BBQ Jew’s View: Bill Ellis’ Barbecue

3007 Downing Street, Wilson, NC
(800) 68-BILLS
Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B-
Porky Says: “Royally over-the-top all you can eat.”

The Prime Minister of Q
Number 10 Downing Street is the home of the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister and the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Government.  But many folks in Wilson, North Carolina would argue that 3007 Downing Street is far more important.  For it’s at this address that His Majesty Bill Ellis has his castle.  Bill Ellis’ Barbecue is a several acre complex that includes a buffet restaurant, a separate drive-thru/takeout building, and an 18,000 square foot convention center.  But is all of this real estate an indication of the great food that Ellis’ serves or a Royal family-style way of distracting from significant shortcomings?  A little bit of both, in my opinion.

Across the country, it is not uncommon for barbecue joints to trade in braggadocio and hyperbole.   From “The best BBQ you’ll ever eat” to “Need no teef to eat my beef”, barbecue proprietors are known to boast about their product even–especially?–when it is squarely mediocre.  But for the most part barbecue joints in North Carolina refrain from the bragging game.  NC BBQ joints tend to be modest places run by modest people.  Thus, it is a little jarring to come across the sprawling cluster of buildings that is Ellis’ Barbecue.  Although I saw no boastful signs or other overt displays of arrogance, it is hard not to feel like Ellis’ Barbecue is trying to prove something that need not be proved.  (One gets the same feeling perusing their website, where Ellis’ Barbecue refers to itself as the “Microsoft of Barbecue,” whatever that means.)

In addition to the several buildings at Ellis’ Barbecue (described above), there is a fleet of dozens of trucks that might make the British Army jealous: 18-wheelers, smaller tractor trailers, delivery trucks, and even dump trucks all with Ellis’ logo emblazoned on the side.  Despite Ellis’ claim of “coast-to-coast catering” it is hard to imagine any occasion, other than an invasion of Redcoats, that would require more than a fraction of these vehicles be put into service.  That said, owner Bill Ellis does have a large catering operation, a thriving restaurant business and even his own hog farm, plus that convention center.  If anyone BBQ joint can come at all close to justifying a fleet of trucks this large, it’s Ellis’ Barbecue.

Dining like Royalty?
Is it relevant to begin a restaurant review with a few paragraphs that have nothing to do with the food?  Possibly not, but Ellis’ Barbecue is one of the very few joints in the state where the food can get lost in the surroundings.  That is largely because the surroundings are so memorable, but also because the barbecue is quite the opposite.  (This is in stark contrast to Wilson’s other famous BBQ joint, Parker’s.)  Ellis’ Barbecue offers a well-executed buffet dining experience with several side dishes that stand out as far above average, the pork itself is middle-of-the-road.  You could do just fine for yourself by wading through the buffet line and gorging on candied yams, delicately spiced sweet yellow slaw, tender collards, odd-but-tasty Brunswick stew, classic boiled barbecue potatoes, fried chicken, meringue-topped banana pudding, hush puppies, corn sticks, and many other dishes.  Most of these dishes are good, some are very good, and only a few (the from-the-can fruit cobblers come to mind) are subpar.

The chopped barbecue provided on the steam table is much too moist and a bit greasy, due to the pooled sauce and drippings in the pan, as well Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Hillsborough BBQ Company

236 South Nash Street, Hillsborough, NC
919.732.4647
Website
Hours: Tue-Sat 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Fri&Sat), closed Sun&Mon
BBQ Jew’s Grade:
B+
Porky Says: “Unconventionally traditional barbecue.”

New Traditions
As of this moment, the Hillsborough BBQ Company is the newest barbecue restaurant in North Carolina, as far as I know (of course, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit may open three new franchises before I finish this sentence).  It’s obvious from the vintage black and white barbecue pictures on the Hillsborough BBQ Company’s website that the owners of the newly opened joint respect the state’s BBQ tradition.  And it is obvious from the simple fact that the joint has a website, and a fairly slick one at that, that the Hillsborough BBQ Company is not afraid of breaking from tradition.  More to the point, Hillsborough BBQ Company shows its dedication to tradition by cooking whole hog Eastern-style barbecue  over wood coals in a real pit.  Yet unlike the few dozen other BBQ joints in NC that still use a wood pit, Hillsborough BBQ Company cooks much more than just pork. 

Although hand-chopped pork barbecue is featured on the menu, diners may also order the following meats: beef brisket, pork ribs, chicken and turkey.  The rest of the menu is similarly diverse: NC staples like hush puppies, slaw (white and red), okra and banana pudding; and non-traditional NC dishes like a wedge salad with pork skins and keylime pie.  But the Hillsborough BBQ Company is definitely not trying to be all things to all people: the menu remains focused around barbecued meats and dishes that go well with them.  The well-stocked bar–featuring draft beers, cocktails, and “vino”–is really the only jarring element of the BBQ Company from a barbecue traditionalist’s perspective.  And since I am no teetotaller, I am willing to accept a bar as a nice addition to a barbecue joint. 

Judging the Food
To be honest, it is much more difficult for me to review a place like the Hillsborough BBQ Company, where the menu goes far beyond chopped pork, than it is for me to judge more typical North Carolina ‘cue joints.  First, my primary reviewing strategy of ordering the same basic meal–chopped pork, slaw and hush puppies–at each restaurant in order to compare apples to apples is unfair to a place like the Hillsborough BBQ Company.  Clearly, they want to be more than a NC BBQ purveyor, so it’s not really fair to judge them on one visit without trying more of the menu.  Second, I simply have less experience with brisket, ribs and the like and do not fully trust my palate to assess the finer points of these relatively foreign dishes.  But the show must go on.

I ordered a 2-meat combo plate with chopped pork and sliced brisket, as well as collards and white slaw (red slaw is also offered, but since the joint refers to its barbecue as “Eastern-style whole hog” I stuck to the variety meant for the pairing).  The brisket was somewhat overcooked, fall apart tender rather than a little give to it, but tasted good–heck, it’s brisket after all. I was not especially impressed with the sauce available for the brisket.  It was too ketchupy and lacked the depth of flavor that exists in the best Texas and Kansas City style sauces. Still, brisket really needs no sauce so perhaps that critique is irrelevant.  The white slaw and collards were both good but not exceptional. The slaw was slightly sweet, delicate and well chopped–slightly too much so for my taste–as Eastern NC slaw specimens typically are.  The collards tasted fresh and were not cooked to limp death, but were tender.  There was a bit of bitterness present but other that that no Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Mr. Barbecue

1381 Peters Creek Parkway, Winston-Salem, NC
336.725.7827
No Website
2nd location at 5954 University Parkway in Winston-Salem
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B
Porky Says: “No mas tortillas, por favor, Señor Barbecue.”

The most elaborate barbecue sign in NC?

Fast Food Name, Slow-Cooked Taste
The generic “Mr. Barbecue” name sure didn’t make me confident about the food.  And the chain restaurant vibe–flat screen TVs on the walls, fancy sign out front, 2nd location not far away, decor of the restaurant–made me even more wary.  But the large woodpile outside and the smell of grease hitting hot hickory coals gave me all the motivation I needed to head toward the entrance.  Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Backyard BBQ Pit #1 & #2

5122 NC Highway 55, Durham, NC
(2nd location at 3218 Guess Road, Durham, NC)
919.544.9911
Website
Hours: Mon – Fri 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sat 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B-
Porky Says: “Research Triangle Pork?”

BBQ in RTP?
It’s hard to believe that there is decent barbecue in the middle of Research Triangle Park (RTP), a science research park sitting in the middle of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, aka “the Triangle.”  The Triangle in general has little in the way of good ‘cue–I call it The Bermudacue Triangle for the way barbecue traditions disappear inside it–and RTP is in the geographic heart of the Triangle.  Worse yet, RTP is filled with sprawling office parks and crawling with white collar transplants from California and other places where barbecue is merely a misunderstood word that means “a cookout.” 

You might think that ordering barbecue in the heart of RTP is as bad an idea as visiting a seafood market in Topeka, Kansas.  Yet the owners of the Backyard BBQ Pit were smart enough to see an opportunity in an underperforming BBQ joint on the edge of RTP.  With more than 50,000 employees in RTP, they must have reasoned that some of them would appreciate a nice plate of ‘cue.  And since buying an old, so-so BBQ joint in 2007, the owners of the Backyard BBQ Pit have provided some pretty good ‘cue to RTPers.  And they have done a bustling business, so much so that they opened a second location on the other side of Durham earlier this year. 

Backyard BBQ Pit #2 on Guess Road

Backyard BBQ Pit #2 on Guess Road

Isn’t It Good, RTP Wood?
Visitors to the Backyard BBQ Pit #1 (the original location in RTP) will notice Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Blue Mist Bar-B-Q

3409 Highway 64 East, Asheboro, NC
336.625.3980
No website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B
Porky Says: “Lions and tigers and pigs, oh my!”

Zoo and ‘Cue
What better way to spend a summer weekend with family and friends than a trip to the North Carolina Zoo?  Sure, it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere.  And the admission price is sort of steep.  And it’s hotter than heck.  And the animals stink when it’s so hot. But it’s still fun, galdarnit.  Plus, the zoo is just a few minutes away from Blue Mist Bar-B-Q, and what better way to finish a day of animal viewing than eating one?

Old timers enjoying Blue Mist

Old timers enjoying Blue Mist

Get Your Kicks on Route 64
Blue Mist Bar-B-Q has been around since 1948 and occupies a fairly large Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Country Barbeque

4012 W Wendover Ave, Greensboro, NC
336.292.3557‎
No Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B
Porky Says: “Good enough to make you dance.”

Barbecue Clubs and Gentleman’s Joints
Country Barbeque is the only barbecue joint I know of that is located immediately adjacent to a strip club. (See the Google Maps street view–note that what look like large stained glass windows on the strip club are actually fake, which is probably consistent with what lies inside the club.) Luckily, Country Barbeque’s naughty neighbor is not the main reason to visit. 

Country Barbeque in Greensboro, from http://hkentcraig.com/BBQ36.html

Country Barbeque in Greensboro, from http://hkentcraig.com/BBQ36.html

Electric Table Dance
The food that the friendly, efficient wait staff at Country Barbeque bring to the table is quite good. The joint serves moist, tasty barbecue that is chopped to an ideal consistency—not too fine and not too chunky. The dip that accompanies the ‘cue is an excellent, sharply vinegared dark brown mixture that is reminiscent of the dip served at Lexington #1.  The red barbecue slaw that accompanied my ‘cue was good, although a little bit sweet for my taste.  The hush puppies were only mediocre, as they were small and somewhat overcooked.  I had a better than average piece of homemade peach cobbler for dessert. 

Now understand that I say all these positive things about the pork served at Country Barbeque knowing full well that they do not cook it over wood coals.  Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: White Swan Bar-B-Q & Fried Chicken

Multiple Locations around Johnston County, NC
Multiple Phone Numbers
One Website 
(with multiple menus, multiple photos, & more)
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B (about the highest we’ll go on gas/electric-cooked)
Porky Says: “Gas-cooked pig at a gas station, but it’s good.” 

Running on Empty
“What kind of idiot stops for barbecue at a gas station?,” I asked myself. And then I answered my own question.

Logo from H. Kent Craig's NC-Style BBQ Site

Logo from H. Kent Craig's NC-Style BBQ Site

I had driven past the two gas station-embedded White Swans alongside Highway 70 between Raleigh and Goldsboro several times before this particular day. I had never before had a good meal at a gas station, and I didn’t see any particular reason to try and change that history. Furthermore, I am skeptical of chain restaurants in general and barbecue chains in particular, and White Swan has six locations (six is a heck of a lot by BBQ standards and is five more than most good joints). Plus, there really is nothing about the White Swans on Highway 70 that stands out. Perhaps if the gas stations that house the White Swans were rustic old service stations with overall-clad mechanics pumping gas from a one handled pump I’d have been more intrigued. But these are just dull, modern, no-service stations. Still, today was different: it was dinner time and my gas tank was desperately low. I decided to order a plate of good old fashioned pork grease biofuel along with my tank of 87 Regular. Continue reading

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