Labor of love: Top chef tackles BBQ

dish-craig-bbqChef Hartman works the smoker.

Craig Hartman, well-known as the executive chef at Fossett’s, the AAA Four Diamond award-winning restaurant at Keswick Hall, not to mention an early adopter and star of the Hook’s Restaurant Week, opened a new restaurant in Gordonsville with his wife, Donna, on February 16. But don’t worry, he won’t be leaving Fossett’s, as Ms. Hartman is handling the day-to-day operations of the new place on Martinsburg Avenue in the old Rudy’s Hardware space.

While a chef of Hartman’s stature, which began when he became, at age 21, the head chef of the country club at North Carolina's exclusive Pinehurst Resort, might be expected to open a fancy French-style bistro, or a high-end steak house, Hartman’s choice came as a surprise to Dish: an old school BBQ joint called the The Barbeque Exchange. Yup, it appears the chef has a soft spot for the art of slow-cooked meat.

“You know, it’s actually easier to grill a steak and serve it up with some nice vegetables than it is to serve one good pork BBQ sandwich,” says Hartman, who describes getting the temperature right, injecting the meat, enduring all that smoke, monitoring the cooking–- not to mention all the pulling and chopping over the 48-hour process. "A true BBQ restaurant is a labor of love,” he says.

Server George Ingram works the counter at the BBQ Exchange.

Indeed, Hartman says he and his wife have always wanted to open a BBQ joint, as he believes that creating a good BBQ experience is, like winemaking, an artisanal task.

“People are pickier about cole slaw and potato salad than they are about lobster bisque,” says Hartman. “At Fossett’s, people think I’m an expert, but the people who come to the BBQ Exchange don’t care that I’m a chef. In fact, they’re more skeptical, like, oh, here’s a chef who thinks he knows about BBQ.”

For now, Hartman says they are open seven days a week from 11am to 7pm, serving up pulled-pork BBQ and chicken, brisket, ribs, and half-chickens. They also bake their own rolls and cornbread, serve up a mean mac and cheese, and offer down-home desserts like whoopie pies.

“Our goal is to make you feel like you’re at a state fair pavilion,” says Hartman, “a place that’s laid back and fun for the whole family.”

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I live in Barboursville and will go check it out. I have eaten at Fossets twice, was not impressed but did not have to pick up the check either time. Maybe the barbecue is really his calling.

Excellent! Pulled pork is the best I've ever had in Virginia -- believe me we have tried to find good BBQ here. It's hard to do! Brunswick Stew is outstanding. Three different slaws to choose from. Ribs are very good and real meaty with a nice smoke ring, but I wish they'd dry rub them. Cornbread was delicious! Good variety of sauces, but none "grabbed" me.

Donna Hartman is delightful. She's very enthusiastic about providing a quality product. Prices are reasonable. Well worth the drive to Gville. Nice time of year to head up that way.

We're going back soon!

They have the best Ribs ever!! Best BBQ in the area.
I love the sauces!!

My only criticism: Not enough color selection in the crayola buckets on each table. As a 65 year old, I need a 32-64 color box to use on the butcher paper he has on each table. Correct this minor deficiency, and he has a go!

Good luck Chef see you for lunch...


I lived all my life in Gordonsville, I have witness this town develop, I am so glad that we have such a good BBQ joint over here. I grew up around Barbecue and his is one of the best I ever had. and boy I had a lot of BBQs in my 70 years of life.
I am getting in the habit of eating over there once a week.
I just love it.

I loved the enthusiasm. I loved the set up and the passion. My trouble is they do not know how to run a an offset smoker. i tasted the pork and chicken and notice initially a pretty decent flavor. I liked the bark on the pork. But after the first bite i notice an ash tray flavor. my suspicion was they were not cooking with a clean fire. When i went to see the smoker, again impressed with the southern Yankee rip off smoker . I notice a cloud of white smoke , which is a very bad sign. White smoke in full of impurities . Very bad and maybe somewhat toxic in the long run. i asked the very nice gentleman three times did he ever run a cooker like that one. He assured me that he has been cooking for over 30 years. i truly appreciate his experience , but the reality is that one must have a clear or blue smoke to produce superior bbq. I will say this . If they can learn how to cook with a clean fire, there product will become out standing. But for now it is ash tray quality at best !
The brisket there is no hope, sorry.