SARASOTA, Fla. -- I believe it was Cooper Levey-Baker who first told me about his journey east of I-75 to the mecca of amazing homemade fried chicken located in a Texaco station owned by the Sotttlemyer family.
So, when I heard the Stottlemyer’s had opened a true smokehouse with an enormous outdoor tiki hut, I had to hold onto my apron and wet naps for about a month and let them get settled. Smoking and BBQ is not an easy thing. Many try gimmicks, but true smoke -- true slap your Grandpa’s overalls smoke -- takes years of perfection.
By the way, for anyone questioning food at a gas station, your clearly have not dined on croissants and quiche at Paul’s Belgium on the highways of Belgium, or stopped for authentic croquettes and cheese fondue driving down the stretches of France.
But I digress...
The Stottmleyer family went to Mr. Perry (no first name, just Mr. Perry -- or Mr. Smoke Man or Mr. BBQ) of Perry’s BBQ, respected by some of the greats from Georgia to North Carolina, and of course the suncoast.
While Mr. Perry would not share all his secrets, he did share a family member to get them started, and thus a true east of 75 authentic smokehouse was born. Along with the help of a talented kitchen director who clearly knows her collards and sweet potatoes, Stottlemyer’s food is simply delicious and a wonderful compliment to their already famous fried chicken.
As the quality of food within convenience stores bloomed, so did the idea of a full-blown kitchen and then a true smokehouse. At one point, the Stottlemyer's property hosted a greyhound bus stop. Hard to believe as you look around back at the enormous structure complete with tables, full bar and sand lot play area.
Now, let’s get to the food. The menu is simple enough, with a few creative surprises. You weren’t going to get me to order crab Rangoon, but it really is good, homemade, creamy and a nice start. Our new favorite is the cornbread stackers with either pulled pork or beef brisket. Fluffy homemade cornbread stacked with meats, coleslaw and both BBQ and remoulade sauces -- now that is a smoking version of a slider.
And then there were the entrees. Fresh grilled mahi mahi, beef brisket, (outstanding), smokehouse ribs, (my personal favorite of the rib types) and baby backs. Yes, I would order each basket again ... and again ... and again…
I consider myself something of a half-chicken expert, and Stottlemyer's delivered my dream meal big time. Enough for two meals, the smokiness in the chicken gave this enormous piece a great flavor, and their sweeter BBQ sauce enhances the juicy meat.
The juicy and crispy fried chicken is as good as the last dozen times we tore into both dark and light meat.
You’ll also find sandwiches, like a New Orleans style Po Boy with beef brisket or shrimp, a smokehouse Cuban with smoked pork and chicken, red wine blackberry mustard and crisp pickles, and a Smokehouse salad with salmon, mahi or smoked brisket, with gorgonzola, candied almonds and cornbread croutons.
Sides, which I consider almost as important as the entrees, deliver big time at Stottlemyer’s. Smokehouse beans are not your ordinary concoction, with 5 types of beans simmered with a hit of smoky goodness. Corn bread is a must; even if you have the stackers you’ll want another side. Sweet collard greens with bacon some of the best in town and our taste-testers gave the mac n' cheese and sweet potato mash two thumbs up.
Bringing other chefs out for a tasting proved something that has long been obvious: Anyone can stack a vote on Facebook, but a true professional learns from the best and admires the ones that learn their craft -- one smoking log at a time.