Spicy? Or Mild?

The great exterior to Steve’s BBQ, before it burned down. Photo from Democratic Underground
Most every day, I bumped into Jim and would ask if he was up for lunch. Most every day, he said yes. And most every day, when I asked him what he was in the mood for, he would chirp, “Steve’s BBQ!” At that point, I had lived in Denton for about five years. Although I was familiar with Steve’s, I can’t say I ever made a visit.

Steve’s BBQ was a Denton staple. Located on the east side of downtown, it’s red-and-yellow striped facade and belching smoke could be seen and smelt a mile away. The tiny building was both business and home for Steve Logan, a gruff, matter-of-fact gentleman who had been cooking barbeque for nearly two decades. Legend has it that he started the place, then later sold it and absconded to Jamaica, where he did God knows what. While abroad, he heard through the grapevine that the new owners just weren’t doing things right. So he came back to town, purchased his former business, and resumed barbequing with a secret rub recipe that also returned to Denton. In reality, he secured the recipe from a friend with the help of some beer, but I always perfer the myth.

The first time I visited, I went with Jim and Rob. “Have a snack and you’ll be back” proclaimed a sign on the front door. Walking inside was like stepping into the Tardis: the inside was bigger than the outside, but just slightly. It consisted of one room with some tables and bench seats. Pale light filtered through the small front windows and an opening to the kitchen behind the rear counter. Everything was dim and monotone, a dark tint of raw umber. Besides us, the place was deserted.

One of the first things I noticed were strange rectangular carvings decorating the walls. I couldn’t tell exactly what they were, so I approached one in order to make a more detailed inspection. Although murky, I could have sworn that its surface held some sort of text. I squinted my eyes, inspected further, and made out the words, “Harry Connick Jr.” This rectangle, along with the others surrounding it, were autographs of celebrities that had eaten here. And each one was laminated with so much soot and grease that they were virtually indistinguishable from the brown walls on which they hung.

Steve Logan. Photo from the film Barbeque: A Texas Love Story
As I approached the back of the room, I could hear the voice of Chuck Woolery echoing towards me. I came up to the counter and before me was Steve.

He was sitting on a low chair, crouching next to his smoker. Although the smoker was indoors and lazy sparks occasionally shot out, Steve’s attention was fixed on a nearby television that was broadcasting Love Connection.

Taped to the countertop were ragged sheets of paper which once held a neatly-typed menu. These days, the papers were tattered, covered with handwritten corrections and changes. If I didn’t know better, one would think these were the original menus from 1983.

Steve got up from his chair, greeted us, and asked what we’d like. I ordered the chopped beef sandwich.

Steve then asked, “Spicy? Or mild?” I shrugged and ordered mild.

Rob was next, and he ordered the pork ribs, which the menu said came with beans. He asked, “Can I substitute the beans for coleslaw?”

Steve looked at him and barked, “The menu says it comes with beans.” Rob silently stared, blinked a couple of times, then said, “Well…ok.” Never contradict The Menu, sayeth the Lord.

Our food was warm and smelled delicious. But after only a couple bites of my sandwich, I found myself reaching for water because the barbeque was so freakin’ hot. As the years passed by and I became a regular at Steve’s BBQ, I would come to discover that although Steve is polite enough to ask you, “Spicy? Or Mild?”, it’s always going to be spicy, no matter what. So you might as well always respond, “Spicy!”

Years after I moved away from Denton, I heard through the grapevine that Steve’s BBQ burned down. As I mentioned once before, the building served a dual purpose as both restaurant and home. When it went up in smoke, so did everything that Steve Logan owned because he didn’t have insurance.

It’s a testament to both him and the local community that that donations for rebuilding started to pour in. The local bank setup a relief fund, local entrepeneurs stepped up to the plate by donating money and services, and area bands like Centro-Matic performed benefit concerts that raked in much-needed cash. Steve has plans to rebuild the place just like it was , with the exception of two small changes: he’ll use a steel frame instead of wood, and this time the smoker will be outside. I have no idea where he’ll watch his Love Connection, but I do hope that he brings back those worn-out paper menus. Oh yes, and the grease-lacquered walls.