FOOD- THE DISH- Premier pit crew: Putting our town on BBQ map

In June, Barbeque Connection owner John Atkins said, "When you think of Charlottesville, you don't think of barbeque. We want to change that."

Atkins had just done a lot to change that, taking the Grand Prize and placing no lower than third in all four major categories at the 2006 Chesapeake Jubilee Barbecue Cook-off, the BBQ State Championship of Virginia, on May 19 and 20 in Chesapeake. Under his competition name, Pigs on the Run, the Lake Monticello-based caterer put himself in the running for the BBQ Nationals in Kansas City on October 6. Well, guess what?

"We finished fifth in the world in the pork category out of 500 teams from around the country," Atkins reports.

After the 20-hour drive to Missouri, Atkins and his partners, David Hansen and Richard Middleton, cooked for two nights, serving up their BBQ chicken, ribs, pork and brisket. "Everything could be cooked only with wood, charcoal, or pellets," he says, "no gas or electricity."

Atkins reports that the judges looked at taste, tenderness, and appearance– but mostly taste. Although competition was intense (they finished 213th overall), Atkins says their fifth-place finish in the pork category was a real thrill.

"We had a great time," says Atkins, who can't believe his little crew from the Lake did so well.

Atkins' son Bryant, who appears to be a chip off the old BBQ cooking block, was especially thrilled. "It's been my life-long dream to win at the Nationals," says the excited 10-year-old.

What's even more remarkable is that running the Barbeque Connection is only a part-time gig for Atkins, who works full-time as a UVA hospital surgical technologist. ("So I'm not afraid to cut up meat," he quipped to Dish in June.) But Atkins remains humble, saying there's no real secret to cooking great barbeque, just being focused and patient over the fire and cooking it "low and slow."

That may be true, but the little BBQ outfit that could is moving high and fast in the smoky-pit world. In fact, when Dish last wrote about Atkins, we suggested that Charlottesville might have to be renamed a "World-class BBQ City" if he won at the Nationals. 

Well, he didn't win. But fifth in the world in pork barbeque? What do you say, Mr. Mayor?

Dusty Bottlers & Magic Tricks

Recently, Dish heard mention of something called the "Dusty Bottle Club" out in Stanardsville. That's a pretty catchy handle. Do the club members collect old bottles of wine? Are they, perhaps, a group of folks who haven't had a drink in quite a while? Further investigation revealed it's neither.

The Dusty Bottlers are the brainchild of enterprising Lafayette Inn owner Alan Pyles, who explains it's a "dinner club" he started about a month ago. Members meet at the Inn for repasts featuring limited seating, special menus, and "special" guests. 

"We've limited the guest list to make sure everyone has plenty of elbow room," he says, "but we want the events to have full-room energy."

Pyles says the club is a smashing success—in fact, there's already a waiting list. Ah, but don't pout. He says if his waiting list grows any longer, he's planning to host a two-night Dusty Bottle gathering each quarter. 

The first Dusty Bottle gathering is scheduled for November 9. While Pyles' staff will be working its magic in the kitchen, world-renowned sleight-of-hand artist Mike Rose will be working the room. Rose has performed at swanky private dinner parties around the world, including George Bush's Inaugural Candlelight Dinner. (Hey, isn't politics a lot like sleight-of-hand?)

In case you can't get into the Dusty Bottle Club this time around, Rose will also perform on November 10 during the Inn's Happy Hour and regular dinner seating. 

From left to right:  David Hanson, John Atkins, Richard Middleton, and Bryant Atkins cooked and cleaned up at the National BBQ Championships.