It appears that Bart’s Old North State Barbecue, which started as a catering company and then a food truck, has found a bricks and mortar location. This one opened up right under my nose without me realizing, so thanks to alert reader Will for tipping me off to it. I’ve had these folks’ barbecue from the truck and it is quite good, so expect it’s worth a visit. I’ll be trying it myself soon.
One of Chapel Hill’s best loved restaurants is turning 30. Crook’s Corner has long offered barbecue as an afterthought on its menu of southern staples (shrimp and grits) and innovative originals (Cheese Pork!, anyone?). Although Crook’s has been hailed as “Sacred ground for Southern foodies” by the New York Times, their barbecue has never been anything particularly special–not even cooked on site, but rather “imported” from Bullock’s in Durham and marked up in price significantly. However, Crook’s is an excellent restaurant and they are celebrating their 30th with a barbecue bash tonight.
With the mainstreaming of barbecue across the country, it’s inevitable that the formerly humble food will finds it way onto menus at a increasingly varied range of establishments. A case in point is Chapel Hill’s landmark gourmet food shop, A Southern Season, which recently made the following announcement about the newest addition to their delicatessen menu:
“Authentic, North Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ
We are bringing you some of North Carolina’s finest—Pig Pickin’ style Pulled Pork with a tangy Eastern North Carolina-style vinegar sauce. Made exclusively with pork Boston Butts.
The Classic NC BBQ Sandwich
Stop by today for a classic BBQ sandwich $4.99 each.”
If you’ve never been to A Southern Season, you should know that I like the place. You should also know that A Southern Season is famous for its chocolates, ornate gift baskets, wine selection, gourmet deli and cheese shop, and various overpriced snacks and knicknacks. It is, at its essence, a gourmet southern food store for northerners. The inclusion of a BBQ sandwich on A Southern Season’s deli menu is akin to McDonald’s deciding to offer an artisanal cheese plate. Could it be good? Possibly. Does it make sense? Certainly not.
Is bourgie ’cue something that should concern barbecue traditionalists? A level-headed observer might say no. I say hell yes. Although I’ve yet to sample the barbecue sandwich at A Southern Season, I have no problem deeming it, sight unseen, as yuppicue of the highest order and warning my loyal readers to steer clear. Well, unless you happen to be shopping for Belgian chocolate cordials and get a hankering for chopped pork… I couldn’t fault you for that.
For those of you in striking distance of Chapel Hill, there’s a good event for a good cause this Saturday, as described by Mr. Page Skelton of Cackalacky, Inc.
“Our mighty Cackalacky cookout crew will be teaming up with our “zest friends” from A Southern Season and Fullsteam Brewery for an awesome tailgate party/sampling event this Saturday, October 29th! Plus, we will also be accepting non-perishable food donations at the gathering on behalf of the nice folks from PORCH, too! (People Offering Relief for Chapel Hill and Carrboro Homes, or, “PORCH” for short.)
So, please come by the tailgate party for some tasty tunes, brews, and eats – and help support a great local cause! (And, please don’t forget to bring a few canned or boxed food items with you.)
What: Cackalacky-Fullsteam Tailgate Party
Where: A Southern Season, 201 S. Estes Drive, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
When: Saturday, October 29th 11 – 3PM
Why: Why not? (Seriously) Well, that AND to have a great time while we raise food donations for a great cause!
Thanks & zestiest regards,
On Friday I visited Allen & Son’s in Chapel Hill for the first time in months (the location north of town on Highway 86, not the unrelated and inferior Allen’s south of town). As usual, not much had changed since my last visit: great food, friendly service, and prices slowly creeping toward $11 for a large plate yet somehow still worth it. And then my jaw dropped. As I perused the menu to decide whether to get a BBQ plate or sandwich I saw it, the first major change to the menu I can recall besides pricing. A barbecue tray!
This may not sound like big news to you, but Allen’s has never before–in the 25-plus years I’ve been visiting–offered a tray. It has always had a sandwich and a plate but never a tray. But there it was, a recent addition to the carved in stone menu sitting in front of me.
At many BBQ joints that offer a tray, “plate” means BBQ, slaw, hush puppies and fries and “tray” excludes fries. Trays also tend to offer slightly smaller portions than plates, a nice feature for folks like me who often eat at more than one joint when visiting unchartered barbecue territory. At Allen’s the regular plate does not include fries (though there is a fries added option), so the difference between the plate and tray appears to be quantity. As you can see in the picture above, the tray offers plenty of food for a modest appettite, and is a couple of bucks less than a plate. Next time I visit I’ll bring my postal scale and do a more scientific comparison between the two options…
As the summer heat cranks up, things get interesting in North Carolina. For one thing, Porky LeSwine starts to speak about himself in the third person and craves food beyond just barbecue. While man could live just fine on the holy trinity of swine, slaw and hush puppies, sometimes a taste of something else is good for the soul (and the aorta). Luckily, there are two new cookbooks from North Carolina that allow folks like Porky to get a taste of the good life beyond pork.
Andrea Reusing, newly minted James Beard award winning chef at Chapel Hill’s Lantern Restaurant has released her first cookbook, Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. Reusing is best known for the Asian-inspired, locally sourced, carefully prepared fare she and her team serve at the Lantern, but Cooking in the Moment features few Asian recipes. Instead, it is full of fairly simple, eclectic recipes that are organized by season, well explained, beautifully photographed and, judging from the few dishes I’ve made thus far, delicious.
Cooking in the Moment is particularly enjoyable for anyone who lives in or near Durham and Orange Counties, as it includes many stories involving local farmers many of us recognize from the area’s several farmer’s markets. But don’t get me wrong, this is a hell of a cookbook and will appeal to people who live anywhere and love good food. So, we can forgive Ms. Reusing that she fails to include any recipes for barbecue. Die hard pigavores will have to suffice with cider-braised pork shoulder, carnitas and the like.
Another cookbook with a similar theme and Chapel Hill ties, this one published by The University of North Carolina Press, is The New Southern Garden Cookbook by Sheri Castle. The title hints at what is inside: over 300 recipes organized alphabetically by vegetable/fruit ingredient–apples to zucchini, and a whole lot in between.
Rest assured that ham and plenty of other pig parts make their way into The New Southern Garden Cookbook’s recipes. This is the “new south” but it is still the south. I should confess that I’ve yet to read this cookbook–my copy is in the mail–but it sounds like a winner from all I’ve heard. I’ll report back once I get a chance to test drive the recipes. Until then, happy cooking… and don’t forget to take an occasional break from all the produce for some barbecue. It’s important to stay in shape, after all.
Sam Suchoff is not your typical pit boss. But then The Pig is not your typical barbecue joint. Indeed, Suchoff has a damn near disturbing range of culinary experience for a barbecue cook. More to the point, much of the fare he serves at The Pig veers away from North Carolina barbecue tradition with menu items like brisket, tamales, kielbasa and, yes, even country fried tofu.
Veering away from tradition is not necessarily a bad thing because many traditional North Carolina barbecue joints offer little on their menus worth sampling beyond the holy trinity of barbecue, slaw and hushpuppies (which, to be fair, is not necessarily a bad thing either). Suchoff offers a wide-ranging, pork-centric menu, but he respects the tradition of whole hog barbecue and that reverence is evident along with his creativity.
In a recent interview, Suchoff was kind enough to share with me the reasons he cooks with an electric smoker, why barbecue is the dish he’s most proud of cooking despite all the variety on his menu, and why vegetarianism is an easy way to get girls (at least in L.A.). Follow this link to read the interview.
630 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill, NC
Hours: Mon-Thu 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A- (but it’s complicated)
Porky Says: “Wholly different whole hog.”
At The Pig, “whole hog barbeque” seems to refer to using every part of the pig but the oink–as folks from ’round here often say–but not just in one dish called barbecue. Rather than simply chopping the whole hog up to make traditional ‘cue, Suchoff and his team take diners on a menu-wide culinary trip from snout to tail and back again. I’d challenge anyone to name a restaurant, barbecue or otherwise, in North Carolina that uses as much of one animal to such great effect. For example, on a recent and ever-so-slightly overindulgent visit to The Pig, I sampled the following kinds of divine swine: (more…)
As of a couple of weeks ago, The Pig has opened in Chapel Hill in the old location of The Barbecue Joint at 630 Weaver Dairy Road. We speculated about the possible connection between The Barbecue Joint and The Pig in a previous post. In fact, according to The Pig’s Facebook page, the owner “worked at The Barbecue Joint for a couple of years and owe[s] allot [sic] of my chops to Damon Lapas but The Pig is in no way associated with either Damon or Jonathon.” The menu (available on the website) certainly bears some resemblance to The Barbecue Joint in that it appears to include some inventive twists on traditional barbecue joint offerings. We’ve yet to check out it out for ourselves but are excited to do so soon. In the meantime, try it for yourself: the hours are Mon-Thu 11 to 9 and Fri-Sat 11 to 10.
I know, I know, eating barbecue at Whole Foods seems about as wise as a barbecue joint offering tofu on its menu. But I am an intrepid soul when it comes to barbecue and I’ll do nearly anything for the sake of a blog post. Plus, Whole Foods is based in Austin, Texas, which even this Carolina boy admits is pretty serious barbecue country.
It pains me to admit this, but the NC-style pork barbecue at Whole Foods was not bad. Not real good and certainly not great but okay, adequate, passable, just fine, thank you. I was expecting a gussied up dish that bore little resemblance to real NC BBQ but the pork was rough chopped to a nice consistency, moist despite being on a steam table, and served with a simple Eastern-style vinegar and spices sauce. The pork even contained some outside brown meat, firmer and more flavorful than the rest. Most importantly, the barbecue contained no unwanted additions: no chunks of organic kumquat fruit, no sauce made with locally-raised fig compote, and no free-range kale juice used as seasoning.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are relatively few barbecue joints I’d pass up in favor of Whole Foods, but if you find yourself (as I did) needing a quick NC BBQ fix you could do worse. (As an aside, I had the beef brisket too and it was awful.) If you find yourself in that weak position, do what I do and recite the following prayer for strength:
“Yea, though I walk through the parking lot in the shadow of Whole Foods, I will fear no tofu: for thou art with me; thy pork and thy sauce they comfort me. Thou preparest a Cafe table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my tongue with vinegar; my iced tea cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the church of ’cue forever.”