Food trucks offer delicious eats at Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios

Bristol Tottress faced a barbecue conundrum when he relocated to Tulsa - the struggle to find the kind of barbecue he cherished from his upbringing. Driven by a passion for the art of barbecuing that he had nurtured since the age of 15, Tottress decided to take matters into his own hands.

Food trucks offer delicious eats at Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios

"I've been cooking barbecue since I was about 15 years old," Tottress explained. "It's always been something I loved - just the way that meat, fire, and smoke can come together and make something so wonderful."

In Tulsa, Tottress noticed that barbecue often emphasized the sauce, a departure from his preference for savoring the unadulterated essence of the meat.

"I'm not against barbecue sauce by any means," he clarified, "but I really prefer to taste the meat when I eat barbecue. I want to have that depth of flavor that comes from the right amount of heat, smoke, and time being applied to a piece of meat."

Initially, Tottress began by preparing barbecue for family and friends until a friend's suggestion changed the course of his journey: "You should sell this."

This pivotal moment marked the birth of Country Q Barbecue, a food trailer that Tottress has been operating for approximately three years in and around the Tulsa area. Although Tulsa has always been his home, Tottress has taken his trailer to various parts of Oklahoma, as well as ventured into locations like Kansas City, Texas, and Arkansas.

In March of this year, Tottress found a more or less permanent spot for his Country Q trailer next to Buck Atom's Cosmic Curios, a Route 66-themed gift shop under the watchful gaze of a 20-foot-tall "space cowboy."

Tottress noticed that a different barbecue trailer had occupied the space on the property, but when he realized it was no longer there, he seized the opportunity to take over the location.

"I was told that the owners weren't planning on having another truck on-site," he recounted. "So I got in my car and drove over here and made my pitch directly to Mary Beth (Babcock, owner of Buck Atom's).

"And about a week later, I got a call from Mary Beth saying she would love to have me here on a regular basis," Tottress shared, with a chuckle. "And I didn't even bring along any barbecue - I guess it was just my big smile and personality that convinced her."

Country Q operates officially three days a week at Buck Atom's, with schedule changes possible due to catering commitments or participation in other events. Updates regarding the trailer's schedule are communicated through Country Q's various social media channels.

The trailer is a self-contained operation, with a dedicated smoking area separated from the ordering window and the rest of the space. An air conditioning unit in the ordering area enabled Tottress to work comfortably during the sweltering summer heat.

Behind the trailer, rows of pecan wood, exclusively used for the barbecue, add a distinctive flavor to the meats.

"I'm from Boynton, which is one of those small Oklahoma towns people only hear about when the TV weathermen are talking about tornadoes," he joked. "And pecan trees are everywhere around there. For me, the smell of pecan wood burning and the taste of barbecue that's been smoked over pecan wood - that's home."

Tottress employs two rubs, each tailored to specific meats. "My pork rub is more sugar-based, while the beef rub is more salt-and-pepper," he explained. "Again, it's all about making sure everything enhances the taste of the meat. That's why I only serve sauce on the side."

During our recent visit, we savored a trio of dishes that offered a well-rounded taste of Tottress's barbecue prowess: a three-meat combo ($22) featuring pork ribs, chopped brisket, and smoked bologna, and the Big Country sandwich ($22) that comprised two hearty slices of smoked bologna, pulled pork, and a mild hot link.

The combo included two sides, and we opted for beans and potato salad. While the potato salad appeared to be commercially prepared, it was delightful. In contrast, the house-made beans were packed with brisket bits and struck an ideal balance between spiciness and sweetness.

The meats were truly the stars of the show. The substantial, meaty ribs carried the aroma of pecan smoke, and their tenderness was impeccable, requiring just a gentle pull to release the succulent meat from the bone. The rub's sweetness perfectly complemented the ribs. The chopped brisket was juicy without being overly fatty, and the four bologna slices boasted a delectable smokiness.

The Big Country sandwich was a hearty, knife-and-fork affair, and although it was a challenge to savor all the elements in one bite, the effort was worthwhile. Despite its "mild" classification, the hot link possessed a hint of spiciness, benefitting from the sweet and spicy sauce that accompanied the sandwich.

On Saturdays, Tottress offers baked potatoes stuffed with barbecued meats, smoked chicken wings, and beef ribs.

While Tottress affirmed that his business in its current form provides for his family, with the "Q" in the name reflecting his affection for his "queens," particularly his 6- and 4-year-old daughters, he aspires to open a brick-and-mortar establishment. His goal is to realize this vision by 2024.

Tottress's family often lends a hand at the trailer, which offers an opportunity for him to impart valuable lessons to his daughters about the importance of work and the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment.

"I want them to understand where everything we have comes from," Tottress explained. "God has blessed us in so many ways, but at the same time, we have to do the work. So I want my girls to know the rewards that come from putting in the work - especially when it's work you love doing."

Cherry & Bark Ice Cream

On the east side of Buck Atom's emporium, you'll find a wood-and-corrugated-tin structure where Kristi Burris operates her Cherry & Bark ice cream business.

Burris established her ice cream company shortly after returning to the Tulsa area to assist her parents. Originally, the Sapulpa native had moved to Chicago following her graduation from the University of Oklahoma and pursued careers in professional tap dancing and the fitness industry.

"I came back in 2021, and when I started, I just had a push-cart," Burris recalled. "I would often come here (to Buck Atom's) on event days, and after a while, Mary Beth asked me if I would want to put a shop on the lot. I also make furniture, so I built the shop myself, and we opened in April 2022."

Burris offers ten "standard flavors," encompassing classic options like vanilla, coffee, mint chocolate chip, and raspberry sorbet, as well as more distinctive combinations such as the shop's signature flavor, Cherry & Almond Bark, and Rosemaried Grapefruit & Pecans. She occasionally introduces one or two "limited flavors," and on the day of our visit, Mexican Hot Chocolate was on the menu. Most of Cherry & Bark's flavors are gluten-free, and a few are vegan.

The Mexican Hot Chocolate flavor exuded rich, luscious chocolate notes with a hint of cinnamon. Cherry & Almond Bark featured tart cherries and crunchy almonds, delightfully complementing the ice cream.

"I try to use as many local ingredients as I can," Burris emphasized. "But since there aren't many cherry trees in Oklahoma, I travel to Michigan and harvest cherries myself."

Burris prepares her ice creams at the Kitchen 66 prep kitchen, packages them into 4-oz. ($4) and 8-oz. ($7) cups, and transports them to the site. The menu also includes root beer floats ($2.75) made with Weber's Root Beer and Topeca Cold Brew Coffee ($3.50).

As the summer season extends into Halloween this year, Burris plans to keep her shop open until early November.

"I'll probably switch over to hot chocolate when things start getting chilly," she mused. "And I have products at the Mother Road Market, and I'll take part in the Tulsa Farmer's Market."

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