Dine Quixote: Traveling in time and space to Big Jim's and Selma's Texas BBQ

Our road food guy goes back in time, and in space, at an old Italian joint in Greenfield and a new Texas barbecue place in Moon

As a longtime fan of the long-running British science fiction television series "Dr. Who," I was ecstatic this past week when Dine Quixote was able to travel in time and in space without ever having to leave the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.

I discovered time travel was indeed possible with a visit to Big Jim's in "The Run," or lower Greenfield. I found myself back in the 1970s, sitting in what I could not be sure wasn't the old Red Front Tavern, which I frequented when working my first post-college newspaper job in Troy, N.Y. The lighting was nearly the same, as was the dark wood paneling. It was as comfortable, and the patrons looked like they really enjoyed being in this neighborhood joint and its simple Italian food, which cost, in today's world, almost nothing, and comes in portions that comfortably serve two.

Back in those heady olden days, when old Dine was single and made $140 a week while living in a third-floor furnished walk-up in a mid-19th-century building, a good Friday night meant splurging on baked ziti with ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese and a beer for less than five bucks. Once I was married to Sherri Panza, a raise in salary meant that splurge could include a big dish of lasagna and a soda. I think we spent all of $10 for a whole lot of food and then took our beer money to a pub run by a former reporter.

Now, here on Greenfield's Saline Street, Sherri and I were able to peel away many, many years and once again gorge ourselves on multi-layered lasagna and gnocchi with meat sauce. Big Jim's is a bit more classy than the old haunt, because each dinner includes a green salad, with more than just iceberg lettuce and choice of dressing.

So Big Jim's takes care of travel in time, but what then of space? Last year, as I've written about, Sherri Panza and I headed for Florida, eating barbecue along the way, until we ran headfirst into a hurricane on Sanibel Island. Feeling that the holiday might not have been as restful as needed, we have decided to do it again, taking slightly different routes and making sure that barbecue joints are once again the dots on a road map where we stop.

But what if I could eat all that barbecue while not leaving home? This past weekend, free admittance at Sam's Club provided access to vacuum-packed Sahlen's Texas brisket, but the real treat was finding a barbecue "joint" where I felt like I had traveled hours and hours but was still within sight of the Pittsburgh International Airport.

A couple of months back, while on assignment at Robert Morris University, I saw a sign for Selma's on University Bouldevard in Moon. It was still in the build-out stage, but I filed it in the back of my mind and discussed the possibility of finally getting true 'cue here in Pittsburgh.

Those with whom I've discussed Selma's Texas Barbeque all seem to say the same things -- Why can't it be in the East End? and Why does it have to be so far away? Such unadventurous souls -- they might make a trip down the Parkway West only if they have to go to the airport or maybe, just maybe, go to the old Post-Gazette Pavilion, now First Niagara, to take in a performance by Jimmy Buffet.

Sherri and I decided to make a long and scenic trip for lunch. We headed out from Squirrel Hill to the North Side and then turned northwest onto Ohio River Boulevard, able to view the water and the acres of industry that made this region an industrial powerhouse. Heading for Sewickley, we took in the Victorian houses, and turned onto the Sewickley Bridge. On the other side, a winding road brought us to what would become University Boulevard. Finally, on the south side of the road, was Selma's -- up and running.

It's named for the grandmother of one of the owners, Dave from Texas, who partnered with Ryan from Louisiana, after they found themselves working together at a country club. The two young men have parlayed family recipes with experimental ideas. They smoke their meat over hickory for hours and hours before serving it naked on the plate or on a bun. But there are six sauces.

Truthfully, Sherri Panza and I have to say that we felt like we were really back in the South, sitting there at tables with plastic tablecloths and savoring the smoke flavor. Don't think that this a restaurant review, as you can get that from the other guys, but this place offers up what we always search for -- great meats, great sides and, diets beware, a tasty banana pudding complete with vanilla wafers and cream.

The chicken is moist, the sausage smoky, the pig tender and the brisket succulent. Surprisingly good was the breast of turkey, moist and tender and smoky and even tastier dipped in the mustard-based sauce.

What we really took off on were the sides. Fried okra that is not at all greasy or slimy. Collard greens that were not cooked into mush and were ready for a few dashes of Carolina vinegar sauce. Crisp hush puppies with tender insides. Baked beans that were rich and tangy without being too sweet. A credible cole slaw.

After two additional visits, I am still finding my mouth watering to think about it.

More at selmasbbq.com.

When he's not looking for road food or scouring the Strip for some tasty morsel, Larry Roberts works as a staff photographer: lroberts@post-gazette.com.


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