Customers say they’ll miss Hot Rod’s BBQ
By B.C. Manion
When Derwin Anderson, of Lake Bernadette, learned that Hot Rod’s BBQ & Grill was closing May 2, he made it a point to eat lunch there.
Anderson wanted to enjoy one last meal at the Lutz restaurant while he still had the chance.
“We used to come here and hang out with the college students from my church,” said Anderson, a former pastor at Exciting Idlewild Baptist Church.
He moved away from the area for five years and now lives in Zephyrhills.
“I’m upset they’re closing,” said Anderson, now lead pastor of NorthBridge Church in Wesley Chapel. “The food is ridiculously good. It’s authentic barbecue. The people are just awesome.”
Kim Adams, 31, was a regular at the barbecue joint while she attended graduate school at the University of South Florida. She now lives in Ohio, but was in town last week to visit her friend John Sawyer, who moved to Town ‘N Country a week ago.
“I said, ‘Well, let’s go to Hot Rod’s,’” Adams said. “I didn’t even know they were closing. … I’m really sad about it. I love coming here to eat. The food was always amazing.”
She enjoyed the atmosphere, too: “It’s down-home friendly. It was always a unique experience. If people came down to visit me from out-of-town, we would come here.”
A few hundred people turned out on closing night, said Rod Gaudin, who opened Hot Rod’s in 1998.
“We ran out of food, and we ran out of beer,” he said.
The restaurant began as a barbecue pit, which Gaudin set up next to the country store that he owned at the corner of Sunset Lane and Livingston Avenue.
As the pit’s popularity grew, Gaudin converted a wood-frame house into a restaurant, with an area out back for bands and parties.
Hot Rod’s developed a reputation for its colorful menu items and eclectic décor.
Throughout the years it served up such fare as lizard tail, which is a beef steak sandwich, and armadillo eggs that are actually cheddar cheese poppers.
Its most recent menu included redneck prime rib made with Spam and swamp bat, which state inspectors once told a Tampa Tribune reporter was actually quail.
Gaudin didn’t directly deny that inspector’s report, but he didn’t exactly confirm it, either.
“That’s what the inspector said,” Gaudin said. “So, let him say what he wanted to say.”
Visitors to Hot Rod’s entered the old frame house by stepping across a wooden plank porch and pulling on a water spigot door handle.
Once inside, they encountered walls and shelves decked out in a collection that Gaudin has been known to describe as “early clutter.”
The “spiders and dust,” he said, “are just a country accent.”
Even after most of the décor had been cleared out, there were signs remaining on closing day that conveyed a playful feel such as “Complaints to the cook can be hazardous to your health” and “Beware of Attack Waitress.”
And, sauces for sale included “Scorned Women,” “Endorphin Rush” and “Mosquito Blood — It sneaks up on you and you will (heart symbol) its sting.”
Hot Rod’s became a local landmark in a relatively short time.
It was a popular spot to listen to music and to have family parties.
It drew big crowds of construction workers and lawn crews for lunch, but those people disappeared when the housing market crashed and the recession set in, Gaudin said.
The restaurant’s last day came after Gaudin lost a court battle about debt, which he vows to challenge.
Meanwhile, the last helpings of ribs, cornbread pudding and swamp bat have been served at this restaurant, in a community which became very dear to the Gaudins.
They expressed their feelings on a menu, printed after the restaurant’s 15th anniversary.
“Through the years, we have built families and friendships nobody could fully understand or cherish as much as we do,” the menu reads. “Our lives have grown and been renewed by the people in Lutz, who have supported us and fully understand what a small town family business is all about.”
The menu goes on to read that they hope to continue their operation and maintain those connections for another 15 years.
It’s a wish that old regulars, such as Adams and Anderson, would’ve liked to have seen come true.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.