Dr. BBQ needed a beer. Mission accomplished: A sip of Green Bench’s Dr. BBQ Pale Lager dispatched, he was ready to start the tour.
See that teal tufted couch against that wall? It’s like something from Girl & the Goat in Chicago. The wood behind the bar is all reclaimed. And over here? That big case? It’s all of his trophies. Well, some of his trophies. Dr. BBQ, a.k.a. Ray Lampe, has won more than 400 barbecue competitions.
The light fixtures are stunning blown-glass teardrops containing elaborate Edison bulbs. Were those Dr. BBQ’s idea?
"Are you kidding me? Heck no. I don’t know anything about that stuff." He’s not a fancy-pants guy, but he did seem eager to show off the tiki mugs in the shape of his visage, white flattop and conical white goatee included.
Monday night was one of several preview parties and "friends and family" evenings at Dr. BBQ in St. Petersburg’s Edge District at 1101 First Ave. S. On Wednesday, the restaurant opens to the public. It’s been a long time coming: I first reported about the collaboration between the celebrity Barbecue Hall of Famer and Roger and Suzanne Perry (of Datz, Dough and Roux) exactly two years ago. At the time, they were talking about artisanal barbecue and Lampe was saying things like, "Barbecue is the only truly American cuisine." It sounded like a Tampa Bay dream team doing something unprecedented.
And now, in the midst of other frenetic restaurant growth in St. Petersburg, here it is. On Monday night, Lampe was introducing his pitmaster Lee Jasper from Texas, who stood in the exhibition kitchen meticulously slicing house-made pastrami and brisket. But then Lampe throws this into the conversation casually: "We’ve got 23 vegan items on the menu."
At a barbecue restaurant? The party’s menu did have some anomalies: "mac-a-phoni," a mac-and-cheese spin with no pasta but hominy, hot as blazes with habanero queso and crunchy Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on top; kimchi fries; and gochujang sticky ribs.
Barbecue is going places, and Lampe is helping take it there. In recent years, barbecue has been represented on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and among James Beard Awards winners. Where traditionally pitmasters adopt a particular and distinctive style (there’s Kansas City or Memphis, South Carolina or Texas, and so forth), Dr. BBQ is casting a wide ’cue net, freestyling and interpreting regional styles.
There are some elements of strict tradition, however. On Monday night, executives from Certified Angus Beef were on hand, their product a key anchor at the restaurant, as was Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. (Suzanne Perry, looking eerily comfortable in a coonskin cap on the second-floor balcony, might have been sipping one of the evening’s signature Jack n’ Cola cocktails.)
Restaurant openings are a uniquely chaotic way to experience an eatery — Instagram influencers snapping pics, servers making valiant attempts to explain dishes unfamiliar to them, wadded up paper napkins proliferating and noise levels rising. Even through the din of hundreds of revelers, it was easy to see that, for the foreseeable future, the doctor is in.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.