Dining While the Restaurant Burned

All right, I’ll admit up front, I’m not talking conflagration here.  Neither were any babies or puppies/kitties/endangered [fill in the blank with your favorite species] rescued at the last moment from a fiery demise Bruce Willis style.

Nevertheless, the restaurant was on fire.  Firefighters showed up in full gear, while we sat and dined and watched them go about their business of putting it out.

It all started when my wife and I decided barbecue sounded better than the Chinese buffet.  It just happened that the two restaurants were in the same shopping strip.  And we made the decision as we pulled into the parking lot.

The place is called Howling Coyote Texas Style Barbecue.  It is one of my favorite haunts in Springfield and has great smoked barbecue.  I’d give you the link to the website, but they don’t have one.  However, Eugeneified!, one of the local on-line restaurant reviewers reviewed Howling Coyote and loved it. Click here to read their review.

We walked into the restaurant and the dining room was smoky.  Not the normal “we cook smoked barbecue meats here” smoky, but literally smoke was escaping from the top of the smoker cooker.  Our first impulse was to turn right around and head for the Chinese buffet, but a glance around the dining room revealed no evacuation drill was in process, so for some inexplicable reason, we stood in line and ordered.  Keeping an eye, of course, on the foot-long line of smoke continuing to be emitted from one edge of the cooker.  My wife made a passing comment about carbon monoxide, but it was our turn to order, so after another glance around the dining room, with no one showing any particular signs of distress, such as glazed eyes, acute respiratory failure, or passing out and falling face first into their side of coleslaw, we ordered our meal.

Granted, by now the room was getting pretty smoky.  Providentially, at that moment, one of Springfield’s finest, in full firefighting array walked in with his infrared heat monitor, and pointed it at the growing area of discoloration on the smoker’s wall.  I sneaked a peek at the monitor’s display over his shoulder, and, yep, it was glowing red hot.

Half expecting him to say “Folks, we need you to leave the building while we check this out,” I was glad I’d just filled my glass with Diet Pepsi so I’d have something to sip on while we stood out in the parking lot.  Instead, he walked over and propped open the door and disappeared.  Half a minute later, one of his crew appears, props open the other side of door and started a gas-powered suction fan, a good four feet in diameter, and inside of a minute, easy, the air in the restaurant was clear.  That was good, because if you’re old enough to remember a 4-engined DC-6 airliner starting up, you’ll have some idea of how loud the fan was.

Beverages in hand my wife and I seated ourselves and watched the firefighters come in and out the restaurant checking over the whole place very thoroughly.  Finally the smoke stopped coming out of the smoker, and it was somewhat of a relief to hear the manager and the fire guys discussing the fact that this was not normal.

Our food arrived, and despite the floor show, er, the unscripted drama playing out before us, the meal was its usual delicious fare.  I had the boneless ribs–fantastic! The real downside was the flies.  As soon as the doors were opened to blow the smoke from the room, the flies who had undoubtedly been willing to sacrifice their dipteric selves on the glass to get to the the glorious feast inside, made a run (a fly?) for it.  So we ate swatting at the tiny beasties who had achieved their destiny in life for a chance at real smoked barbecue meat.  For you fly lovers out there, unlike with President Obama, no flies were killing in the eating of this meal.  I’m evidently just not that fast.  One of those eye-hand coordination things.  Or so I choose to believe.

Besides, having lived in Texas for three years, and eating some pretty darn good barbecue in places that still had sawdust covering the floor to soak up the grease from the rib bones thrown under the table, flies are a normal part of the ambiance.

Turns out, there was a malfunction in the burner box of the smoker.  Way in the back, evidently, but they got it put out.  I was kind of hoping the firefighters would at least haul some hoses through the dining area.  That would have been worth getting the cell phone out and taking some video, but to no avail.

As we finished our meal and left, my wife and I agreed, eating at the Chinese buffet would not have been nearly so entertaining.

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