Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Today's lunch -- thanks to a diamond mine in Arkansas

I confess that this one is a stretch, but it got your attention. On the 20th day of a record-breaking heatwave, the stress got to me and I needed to connect with an old friend.

The old friend was an "Oakie pork" sandwich from Pecos Bill's Bar-B-Q in Glendale. It's been an old friend of mine for decades. One day maybe, I'll be a good enough writer to be able to let you taste an Oakie pork sandwich by just reading about it, but I'm not nearly that good.

I can tell you that eating one Oakie pork requires at least six napkins -- unless you take really big bites or don't mind having the Tennessee-style hickory sauce all over your face, hands and arms for a while.

Pecos Bill's is 1551 Victory Blvd just a few blocks from the Western Ave. offramp of the I-5 Golden State Freeway.

But it wasn't always a few blocks from the Golden State Freeway -- that's when Pecos Bill Stenzel and his son, Owen, built the stand 1946, there was no freeway. That would come a decade later. Bill came here from Oklahoma -- hence the term "Oakie". But the recipe has an even longer history.

You have to go back a couple of decades earlier when Bill Stenzel's father opened a saloon near a diamond mine in southwest Arkansas. By the way, the diamond mine is still there and, get this, it's the only diamond mine in the U.S. that is open to the public. It's now a state park and people still find some 400 diamonds there each year -- just sitting on the ground. You might want to check it out at Heck, I think I want to pay that place a visit.

Here's a picture of the mine. I borrowed it from the park's website.

But I digress. Back to the story. Apparently the stuff Bill served up at his saloon wasn't nearly as popular as the barbecue dinners his wife served up to friends and family on Sundays, so he closed the saloon and started selling beef and pork smothered in the family's original barbecue sauce. It was the same sauce Bill's father grew up on in Tennessee.

Before long, Bill opened two restaurants in Oklahoma City -- restaurants that also served up tender meat and that great sauce. Following World War II, Bill came west and landed a job at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank.

By the way, I wouldn't exist if it weren't for Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank. My mother and father met there during the war. Dad was an airplane mechanic -- Mom drilled rivet holes in the wings of bombers destined for England's Royal Air Force.

But Pecos Bill Stenzel didn't love working at Lockheed, so he and his son, Owen, built the little stand and called it Pecos Bill's. When Owen grew up, he and his wife, Dale, took over the business. About 15 years ago they moved to the beach to retire, but they didn' t let the barbecue fires die down -- they sold the business to Owen, Jr., and his wife Eva.

They still cook in the ovens Bill built back in '46 and, of course, still use the same great recipe. The place only stays open till 2:30 or 3 p.m. -- depending upon when the meat runs out.

I asked Owen Jr. to tell me some of the statistics about their business. He didn't have any to offer.

"You buy all this meat," I reminded him. "How much do you usually buy?"

"A couple of cows a week," he said in a tone that he probably inhereted from his great-grandfather. "Oh, yeah, and a pig."

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