CORINNA – The Two Knights BBQ and Blues Restaurant may be smack in the middle of rural Maine – where hot dogs and baked beans are traditional Saturday night fare – but Don Simcock’s red beans and rice, barbecued ribs, jambalaya and corn bread seem to have struck a down-home chord.
“I haven’t heard any complaints yet,” Simcock said Tuesday, the start of his fourth week in business, “except some people said my portions are too large.”
Simcock opened the barbecue and blues restaurant on busy Route 7 but said that construction on the Corinna downtown has put a definite crimp in his customers’ ability to get to his business.
“The day before I opened, they put a detour sign 100 feet before my driveway,” Simcock said. “I stood in the parking lot and watched a steady stream of cars bypass me.”
The sign stayed up for two weeks. “That made opening up really hard,” he joked. This week, the detour was back. “But I have been promised that it is only for two days,” he said, and then Route 7 will be repaved and reopened.
Meanwhile, the restaurateur said he prays for a favorable wind every day, one that will blow the enticing scent of his barbecued meat toward those traveling by. Hungry travelers who stop in can get a taste of dirty rice, catfish, jambalaya, corn bread, trash can turkey, and a wide selection of vegetables, slaws and salads. All of his meats, with the exception of burgers and catfish, are cooked over the coals.
“This is real Southern barbecue,” he said. Every meal is served with either hot and spicy sauce or sweet and sour sauce. “If it’s not hot enough, we can hot it up some more,” he promised.
Simcock cooks beef and pork outside in drums, some directly over the coals and others on a rotisserie. He splits his own wood, starts a fire and then removes the coals for his cookers.
He said cooking in a covered drum is far superior to over an open pit. “The juices, as they drip down, hit the coals and the smoke then returns all that flavor to the meat,” he said. It takes about six hours to cook a 100-pound pig, he said.
All of the pork is locally raised and slaughtered, he said.
Although he just opened the restaurant in early July, Simcock is no novice to barbecue.
“I built my first cooker in 1990 to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary,” he said. He began offering a traveling pig roast, bringing a mobile cooker to weddings, parades, reunions and other events as Mainely Cookouts.
“I really got fired up about two years ago,” he confided, “when I attended Memphis in May and the world championship barbecue contest.”
Simcock said there were 280 contestants from all over the world and only one from New England. Simcock said he was lucky enough to be invited to participate with one of the teams.
“I learned some new secrets,” he said, “including the secret of dry rubs.” Dry rubs are a combination of spices and seasonings rubbed into the meat before it is cooked.
As his barbecue skills expanded, Simcock said, his customers urged him to open a restaurant. “They kept telling me they were tired of burgers, pizza or Chinese cooking,” he said. “That’s all you can get in this area.”
Earlier this year, Simcock took the plunge and purchased the former Eastland Woolen Mill outlet store just south of Corinna’s downtown. He quit his job as a truck driver and enlisted his wife and three children as workers. “This is a real family affair, and that makes all the difference,” Simcock said.
“It has been a lot of work getting to this point, but it is worth it,” he said. In the future, he hopes to expand the parking section and offer a park and ride service for snowmobilers, since a major trail runs alongside the restaurant.
Two Knights is the first restaurant in Corinna to offer wine and beer. “All the others were too close to either the church or the school,” he said. “I’ve found a lot of local support. The community really is behind new ventures.”
Two Knights is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except Monday, and offers live blues performances 1-4 p.m. Sundays.