Labor of love: Top chef tackles BBQ
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.
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.”