The first barbecue I ever tasted was from the old Monte's restaurant. We used to get the sandwiches wrapped, if I remember right, in white waxed paper at the old St. Peter's Picnic back in the 1950s.
Over the years I progressed to ribs and other barbecued things at restaurants, but Tuesday night I had my first rib tips, which also is known as a "loin tip" or a "button bone."
A friend told me about Tom's BBQ. Even though it's decades old, I'd never eaten barbecue there. He said Food Network Chef Guy Fieri raved about the rib tips.
I found Tom's BBQ at Getwell and Raines with a sign showing two pigs on a spit smiling at each other and the words, "Where Friends Meat." I tried the rib tips, which had a great peppery tang to them.
That's the Greek rub, said Adam Itayem, owner. He took over Tom's BBQ in 1995. He still uses the recipes from former owner Tom Sturgis. The rub includes oregano, thyme, cayenne pepper, salt and pickling spices. The sauce comes in spicy or mild.
Unlike rib tips at other restaurants, Itayem said theirs is cut from an angle right off the top of the loin instead of using the brisket off the rib as a rib tip.
Fieri included Tom's BBQ on his barbecue tour four years ago and popularized the rib tips on his Food Network TV show, "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives," and the book of the same name. They also were featured on Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate."
Eating the rib tips, for me, was like learning how to eat a crawfish. I think there must be a technique to separating the meat from the bone. "Just don't bite in the bone," Itayem said.
He showed me where they used hickory and charcoal to grill the rib tips in an open pit. "The dripping that comes down in the coals smokes back up to the meat as part of the flavor of the rib tip."
Sandie and Ernie Ellis from Columbia, S.C., had just eaten the rib tips after someone recommended Tom's BBQ. "It's the best we've ever eaten," Ernie said.
When I was about to pack up the rest of my rib tips to take home where I could tear them up as much as I pleased, Itayem said, "I've got a chopped beef and chopped pork that'll knock your socks off."
Tom's BBQ is at 4087 New Getwell; 365-6690.
Michael Donahue: 529-279; firstname.lastname@example.org