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.
For those of you still living in the past–as past when Hillsborough Hog Day took place in late June–remember that the event moved to May as of last year… and will be held THIS weekend. The festivities kick off Friday night in suddenly almost-hip historic downtown Hillsborough, and the main shindig is on Saturday. Visit the website for details: http://hillsboroughchamber.com/hog-day/. Sure, the food is a bunch of mediocre, primarily gas-cooked swine, but it’s damn fun anyway so check it out. And don’t feel too bad if you pass on the BBQ sandwiches in favor of a giant turkey leg, gyro or other carnival food staple… or if you want some real, wood-cooked BBQ then make a short side trip to the Hillsborough BBQ Company just a few blocks west of the festival.
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…
One of my favorite barbecue joints, the history-rich A&M Grill in Mebane, has apparently gone out of business. That is the word on Chowhound and the source cited there appears legitimate. If true, very sad news.
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.
Hillsborough Hog Day, the classic barbecue festival, cook-off and cultural event, moves up a month from past years in order to beat the heat. The 29th annual event is held in River Park behind the courthouse and features live music, other entertainment, arts and crafts, and lots of chopped pork. I’ll be dropping by bright and early on Saturday morning to help judge the pork shoulder cooking competition, so I’m looking forward to partaking in some breakfast barbecue. I hope you’ll come out later on in the day to take in the festitivies, as it’s always a well run event and in the past the hot June weather has been my only complaint! While you are in Hillsborough, be sure to check out the new Hillsborough BBQ Company.
A few dozen miles east of Hillsborough in Raleigh this weekend is the sixth annual Carolina Pig Jig, which will be held at the state fairgrounds as part of the Got to Be NC Festival (meaning, there will surely be an appearance by the giant shopping cart–you’ll see what I mean if you don’t know already). The Pig Jig is a cooking competition organized by Raleigh Masonic Lodge #500 as a benefit for area children’s homes.
236 South Nash Street, Hillsborough, NC
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.”
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 (more…)