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3.24.2006 

barbecue and the holy ghost



new zion missionary baptist church
huntsville, texas

from the houston press:
The pilgrimage to the countryside in quest of barbecue is a sacred Texas ritual A never more so than when its goal is the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Huntsville's sleepy south side. There, outside a rickety clapboard parish hall, three hulking barbecue pits belch apocalyptic clouds of smoke, a sight as inspiring in its way as Chartres Cathedral rearing up over the fields. Tended by taciturn black gentlemen, the ribs that emerge from New Zion's well-sooted pits trigger something very like a religious experience: to gnaw on these magnificently crusty bones, awash in the incense of smoldering post oak, is to be convinced that there is a God.
Inside the low-ceilinged shed of a parish hall, deliberate church ladies cleave heroic rib racks and whack briskets asunder, bearing meat mountains to the assembled supplicants. Geoffrey Chaucer would have reveled in these long, motley tables, where families from the 'hood occupy beat-up metal folding chairs near Panama-hatted Houstonians fresh from the lake house; where a T-shirted Hispanic fellow rubs elbows with a bejeweled matron from down Conroe way; where trailer-park kicker teens feast alongside baseball-capped black youths whose napes trail slim, perfect rat-tails. A careworn, overalled man pulls up in his pickup. A woman who might be a librarian pauses at the door to deliver a shy testimonial to newcomers. For the moment, they are bound together in a single, beatific community, a microcosm of Texas as it should be.

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