6203 Millhouse Rd., Chapel Hill, NC
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A+
Porky Says: “You can take me now, I’ve lived a good life.”
Preface: It’s no coincidence that we decided to make Allen & Son the subject of our first review. Years ago, Allen’s helped convince the Rib Rabbi and Porky LeSwine to worship at the temple of barbecue and it remains one of our favorite joints.
For The Doubters: Or Why You Shouldn’t Not GoYes, it has a Chapel Hill address. Yes, many Chapel Hill residents wouldn’t know a barbecue pit from a hole in the ground if Bon Appetit didn’t feel the need to explain it to them. Yes, the food is more expensive than most barbecue joints, even very good ones, and the prices keep going up. (Economics 101 teaches us that this is the law of supply and demand, and we are confident the invisible hand will take care of society’s best barbecue interests.) Yes, Allen’s probably gets a lot of press because the national media prefers to spend the night at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill than at the Econo Lodge in Lexington. But Allen & Son deserves every bit of the acclaim it has received; Keith Allen and his crew serve some of the best barbecue in North Carolina. And, at the risk of diving head-first into an empty pool of hyperbole, this means Allen’s serves some of the best barbecue in the world.
The Grub: Or Why You Should Go
Allen’s barbecue has more flavor than just about any pork anywhere even before the terrific sauce is added. Allen’s focuses on cooking pork shoulders (a Lexington style trait) but the sauce is very much in the Eastern tradition. Some complain that the occasional gristle or slightly charred skin finds its way onto the plate, but that is inevitable when one cooks over wood and chops the meat by hand. The slaw is, in my opinion, perfect and complements that coarse-chopped meat well. The slaw is rather coarsely chopped and heavy on the vinegar and black pepper.
The desserts, down to the ice cream, are homemade and nothing short of great. They look a bit shabby, but who cares when they disappear so quickly? I could go on about this place but you get the point. The only weak link is the hush puppies, which are inconsistent. They are golf ball-size, which may be part of the problem. Although I have sometimes had great puppies at Allen’s, they are often too dense or over-fried. I suspect it is difficult to do a good job deep frying a golf-ball-size lump of corn meal. But the bad news starts and ends there. The rest of the menu is terrific, well worth a drive from Lexington, Goldsboro or beyond.
A Final Note: Need We Say More?Quite a few years back Allen’s caught fire and suffered significant flame and smoke damage. The very next day a bunch of Allen’s regulars showed up in the parking lot with their construction tools ready, volunteering their labor. Needless to say Allen’s reopened quickly and the regulars weren’t without the divine swine for long. And that tells you more about Allen’s than an article in Bon Appetit ever will.
Postscript: For an interesting slideshow on Allen’s narrated by John Shelton Reed and Keith Allen himself, check out Last of the ‘Pitmasters’.