Let's imagine you've come to this god-forsaken neighborhood for anything but food, even though it's lunch time and you're really, really hungry. A stolen car, perhaps, an illegal day laborer, a fluffy quarter-ounce of that fabled Mexican parsley, a handgun, a hooker, anything but food. It's south Arlington. Four Mile Run Drive. The Compton of Northern Virginia. Nothing here suggests the fact you've stumbled into a secret culinary Brigadoon. For lunch fare you see only the Weenie Beenie (the very same hot dog stand named on track 7 of the Foo Fighters eponymous debut album) and the Tiger Mart inside the Exxon. Beyond that, there are only day labor sights and automotive chop shops, where cars go for VIN reassignment and a new paint job before heading south for Tijuana. Half-smokes and beer nuts are clearly the fare du jour in this place. But why the sudden whiff of hickory smoke? How the impossibly dense and seemingly impenetrable plume of smoke all but obscuring the road like early-morning Tennessee fog? How to explain the redolence of burning animal fat and brown sugar so unmistakably on the wind now? And that's when you see Mr. Anthony (pictured left) standing there, a human colossus beside his colossal grill, and just beyond the side of the road, like some culinary warlord and prophet of smoke and fire, surrounded, Colonel Kurtz-like, by his band of gastronomic miscreants and devotees, each silent to the man. So you park your car and go before him like some acolyte attending an oracle and point at his grill. He lifts the lid to reveal what's underneath. Beef ribs. Burgers. Homemade pork sausage. Half-chicken on the bone. Only meat. No vegetables. He's polite when he asks you what you want. You're polite to the point of differential when you tell him you'd like one of everything. He looks at you more closely now to see if you're fucking with him. He decides you're not. One of everything--ribs, chicken, sausage, a burger--it is. He asks one of his men for a couple of styrofoam clamshells and loads them up. You ask him how much. He looks at you and sizes you up. Your clothes. Your shoes. The car you've driven here in. Then he names a price for the food as if pulling a number out of the sky. It's breathtakingly inexpensive. Way beyond cheap. This side of free. And this is the very moment you make an ass of yourself. This is the moment you overreach. You start asking him questions. The kind of questions only a yuppie-foodie-wanna-be like you would ask. Where he got his chicken. The name of his rib purveyor. Where he learned to grill. Is the protein organic? Does he make his own dry-rub, his own sauce? He does you the favor of answering none of these things. Not a single question is rejoined. He hands you your food and a stack of paper napkins and sends you on your way. You get as far as your car before you decide to tuck into Mr. Anthony's food. And you are amazed at what you taste. It's easily the best grilled chicken you've had in your life. The. Best. Ever. The ribs are beef, not pork, so no, not the best you've had, a bit tough and not parboiled, but the sausage, my god, the sausage, by way of recompense, is easily some the best you've ever put in your mouth. So you go at your food, sans Mr. Anthony's obligatory plastic flatware, like a wild animal. It's primal now. Just you and your hands and your teeth tasked with ripping this incredible fire-cooked meat off the bone. And that's when you notice people are staring. At you. People on bikes. People in cars. Watching you eat, open-mouthed, amazed. And you are not ashamed.
Mr. Anthony and his friends cook on Saturdays, in fair weather, when the mood strikes.
I have once had the keen pleasure of Mr. Anthony's wings on a Sunday.
Look for him on Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington, Virginia.