MEET YOUR MERCHANT: Locals BBQ serves up fresh family favorites

At Locals BBQ & Grill in Carson City, Ralph Swagler is serving meals like mom used to make - fresh, flavorful and totally homemade.

Swagler learned to cook alongside his mother Mary, an army brat from Ft. Benning, Ga. His recipes are straight from the Swagler family kitchen, down to the barbecue sauce and Caesar dressing.

"My mom was a fabulous cook," Swagler said. "Sixty-five years ago she made those recipes ... I just wish my mom was alive to see how much barbecue sauce goes out the door."

It was love that lead to Locals BBQ three years ago - a granddad's wish to live closer to his grandchildren.

Swagler taught wine studies at Santa Rosa Junior College in Sonoma County, Calif., and was a professional wine judge.

"I said to myself, 'What am I doing here when my granddaughters are in Carson City?'" Swagler said.

He always talked about opening a barbecue restaurant, so he called his daughter Wendi Olson and asked her opinion. She has been the company's accountant and payroll manager every since. Swagler's son Ryan runs the restaurant and bakes pecan pies from scratch, while Swagler is the chef and operates the busy catering business.

Once Swagler decided to change his palate from wine to barbecue, he went on a food tour of the United States in search of more inspiration. He found it in Memphis.

Swagler called some of the best-known barbecue restaurants in the city and asked if they would spend time with him. He was at Neely's Bar-B-Que (of Food Network fame) and Corky's Ribs & BBQ for six hours each.

"It's nice to meet people like that," he said. "It was like four years of college, meeting with these folks."

Swagler uses an indoor cooker that was built to prepare prime rib.

"We put our pork butts in there and cook them for 12 hours," he said. "The meat weighs 100 pounds at night, we cook it all night long, and in the morning there's 44 pounds of product.

"Anyone's who is looking for lean, lean, lean meat, come in," he added. "There's no fat in it."

All of the food is made fresh and in-house, from the 17-ingredient rubs and barbecue sauces to the potato chips and cucumber salad.

The meat is from local suppliers, while the chicken is raised on an organic farm in Fresno.

Want some jalapenos to go with your ribs? Swagler will pull a few from the demonstration garden outside the restaurant, where he also grows tomatoes and chives. He has a larger garden at home that supplies cucumbers, peppers and more tomatoes.

"Everything we do here is fresh, fresh, fresh," Swagler said. "We like to say we buy our bread and make everything else."

The attention to detail is paying off. Locals was awarded "Best Taste" in the 2008 Taste of Downtown in Carson City.

Tuesdays feature all-you-can-eat pork ribs with bragging rights for anyone who beats the current record of 30.

Of course, Locals offers wine and beer, with a few classics from Swagler's personal wine library.

And which wines pair best with barbecue?

"That's easy," Swagler said. "A zinfandel - a real one, not a pink one - and a syrah. They're big, bold, hearty, pack a punch and hold up so well with barbecue sauce and meat."

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