THERE'S SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT eating with the TV on. The highly evocative combination of food and colorful moving images brings back memories of Sunday evening hot chocolate and peanut-butter toast, of the excitement of ripping the aluminum cover off a steaming TV dinner. It creates an interesting sense of community, even if the TV show of choice chronicles the devastating mayhem wreaked by recent tornadoes. Such was the setting of a recent trip to Willie Turner's BBQ place on Beacon Hill.

Not to say that the food at Willie's Taste of Soul Bar-B-Que and Custom Smoke House is even remotely like a TV dinner. The clean and smartly appointed little establishment features state-of-the-art Bar-B-Que, with people-pleasing portions and personal attention from Willie himself. Nestled on the corner of Beacon and South Graham, Willie's is just a stone's throw from I-5--and with the authentic food and surrounding lush Beacon Hill greenery, you'd be justified in thinking you just pulled off the freeway in Louisiana. The inviting dining room has been thoughtfully put together, from the sharp gray-and-red tables to the whimsical speckled paint. Reproductions of sketched portraits by Albert Mukasa Wilson grace the walls--Quincy Jones, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, a praying grandma, and a pleasant and unnamed African American women--lending the room a certain elegance. Also on the wall is a big pencil portrait of Willie by artist Bighorse 8, done in a style similar to Wilson's, albeit more primitive.

But enough about the art! The pièce de résistance here is Turner's smoky and aromatic sauce. When Willie, whose quiet and friendly demeanor can be seen framed by the counter window, asks whether you'd like hot or mild BBQ sauce, you'd best beware the hot--it's the real deal. I ordered the Chicken Dinner ($8.95), and when Willie brought me my large platter of shining chicken breast meat, I knew I was about to have my butt kicked by quality. We could smell the goodness, and from the first forkful till the last, the succulence factor remained above reproach. A cute little bowl of beans also packed a wallop, while the soft ice-cream scoop of potato salad, resembling thick pudding, provided much-appreciated textural balance to the saucy magic of the chicken and beans.

Meanwhile, on the TV, the topic had moved from "Death in Tornado Alley" to "What Parents Don't Know About Their Children's Secret Lives"--relating, of course, to recent hijinks at everyone's favorite Colorado high school. While I sat facing the TV, my Administrative Assistant (AA) had her back to the confounded contraption, which forced me to nod and feign amusement at her stories as I sneakily kept my eye on the millionth replay of teens fleeing the school with their hands over their heads. What is it about television that makes the most insipid pablum seem interesting? The AA noticed my indifference, and I sat ashamed as she quietly worked over her Pork Ribs Dinner ($8.95). She had ordered the mild sauce, which, while a little on the shy side, still showcased a modest zip. Her generously portioned side of greens ($2) also wore the red badge of hotness; the AA gamely tried to embrace the heat, without success. I got to eat all the greens.

Contemplating dessert, the AA and I weighed the pros and cons: Sure we were full, but what about the readers? Don't they have a right to know about the dessert? Our eyes met as we pondered the little-known dark side of food reviewing. When the AA bravely stood and proclaimed, "We're getting the sweet potato pie ($3)!" I could only admire her courage and work ethic. Of course, the pie was of predictably high quality. It appeared to be one of those baked in-house affairs, replete with a perfect flaky crust. The light and fluffy filling worked as a healing salve for our over-heated gullets.

Willie also offers some interesting specials. He'll fry a turkey for you for $2 per pound, and his weekend special of Oxtail with rice, cornbread, and two sides (all for $7.99) sounds promising.

As we moved toward the exit, the TV was back to "Tornado Alley." A rapidly increasing number of diners watched and chatted quietly at their tables, creating a full-on family-room atmosphere. But our time was up. The setting sun showcased Boeing Field in all its glory as we drove west along verdant Graham St., back toward I-5, leaving the good vibes of Willie's behind.

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