SQUIRRELED AWAY between two mammoth freeway overpasses, the tiny parking lot of Porter's Automotive Service is easy to miss. Northup Way in this particular armpit between Bellevue and Kirkland befuddles even longtime residents with its endless, indistinguishable strip malls.

But behind Porter's Auto, three picnic tables mark the entrance to Dixie's BBQ. "Just roll down your window," is my dad's advice. "You'll smell it." Densely decorated with reviews, photos of Mrs. Porter's gospel singer daughter, an article on pain and continued exposure to spicy food (foreshadowing!), and a sign declaring "5 min. wait from this point," the hallway echoes weekday lunch crowds craning their necks to assess beef brisket levels.

Dixie's BBQ tends to run out of chopped pork first, and beef brisket second. Visiting on a Saturday afternoon, I glanced at the menu long enough to locate the dinner with everything--pork ribs, beef ribs, brisket, chicken, cornbread, salad, red beans and rice, and homemade lemon cake for dessert--otherwise known as the Combo ($14). My fellow carnivore tried to order the 520 Special Sandwich ($7.50), a hot link placed lovingly on a nest of pulled pork, with choice of side dish, but our man behind the counter with the tongs waved his arms in the universal sign for a false start. We looked up from the stainless steel tubs of meat. Mr. Tongs shook his head, real slow. I was holding my breath.

"All outta chopped pork." The tongs gestured, snapping their sad, empty jaws together for effect. All eyes dropped back down to the steam table. I remembered that smoky, slightly sweet pork, almost melting on my tongue. My eyes began to well up.

Mr. Tongs got out the largest Styrofoam container I have ever seen and started loading in heaps of bone and meat while he advised, "This Combo dinner should easily feed the two of you."

I felt insulted. "What if I'm really hungry?" I challenged. I had been prepping for weeks, eating all-meat meals, nary a vegetable, chewing steadily, like a long-distance runner trains for a marathon.

"Then you come back here and get some more," he winked.

I had high expectations of ribs and chicken from memory, but was surprised by the deep and complexly spicy red beans. A number of chiles and peppers piled up and let loose their myriad of flavors, spurring me to eat far more than my share. Just as I loosened my belt, Mr. Porter himself materialized with a small orange pot burbling a black and dangerous-looking concoction. He stirred it slowly as he promenaded from table to table, thundering, "HAVE YOU MET THE MAN?"

The lady next me retorted, "How hot is it?" Traditionally, tiny daubs of The Man Sauce are passed around on toothpicks, while certain folk who emit a need to be knocked down a notch receive a dollop on their food. I watched three small boys stoically lick their toothpicks without a tear. The "I'm so spicy" lady munched away on her altered chicken momentarily, encouraging me to buck up and try it. Accepting the proffered toothpick, I sucked it, willy-nilly. As the burn proceeded down my throat, intensifying rather than receding, I swallowed nervously. Spicy Lady had fallen silent. From across the room I could see sweat streaming into her eyes. Her gentleman friend wept and clutched his throat.

I tried to distract myself by following the brilliant gospel music, but began to hallucinate. Every hair follicle itched. An enormous, pink, pig-shaped barbecue shivered by the door. Dousing my mouth with three more iced teas, holding fluffy sweet cornbread on the burn, hurriedly shoveling in chicken and ribs, I desperately employed every chile-neutralizing technique known to humankind.

Only time eases the hydrochloric acid effect of The Man. The Man is a wicked, sadistic ritual, touting Nietzsche's "that which doesn't kill me only makes me stronger" tongue tattoo.

Debriefing later with my dad, eschewing green vegetables for another steak, we remembered the beef and pork ribs with the respect due to their moist, falling off the bone-ness. "Flavorful," he nodded.

"Succulent. I would use that word to describe the brisket," he nodded, hands folded over his belly. "That's all you need to say."

Dixie's BBQ

11522 Northup Way, Bellevue, 425-828-2460. Mon-Sat 11:30 am-4:30 pm, closed Sun. No alcohol. Cash only. $.

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up