Before we went to the king of all BBQ festivals, we had our own little mini festival after touching down in Austin.

Last year, my personal-pit-master-for-life XFE and I made the pilgrimage to Lockhart for Smitty’s and Black’s. This year, we went to Elgin for sausage and Taylor for everything awesome about BBQ.

We started about 30 minutes drive from the airport with a stop at Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse. We got there right around lunch and the place was hopping, but no line. We bought about a pound of sausage (beef and pork) to share amongst the four of us, since we knew we’d be having a second lunch in about another 30 minutes.

BBQ from Meyer's Elgin

The sausage is, of course, very good. I like a courser sausage more like the kind you get in Lockhart, but this was good as well, just more smoothly processed. Also, I like a bit more snap in my casing. Again, that’s just a personal preference. We didn’t try any sides other than the standard white bread, onions and pickles that comes with it. I was pretty tempted by the banana pudding though. They had two fancy barbecue sauces, both of which were pretty good. I’d give the honey chipotle one a slight edge because of the smoky flavor from the chipotle.

Meyer’s doesn’t serve beer or alcohol, so I loaded up on a childhood favorite, Big Red. From a fountain machine no less. You can’t get this in DC for some reason.

Happy customers at Meyer's Elgin

After refilling our Styrofoam cups and loading back up in the car, we headed north to Taylor to pay our respects at Louie Mueller Barbecue.

XFE and I had Muellers’ at the BBQ festival last year and it was hands down our favorite. It was one of the last spots we visited and even though we were stuffed, we both finished our tasting of brisket and ribs. We loved the thick peppery crust on their brisket and XFE is a beef rib fanatic, so he was very happy. Plus, since the lines at the festival had died down, we were able to just shoot the breeze with the two guys manning the booth (including Wayne Mueller, grandson of Louie), and they were really, really nice guys. We were quite surprised that they didn’t win in any of the categories last year. Redemption was theirs though, and they won People’s Choice for best beef ribs and best sausage this year.

Texas Monthly Barbecue Fest 2011 [Photos: JW Walthall/EATX
Photo: JW Walthall/EATX
As soon as XFE and I left the 2010 festival, we made a plan to make the drive up to Taylor to go to the restaurant. This year, with Matt and Melissa in tow was the year.

It was amazing. You step up on the wooden porch, open the screen door and step back in time. It is a time machine. As your eyes adjust to the darkness of the interior, your nose is overloaded with the smell of smoke. You take in the cavernous room with its blackened walls, including a James Beard Award casually hung behind the coke machine.

Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor

The counter to place your order is about a mile from the door and the line runs straight back. But it moves, so better hop into it. To the right is a bulletin board covered in business cards, each a different shade of smoke-tinge. To the right is another, brighter dining room — a screened in porch with beam rafters and exposed iron farm equipment.

So yeah….the place was long on atmosphere.

Inside Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor

And the food didn’t disappoint either. Of course, we ordered way too much, but what can I say? We ordered a pound of brisket, a selection of their three sausages (original, jalapeno and chipotle), several ginormous 1 pound beef ribs the size of a man’s arm, and a couple of slabs of pork ribs (baby back, but they also have spare ribs). Again, no sides necessary. And they have sauce on the table, but it’s a thin sauce and didn’t look like a sauce I would like, so I skipped it.

The sausage was coarser ground than Meyer’s and de-freaking-licious. I think the jalapeno was the crowd favorite. It was a bit greasy, but that’s what the bread is for. Also: they smoke it, which really brings out the flavor.

BBQ at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor

The beef ribs were very good and flavorful, with that thick peppery crust, although I’m not a fan of beef ribs in general – too fatty for my liking. But these were good, although there was no way I could take a whole one down. It was quite a bit of work and I barely made a dent.

Brisket at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor

The brisket was good – smoky and tender — but not quite as good as we remembered it. The crust wasn’t as pronounced as I had remembered. It was probably an off slice because when we tried it at the festival the next day, we again fell in love all over again. The festival version was moist and delicious.

Also: I’m getting a teeny bit brisket spoiled because XFE makes the best brisket in the whole damn world. We’re talking the kind of brisket you beg for on your birthday good. We’re talking last-meal-on-death-row good. We’re talking willing-to-commit-a-crime-just-to-get-on-death-row-and-request-it-for-your-last-meal good. But Mueller’s will do in a pinch.

The pork ribs were disappointing. I did not like them at all. But again, I’d always try them again, if given the chance. I know how these things can fluctuate day by day.

Chowing down at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor

The counter staff and everyone overall could not have been nicer. Walter Mueller saw Melissa and me taking pictures of everything and came walking out with a large brisket — straight out of the smoker — and asked us if we wanted to take a picture of it.

Brisket at Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor
That’s a damn good looking brisket. And tasty.

Way different than the snooty attitude we have gotten at some restaurants on the picture-taking front. I’ll never understand why you would be offended that someone wanted to take a picture of all your hard work. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Alinea. Walter has it right….he’s proud of what he produces and he’s happy to share it with you. It made a huge impression on me, and he’s got a superfan for life.

Hands down, my new favorite BBQ place in Texas. Go. Bring a cooler. Buy lots. Take it home and hoard it. Oh, and look for thePoeLog business card on the bulletin board (it’s the purple one in the middle there).

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Another Reason Michael Vick is a Jerk

Texas Monthly BBQ Festival
Welcome to Meatville. Population: 3,000

The main thing to know about this year’s Texas Monthly BBQ festival is that I threw up.

That puts thePoeLog household at two-for-two on throwing up after the BBQ festival. They should probably hire us as spokespeople.

Last year was my meat-lover-for-life XFE’s shot at toilet glory. This year was all me.

(*Disclaimers: Neither of us threw up while we were actually AT the festivals. What kind of uncouth people do you think we are? Also: Our propensity to gorge and purge has nothing to do with the quality of festival meat products. Er, well, it does, actually, but it has more to do with the exceedingly high quality of the food, not because it’s bad or tainted. It’s not a repeat of the Great Salami Food Poisoning of Northern Italy 2011 [GSFPNI2011 for short]. Also2:  The newby festival goers we brought, our friends Matt and Melissa, did just great. No reported vomiting.)

Jennie's Little Bighorn and Chicken Shit Bingo
Matt & Melissa: Hardcore festival goers. Appreciators of chicken shit bingo in dive bars.

We had a good strategy. After last year’s debacle of eating our own tastings at every single place (there were 21 restaurants in all), we decided this year to share tastings (there were 23 restaurants this year). We slipped up a couple of times and ate our own tastings, but overall, we did pretty well. We also stopped at Franklin’s booth twice for brisket, but it was really, really amazing brisket. Totally justified. And, by the way, they did win for People’s Choice for best brisket, so obviously, we were correct.

Our strategy also included skipping any sides (I did have some potato salad from Country Tavern). I also succumbed to some fried pies from the originally named The Original Fried Pie Shop. And we stopped eating anything that we didn’t deem just wonderful, and yes, there were a couple of places that weren’t very good. We left the festival quite full, but declared ourselves not stuffed.

BBQ casualty
Good thing they were giving away Tide pens. No really, they were.

We followed up with a visit to Ginny’s Little Longhorn for some chicken shit bingo and more beers. So far, so good. (Oh, do you not know about chicken shit bingo? It’s exactly what it sounds like: You put a chicken in a cage with numbers on a board. You buy a ticket for $2. You watch the chicken walk around. You drink $2 Lone Stars. You listen to Hank Williams’ songs on the bar’s sound system. Perhaps you avail yourself of the free hot dog and garnishes Ginny provides on a side table. Finally, the chicken poops. If the chicken poops on your number, you win the pot.)

Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon

Chicken at Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon

Artwork at Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon

Eventually, after not winning the pot, we finagled a cab back to the downtown area and decided to go to a bar. And that’s when things started to go downhill for this little Poe. There was queso and spinach dip. And unfortunately, an ill-advised shot made with mango puree, cilantro, and tequila.

Tequila is no friend of mine. It makes me ornery. I must have argued/shouted at Melissa about whether Michael Vick had sufficiently paid his debt to society for ages. For the record: I said [quite loudly] no. The much-more-forgiving-Melissa says yes. She’s wrong, by the way.)

Needless to say, I woke up in bed at 4 in the morning full of embarrassment over fighting with my friend and a queasy, sloshy stomach. I fought it, but eventually I had to succumb, knowing that XFE–who has been the subject of my relentless teasing for the past year–was about to tie this one up.

He was quite gracious in victory, only mentioning his pleasure in the situation once that morning.

(Final note: Can I just remind everybody that I did get up and run a race the morning of the BBQ festival. Sympathy? Anyone? No? Tough crowd.)