Craig Hartman spent much of his career as a white-tablecloth chef, beloved for his truffle dinners at Clifton Inn and Keswick Hall, two of Charlottesville, Virginia’s toniest culinary destinations. Then, in 2009, a funny thing happened: At the top of his game, Hartman walked away to transform an old hardware store in nearby Gordonsville into a down-home barbecue joint. Now, while loyal customers swarm the BBQ Exchange’s front porch, he’s likely to be found out back amid a swirl of hickory smoke, happily manning several glowing cookers.
He hasn’t completely abandoned his chefy inclinations, though, especially around Thanksgiving. That’s when the restaurant accepts orders for cider-brined turkey and decidedly beyond-barbecue side dishes such as squash-apple bisque, bourbon-chocolate pecan pie, and especially bacon cornbread stuffing. “The stuffing is super tasty,” Hartman says. “We have people who order extra pans just so they can have more leftovers.” (Some of those people might insist that what they’re ordering is actually dressing, since it’s cooked in a pan outside the turkey, but Hartman leaves that debate to others.)
He developed the recipe with his love of Edna Lewis, the Southern foodways icon who was raised in the Orange County countryside just a few miles away, firmly in mind. “When I read her Taste of Country Cooking chapter ‘Morning After Hog Butchering Breakfast,’” says Hartman, “the cornbread recipe really stood out to me.”
Accordingly, the stuffing starts with that white cornmeal cornbread and then incorporates bacon and other ingredients in a manner Hartman hopes would have made Lewis proud. It certainly makes BBQ Exchange customers pleased to see the approach of Thanksgiving.