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Gina and Pat Neely, At Home and On the Road

It all started in 1998, when Gaelin, Mark, Patrick and Tony, also known as the brothers Neely, opened a barbecue restaurant in downtown Memphis. It was so popular that Pat’s wife Gina joined in for the expansion and the couple became Nashville’s food sweethearts. They appeared on the Food Network and began with their own show in 2008. Down Home with the Neelys is one of the channel’s highest rated shows and the couple is getting known throughout the world.

The appeal of the Neelys is wide-ranged as their dishes are familiar comfort food, with a slight twist. How about a white barbecue sauce, made with mayonnaise? Or, macaroni and cheese with bacon and potato chips? The Neelys know how to mix it up a bit without going to wild. It’s this ability that has made their restaurants so popular. There are now four Neely’s Bar-B-Que locations in Tennessee (two in Memphis and two in Nashville). The couple also opened Neely’s Barbecue Parlor in New York City in 2011 and, if you can’t get into any of those stores, make your own with their sauces and rubs, or just have the ribs delivered from their website.

Gina and Pat Neely were back at the Food Network Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival with one of the most popular events there, Blues, Brews and BBQ, where they got to show off some of their famous Southern-style cooking. They also hosted a new event which was a huge hit. The Gospel Brunch, held at the House of Blues at the Showboat Hotel, offered a full choir of music while ticket holders ate a buffet filled with everything from Pecan Caramel Sticky Buns to Shrimp Jambalaya.

Before the Neelys left Atlantic City, they sat down to talk about their show, their new book, and their favorite places to eat.

Travel, Food & Drink: The two of you work well together. How do you play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses?
Gina Neely: Two weeks before, my stomach is like, ‘oh, god, they are coming back!’ So, now what I do is play off of Pat a lot. I couldn’t imagine all those chefs who are standing
there and talking by themselves because they don’t have anyone to talk and engage with. I really like talking with somebody and engaging. In that respect I use Pat a lot. So that’s one of the strengths and weaknesses we play off each other. It’s not a competition thing, it’s more a thing where I feel comfortable with him, but when I’m by myself, sometimes I will try to rush through it (talks really fast) and they’ll say ‘excuse me, we need to hear the ingredients’ (laughter). I’m just trying to rush through it so they can stop looking at me.

Travel, Food & Drink: What is it like filming out of your own home?
Gina Neely: They did everything they could to make me comfortable. It’s fun when we were just doing it for fun, but when you start bringing in cameras, I say, ‘This ain’t fun anymore,’ it really changed in a lot of ways.

Pat Neely: I think we had a lot of lessons to learn about not being in a studio. When we decided to start filming in our home, it created such a level of comfortability because I know where my cutlery is, I know where mixing bowls are, and we just go get them. There’s no ‘excuse me, director, can I go get bowls?’ We’re so fortunate because we have such a wonderful production team and also producers like Paula Dean, so it just flows. What we’ve learned to do is we don’t pay attention to them. They are just there. We do our own thing. We just
wrapped season 11 and we…

Gina Neely: When we celebrated that 100th show, I was like, ‘100 shows and I’m still living.’ I couldn’t believe it!

Travel, Food & Drink: You have lots of exciting things happening this year.
Pat Neely: We opened up Neely’s Barbecue Parlor at 62nd and 1st (in New York City), and you cannot get in without reservations, so we thank God for that blessing. And, Gina and I will release our next cookbook on November 1st. We kickoff with the Today show and then we’ll be in 17 cities. It is a book that we are extremely proud of.

Gina Neely: It has a traditional thanksgiving, plus we did something called Mini-Moon for when you can’t get a traditional honeymoon. And, we have a ‘Welcome Home Baby.” It’s a lot of traditions that we kind of incorporated in our lives because of our new schedule.

Pat Neely: Some of them are ones we celebrated when we were growing up, like my mother always did spring cleaning. There’s a chapter about spring cleaning. When springtime hits, Gina is in the house with the girls and I pull the grill out. So I have my baby out!

Travel, Food & Drink: What is your favorite destination to travel to check out food that’s a little different than what you make?
Pat Neely: We haven’t been back, but I absolutely love it and I love the breakfasts — I’m a breakfast guy — Vancouver, Canada.
Gina Neely: It’s beautiful.
Pat Neely: We actually spent a lot of time there and also in Victoria. We stayed at the Empress (in Victoria), the big hotel. We would get up in the morning and Gina and I would go down and have a Canadian breakfast right there on the pier. It was absolutely delicious.
Gina Neely: I felt like I should put on one of those long gowns and a big crown (laughter).
Pat Neely: I’d have to say that’s one of the places (for food). New Orleans is also always a place that we’re going to go and put on an extra 15 pounds.

Travel, Food & Drink: Have you been anywhere that the food surprised you?
Gina Neely: Where was it we just went and I kept saying, ‘do they have chicken?!’ It was a beautiful place, but they were so rich – and I love my pigs — in pork. It was a beautiful island.
Pat Neely: It was the Caymans, the Cayman Islands.

Gina Neely: The Cayman Islands are beautiful. It’s new, it’s very urbanista. They’ve taken it up a notch with beautiful high rises. It’s absolutely gorgeous, but every restaurant, you could
barely find chicken. Everything was pork ears, pork stomach, pork cheeks. I was like, ‘where is your chicken?!’ I always found that interesting that I don’t like that they don’t have chicken. We finally found one place at the end.

By Marcia Frost