BBQ Jew’s View: The Pig

 630 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill, NC
919.942.1133
Website
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.” 

Pondering the Meaning of Whole Hog BBQ
The Pig’s website proclaims–in large lettering–“Serving whole hog barbeque.”  But chef/owner Sam Suchoff’s definition of whole hog barbecue extends beyond that used in Eastern North Carolina tradition.  Indeed, many old school pitmasters and barbecue eaters alike will cringe, roll their eyes, feel their blood pressure spike and mumble a few choice words when they find out what “whole hog barbeque” means at The Pig.
 
In Eastern North Carolina, “whole hog barbecue” typically–okay, always–refers to chopped pork made  from a whole hog, with hams, shoulders, loin, skin and so on chopped together into a glorious mess.  (In other parts of North Carolina, joints tend to rely on shoulders and sometimes hams, rather than whole hog.) The Pig’s chopped barbecue sticks with the whole hog tradition by using multiple parts of the hog.  However, the “whole hog barbeque” served at The Pig includes quite a bit more than chopped and sauced whole hog.  In fact, their menu would not fly in most parts of the state and may well be a criminal offense in Salisbury, Lexington, Goldsboro, Ayden and other barbecue meccas.  But The Pig is located in Chapel Hill, a strange southern town where folks have a little more linguistic freedom, even when talking about barbecue, and where many diners are, to put it politely, not from ’round here. (Yankees.)
 
Nouveau ‘cue
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: Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Blue Note Grill

4125 Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, Durham, NC
919.401.1979
Website
Hours: Mon-Thu 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Nobody loves their Q but my mother, and she could be jivin’ too.”

Singing the Low Down, So-So Barbecue Blues
If you’ve been reading this site for more than a couple of weeks, you’re probably aware that I get a bit cranky about places that serve so-called North Carolina barbecue but don’t know seem to know the difference between a ham and a shoulder.  The folks at Blue Note Grill are trying to learn the art of NC ‘cue but they have a long way to go.  The Blue Note Grill does many things right, but barbecue is not among them. 

Butter My Toast, Not My Bun
The Blue Note is a classic bar and grill that serves up pretty good food, frequent live music, and a variety of adult beverages to wash down the workaday blues.  Their menu includes quesadillas, hand-ground burgers, pork chop sandwiches, fried pickles and banana peppers, onion rings, sweet potato fries, chili, salads and a whole lot more.   As far as I can tell its a place Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Holly Ridge Smokehouse

511 Highway 17 North, Holly Ridge, NC
910.329.1708
Website
Hours: Tu-Th & Su 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fr-Sa 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B-
Porky Says: “Decent Beach-B-Q at last.”

Palatable Barbecue Near the Beach? Finally!
Earlier this summer I took a family vacation to Topsail Beach.  Unsurprisingly, I dragged my wife and kids to a barbecue restaurant on the way.  Equally unsurprising was the fact that I did this over my wife’s protests.  She is only an occasional barbecue eater and, like most women, operates under the misguided belief that a greasy plate of chopped pork and hush puppies is a less than perfect pre-bikini meal.  Nonsense!  Plus, in fairness, my wife knows from traveling with me that barbecue joints within 50 or so miles of the coast tend to be mediocre at best.  Needless to say, that fact has never stopped me from trying to find exceptions to the rule.

Given that it’s located inland about five miles from Topsail Beach, Holly Ridge isn’t really a beach town as much as a refueling pit stop on the way to the beach.  Still, five miles is pretty damn close to the beach by barbecue standards, so I had to try the Holly Ridge Smokehouse despite that it looks like just the type of place I know to avoid.  It is large, Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Smokey’s BBQ Shack

 
10800 Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville, NC
919.469.1724
Website
Hours: Mon-Wed 11-2, Thu-Fri 11-7:30, Sat 11-7
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Smokey’s is just okie dokie.”

Authentically Inauthentic (or Vice Versa)
Smokey’s feels like what people who didn’t grow up in barbecue country expect a barbecue joint to feel like.  From the joking “Entrance Only – Do Not Enter” sign on the front door to the joint’s a bit too cutesy motto (“The BBQ Rocks and So Do Most of the Tables!”), it has a tongue-in-cheek hillbilly vibe that is both endearing and a little bit grating.  (Judging from the large lunchtime crowd, which was diverse but leaned toward white collar RTPers easily identified by their ID badges, most people find the hillbilly vibe more endearing than I do.)  Similarly, the joint looks like it has occupied the modest white cinder block building on a still-rural stretch of Highway 54 for many years.  Of course, it hasn’t, as The Deli Box occupied the spot just a few years ago.  Still, it’s impossible to deny that the look of the building and location are perfect for a barbecue joint–close enough to RTP to pack in the customers but rural enough to look the part of a 50-year old BBQ joint.

Careful What You Promise
On their website, Smokey’s says it is “the best North Carolina ‘Q’ in Raleigh.”  That is a dubious claim for a couple of Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Dillard’s Bar-B-Q

3921 Fayetteville Street, Durham, NC
919.544.1587
Website
Hours: Uh, I forgot to write ‘em down, I’ll find out soon…
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Man shall not dine on pork alone (at least not here).”

Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone
While most barbecue joints use their marquee signs to boast or advertise weekly specials, the sign outside of Dillard’s has read “Deuteronomy 8:3″ for as long as I can remember.  Indeed, man cannot live on bread alone. Sometimes he craves pork. 

Dillard’s has been providing Durham residents and visitors with much more than bread since 1952, when its late founder Sam Dillard first started selling barbecue.  Mr. Dillard was a devout Christian, so the Deuteronomy 8:3 reference is not some tongue-in-cheek statement that a younger pitmaster might put on a sign to lure in the hipsters.  At Dillard’s the sign is sincere and heartfelt.  Unfortunately, while the fellowship at Dillard’s remains intact the quality of their cooking has suffered over the years.

Soul Food Aplenty
Dillard’s offers a large buffet of “southern style soul food,” as the restaurant’s website puts it.  (I have yet to experience northern style soul food, and hope to maintain this spotless record but I digress… .)  The buffet is served cafeteria style by friendly staff, some of them direct descendants of Sam Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Whole Foods BBQ Bar

81 South Elliott Road, Chapel Hill, NC
919.968.1983
Website
Hours: Sun-Sat 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Whole Foods serves BBQ?!”

There’s a Whole Fool Born Every Minute
I hope you are seated as you read this next sentence.  Whole Foods serves its own, house-cooked barbecue.  And I actually worked up the nerve to try it. 

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.


No Foolin’
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. 

Whole lotta pork.

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.”

BBQ Jew’s View: Jack’s BBQ

213 W. Main Street, Gibsonville, NC
336.449.6347
Website
Hours: Mon-Tue, Thu-Fri 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Wed 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Sat 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: D-
Porky Says: “All pork with no taste makes Jack’s a dull ‘cue.”

Can’t We Do Better?
At this risk of sounding overly dramatic or harsh, Jack’s BBQ is emblematic of what is wrong with North Carolina’s dying barbecue culture.  It’s a charming and cozy little joint, complete with about a half dozen booths and an old fashioned (and just plain old, as Jack’s dates back 43 years) counter, plus a carry-out window.  The service is efficient and the staff couldn’t be nicer.  The customers look happy.  And so on.  But the barbecue is terrible.  If the place was called Jack’s Cafe, I’d be nice and leave them alone.  Hell, I’d even return for another (BBQ-free) meal.  Instead, I have to be honest and mean.

Not fit to be served

Home of the Big Boy
The barbecue seems like an afterthought on a menu that touts the “Big Boy,” a very large hamburger that the waitress told Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Byrd’s Barbecue

2816 Cheek Road, Durham, NC
919.530.1839
No Website
Hours: Mon-Fri 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Noah’s Temple didn’t make me a believer.”

“Worth Your Time to Find”
I’m embarassed to admit that I first heard of Byrd’s Barbecue fewer than 6 months ago.  Byrd’s–with the motto “Worth Your Time to Find” etched onto its rooftop sign–is located in Durham within 20 minutes of my house.  And it was founded over 50 years ago.  (According to a recent News & Observer article, Noah and Michelle Temple bought Byrd’s in 2005.  Noah used to work at Danny’s Bar-B-Que in Cary, which we’ve yet to visit but have poked fun at.)  How could I have not know about Byrd’s sooner?  And was it worth my time to find after all these years living in the dark? 

I still can’t figure out the answer to the first question, but maybe it has something to do with the answer to the second one: No.  Although it is a decent enough place, Byrd’s is nothing special.  It’s one of hundreds–or thousands–of mediocre barbecue joints in NC that long ago took the cheaper, easier path and stopped cooking over wood, in the process sacrificing quality, flavor and tradition.

Looks Like the Real Deal,
If you choose to ignore the propane tank that looms behind the building (which, of course, you should not), Byrd’s has the look of a gem of a BBQ joint.  Located just outside the city limits, it occupies a rural setting that is appropriate to good ‘cue.  The modest wood frame building looks the part too.  And the parking lot welcomed a steady stream of Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Prissy Polly’s

729 Highway 66 South, Kernersville, NC
336.993.5045
Website
Hours: Mon-Sat 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C+
Porky Says: “Polly has an identity crisis.”

 
 
 
 

Prissy Polly's: The view from my table

Pollyanna
With a great name like Prissy Polly’s, which made it into my barbecue joint name hall of fame, it’s tempting to be Pollyannaish about the quality of the barbecue.  The fact that the restaurant is named after the founder’s mother makes it even better.  But despite the great name, Polly’s suffers from an identity crisis.  And, leaving the name aside, the food they serve is just okay.

Trying to Do Too Much
Instead of focusing on preparing one style of barbecue well, which is a difficult enough task, Polly’s tries to serve both Eastern- and Lexington-style ‘cue and does neither especially well.  According to their own website:

“Originally Prissy Polly’s served only Eastern-style barbecue.  This caused a bit of consternation among some of the local folks, who were accustomed to Lexington-style barbecue. To please the taste of those who preferred Lexington-style, Prissy Polly’s began to offer both styles of barbecue.”

I have to give Polly’s a lot of credit for being bold enough to start an Eastern-style BBQ joint in the heart of Lexington-style territory.  And the Eastern-style ‘cue they serve is definitely the better of the types.  I can’t really blame Polly’s for caving to local preferences either.  Judging by the fact that they have stayed in business for 18 years and have a sparkling, large restaurant, adding Lexington-style ‘cue to the menu was the right decision. I simply don’t think their Lexington-style ‘cue is particularly good.

One, Two, Three Types of ‘Cue
Since Polly’s started out serving Eastern-style barbecue, let’s focus on that first.  The biggest problem with Polly’s Eastern-style ‘cue is that it is not cooked over wood and the lack of care shows in a lack of flavor.  Sadly, Polly has plenty of company in both the east and the west in terms of not using wood, but that doesn’t excuse them.  Leaving that aside, Polly’s Eastern-style BBQ is moist and has decent flavor, which is enhanced by a slightly too salty but quite good vinegar/pepper sauce that accompanies it, though it appears to be machine chopped and is a bit mushy.  I’d probably give their Eastern-style ‘cue a B- if I were grading it alone.  Polly’s Lexington-style barbecue fares worse.

Polly’s actually offers two types of Lexington-style ‘cue.  (Pay close attention, this gets a bit confusing.)  Polly’s original Lexington-style BBQ is called “Original Lexington,” and they have served it for years.  It features a rather thick, sweet dip that has as much in common with KC Masterpiece or Kraft as it does with traditional NC style sauces.  Recently Polly’s added another Lexington-style dip option, this one called “Traditional Lexington.”  The dip used for the newer traditional version is significantly better than the original recipe, as it is much thinner and more vinegar-based, though it is still too sweet for my palate.  The Lexington-style ‘cue was too heavily sauced in the kitchen and needed no added dip at the table.

First course: Eastern-style

Second course: Lexington-style

Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque

109 E. Davie Street, Raleigh, NC
919.832.7614
Website
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Cooper’s is past retirement age.”

Urban Barbecue
Given the modest piece of real estate it occupies in the shadows of some of downtown Raleigh’s sparkling new office towers, Clyde Cooper’s BBQ’s continued existence is noteworthy.  And the location in the heart of downtown gives Cooper’s a better excuse for not cooking over wood coals than most joints have.  Between Cooper’s location and history–the joint has existed since 1938, and founder Clyde Cooper lived from 1899 to 1998–I really want to like it.  Yet I have eaten there several times over the years and found it mediocre at best.  Because new owners took over Cooper’s late last year, I decided to give it another try.

The good news is that the current owners wisely kept Cooper’s old time atmosphere, thick and authentic, intact.  (The NC license plate on the wall that reads “Soieee!” is a nice, I think new, touch).  The bad news is the current owners kept the mediocre barbecue intact too. 

Still hanging on after 71 years.

Like many joints, both urban and rural, Cooper’s used to cook with wood but the days when grease-laced hickory smoke wafted out of the back of the joint are long since gone.  Alas, I suspect it has been that long since Cooper’s has served a good plate of barbecue.  The fact that Cooper’s, though an Eastern-style joint in terms of its menu and sauce, cooks hams and shoulders rather than whole hog barbecue, doesn’t help my opinion of it either.     

The Food: Not Yuppicue, Just Not Good
I respect the fact that Cooper’s has stayed true to its roots in terms of the feel of the restaurant and the type of menu it offers.  It might have been tempting to turn Cooper’s into a sort of barbecue showplace/museum that caters to convention center visitors and other barbetourists.  (As an aside, can we organize ourselves as a state and create a barbecue museum already?!) Yet the menu remains simple, the presentation plain and the price fair.  That’s Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 739 other followers