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One of the things I got to do this week while in Florida was go to one of the best barbecue places I’ve been to in a long time. 4Rivers Smokehouse, in the Orlando area, looks like a veritable gold mine, with people lining up for piles of some of the best Texas brisket I’ve ever eaten, as well as melt-in-your-mouth ribs that are just amazing. There also are tons of delicious side dishes - I particularly enjoyed the fried pickles and the smoked jalapeños, and they had bread pudding to die for (always a deal-maker for me).

4Rivers has an interesting story - it is the creation of a fellow named John Rivers, who used to be the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company who,after he left corporate America, began his barbecue career as a way of fundraising for charity. Now, he thinks of 4Rivers as a kind of “barbecue ministry” - he’s got three locations, and a small online business selling sauces and rubs. You can see more about it by clicking here.

The 4Rivers Smokehouse struck me as a perfect example of something we talked about during our ”Stomach Wars” panel discussion at the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference. Great food doesn’t have to be upscale or hoity-toity. At 4Rivers, they don’t even have plates - they just pile the food high on trays covered with thick paper. The prices are reasonable, alcohol is not sold, and the whole presentation is family-friendly.

I do have one thought. Somebody - especially a retailer with a strong specialty foods orientation - ought to contact 4Rivers and try to become their exclusive distributor in some distant market that isn’t competitive with the original locations. They could sell the sauces and rubs, and maybe even license the recipes and reproduce them - the goal would be to offer something that nobody else in a particular market s offering, and to do so with tastes and aromas that will make customers hungry the moment they walk through the front door.

(By the way, I have no business connection to this company, and have never met John Rivers. I just loved the food and I have my own “ministry" - eat great food as often as possible, and then spread the "gospel" so that other people can be saved from mediocre, lowest-common denominator food. Can I get an "Amen"?)

Check 4Rivers out. You can thank me later.

I enjoyed a terrific Italian red wine this week - the Prugneto 2009 Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore. It is like a chianti with just a bit of the edge taken off, and it is smooth and wonderful with spicy Italian food.

Also, compliments of my son the beer-and-wine guy, I tasted a wonderful Hefeweizen Ale from the Berkshire Brewing Company - just outstanding.

Looking forward to making red beans and rice this weekend, and watching the Giants beat the Patriots by three points. (I’m a Jets fan, but I went to high school with John Mara - not that he would remember - and so I root for his team except when they’re playing the Jets. I also think that the Giants are a perfect example of how to run a franchise - with class, a long-term strategic view, and with a front office that understands that games are won on the field, not in the newspapers).

Have a great weekend. See you Monday.

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