I keep a mental map with pins that mark favorite restaurants. The Collegeville, PA deli where I first introduced my husband to Philly-style hoagies. The ice cream stand by Lake Wallenpaupack that churns the creamiest ice cream this side of heaven. The tiny Filipino restaurant in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood that bakes soft, savory-sweet empanadas. And the Southern BBQ spot in the pastel-colored town of Jensen Beach, Florida that dished up the first Southern-style collard greens I’d ever tasted.
My in-laws brought my husband and me to this locally famous Southern BBQ restaurant several times when we visited them in Florida, and we sat outside under palm trees and string lights on sunny January evenings and listened to the hum of conversations at neighboring tables and the roar of customers’ Harleys starting up in the parking lot. On the table, in preparation for the meal to come, sat a plastic caddy with ketchup, hot sauce, four bottles of different kinds of BBQ sauce, and a roll of paper towels. Let me tell you, if you come to a BBQ joint with paper towels on the table because napkins are just not going to cut it, take it as a very good sign.
We selected our pulled pork or pulled chicken, along with sides of cornbread or sweet potato fries, or, in my case, collard greens.
“Collard greens?” My husband asked. “What are those, anyway?”
Delicious was what it turned out they were, with just the right combination of vinegar, spice and rich vegetable flavor. When we would go back, I would contemplate ordering a different side, and then always come back to that rich, delicious signature southern dish.
We live far from Jensen Beach, Florida, and staring at the thermometer this time of year only makes it feel farther away, but thankfully my kitchen brings together the scattered pins of my mental map. When I can’t visit my favorite restaurants, I recreate the recipes I’ve discovered within them. I’ve recently learned how to make collard greens similar to the ones I discovered in Florida. And, it turns out, not a moment too soon. Our last visit to my in-laws revealed that this favorite BBQ spot had closed.
As the smell of simmering broth, bacon and garlic permeates our chilly apartment, I will lift a spoon and imagine palm trees, string lights and–what was that called again? Oh, yes. Sunshine.
- 1 large bunch collard greens
- 1½ tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 slices bacon, roughly chopped
- 4 cups beef broth
- 1 tablespoon Bragg's apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Remove stalks and stems from collard greens (these can be saved and frozen for later uses, such as making broth). Wash and thoroughly dry the leaves.
- In a large pot over medium heat, cook the olive oil and then add bacon, bay leaf, garlic and onion. Cook about 10 minutes, or until onions soften.
- Rip the greens into big pieces and add them to the pot, pressing them down with a spatula.
- Add broth, vinegar, sugar and red pepper flakes. Boil, and as the greens wilt, turn them in the pot. Reduce heat and cook, simmering and covered, for 1 hour. Remove bay leaf and season greens with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cornbread and Wolff's Apple BBQ pulled pork.