Sunday, May 31, 2009

Country blowout

One of the barbecue teams at the Third Annual Lake Trout Classic Cook-off

Last night the Lady Friend and I attended the third annual Lake Trout Classic Cook-off at the hockey rink in downtown Ontonagon, Michigan, population 1,743 or thereabouts. It was one of the community benefit events (proceeds went to the Ontonagon County Cancer Associations) that makes this county in the remote western end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan such a singular subject for a mystery author.

Despite the name, no lake trout was in evidence, but the event offered unlimited barbecue baby back ribs, barbecue beef, barbecue chicken, chili, jambalaya, corn on the cob, baked potatoes, baked beans, dinner rolls and desserts. Unlimited. Fifteen bucks (age 12 to 5, $5; under 5, free). Where else in the world can you pig out on some of the nation's best barbecue for less than twenty bucks, including a can of Busch Light? Did I say unlimited?

And afterward, those still able to push away from the table danced far into the night to the live music of a local rockabilly band.

Merchants, mostly local but some from as far away as Houghton, 50 miles east, donated most of the provender, together with a few generous individuals.

I have no idea who the cook-off winners were, for the Lady Friend and I waddled home and into bed early, so stupefied were we. So were somewhere between 500 and 1,000 other diners (my crowd count abilities are a bit shaky).

But there was one clear victor from the beginning: the economically beleaguered town of Ontonagon and its environs. Benefit events like this are an important way the place, which loses ten per cent of its population every census, hangs together against adversity. There you see not only bonhomie but also caring. We're in this together, these blowouts declare to the world, and we'll survive together.

Up here, good times can come cheap and often do, and you go home uplifted as well as stuffed.

A contestant in action at his grill.

Many of the grills were homemade, as this one is.

Fellow writer Dave Distel, ex-L.A. Times and author of the true-crimer The Sweater Letter, with a corn steamer.

The serving line at one corner of the hockey rink early in the evening, before the crowds arrived.

Jan Tucker, the immensely popular and legendary morning radio personality on WUPY-101.1 FM, dishes barbecued chicken.

Chowing down early in the evening. The center of the ice rink turned into a dance floor at 8 p.m.

Ya think? John the carpenter, who earlier in the day helped finish the remodeling of our cabin's kitchen, gives his summation of the event.

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