Originally created 09/27/03

Bloomingdale city manager dons chef's hat



BLOOMINGDALE, Ga. - It's not that often that the bland world of small-town politics mixes it up with the infinitely more spicy - and indispensable - world of Southern cooking.

Last weekend, Dennis Baxter, the city manager for the Savannah suburb of Pooler, set out to change that.

Mr. Baxter - a man who loves to cook almost as much as he loves to eat - threw open the doors on a brand-new barbecue restaurant, just a hop, skip and jump down the road from Pooler in the town of Bloomingdale.

A couple hundred folks turned out on opening day - as many as 20 at a time in the small eatery.

"We think we had a very good first day," said Mr. Baxter, who handles the cooking himself. "It wasn't just friends. It was total strangers coming by to eat."

For now, Baxter's Barbecue is a Saturday-only venture, although it also will offer catering for special events.

Mr. Baxter - who has prepared the food for many council retreats - already gets rave reviews at City Hall.

"He's an awesome cook, now. He's a chef for sure," said Maribeth Lindler, Pooler's city clerk. Mayor Buddy Carter seconds the motion.

"Dennis can really cook," said Mr. Carter, who gave Mr. Baxter his first barbecue-generated dollar, suitable for framing. Mr. Carter was there on the first day.

"Of course, Buddy is a big barbecue eater," Mr. Baxter said. "Hardly a week goes by that he doesn't have some."

Councilwoman Billie Tyler believes Mr. Baxter is more of a gourmet chef than the focus on barbecue might suggest.

"He doesn't go by a cookbook or a list of ingredients," Ms. Tyler said. "Where I have to measure everything out, he can just open up the cabinets and use whatever's there to prepare a meal like you've never had before."

For Mr. Baxter, the restaurant represents the realization of a dream that has persisted over the past 20 years. He believes the business will grow.

But he's not giving up his day job any time soon. The eatery might go full-time in two or three years, when Mr. Baxter expects to retire from his City Hall job.

"I don't want to just sit down when I retire. I enjoy barbecuing and I enjoy cooking, and this just seems to make an awful lot of sense," Mr. Baxter said.