Friday, June 3, 2016

Worthy of a Presidential Visit

Few barbecue establishments can boast that a president of the United States while serving in office has visited them – with all the entourage required for security. In Asheville, NC, 12 Bones has gained media attention for repeat visits by President Obama as well as the long line of local carnivores that stretches out of its building into the parking lot.

The line at 12 Bones frequently stretches into the parking lot.
Before visiting 12 Bones, I had learned more about its popularity and food by watching a segment of the Bookwatch TV program broadcast by WUNC-TV. Head chef Shane Heavner and co-owner Brian King discussed the restaurant and their recipes in an interview about their recently published cookbook. As the 12 Bones owners and chef brag in the cookbook, Obama stopped there each time that he was in Asheville while in office, and he made an initial visit in 2008 when as a U.S. senator he was campaigning for president.

Ribs, the most frequent order, are heated before being served.

For the initial visit, take-out was ordered for Obama and his campaign staff, and it included ribs, brisket, and pulled pork with a double order of collards. For the next visit in 2010, Obama insisted going unannounced and standing in line to order. He and his wife ate in the restaurant to the fanfare of national and local media. Ribs with sides of baked beans, greens, and mac and cheese were ordered this time. A third visit in 2013 was similarly a media event that further enhanced the reputation of 12 Bones.

My order of ribs with corn pudding, mac and cheese, and cornbread was served very quickly.

Although a place of presidential proportions, 12 Bones is definitely a casual restaurant. Rolls of paper towels on the tables serve as napkins. Food is ordered at the central counter and then brought out by the staff after customers have picked their tables. A few orders are takeout, but most customers enjoy their lunch in the restaurant and in good weather pick a table in the outside, covered eating area.

The outside eating area is popular in good weather.

Because its popularity continues to increase, 12 Bones has opened a second location in the Asheville area, but many travelers, myself included, seek out the original location. It was opened in 2005 and brought to life a one-story brick building in the River Arts District that had been known as Kountry Kitchen. However, city planners are threatening to take the land that it occupies to relocate a road and build a roundabout. The current owners (Bryan and Angela King), who bought 12 Bones in 2013, are determined to keep the restaurant in the River Arts District if it has to be relocated.

Rib flavors are announced on a board at the order location.

Taking a cue from Obama and his preference for ribs, I knew before arriving that I had to try them (skipping brisket, pulled pork, chicken, and turkey – all smoked – that are on the menu and also deserving of consideration). The next choices were the sides: corn pudding, collard greens, mac and cheese, and mashed sweet potato. Everything at 12 Bones is made from scratch, and the recipes for each are in the restaurant’s cookbook.

Watching the crowd at 12 Bones is almost as enjoyable as eating the ribs. Although it’s hard to imagine that a president ate here, it’s easy to understand why he returned for encore visits.

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