Porky’s Pulpit: An Essay on the Origins of My Addiction

My name is Porky LeSwine and I am a barbeholic.

Like most addictions, it all started out innocently enough. I grew up in Orange County not far up the road from Allen & Son. My folks took me there from time to time. Back then it was just a couple of times a year habit. I liked barbecue from the start but didn’t think much about it in between those occasional meals. It’s a couple decades later and I’ve now eaten enough barbecue that my cholesterol level can be measured from 100 yards away.

How did I, an innocent kid who grew up eating just the occasional BBQ plate, turn into a bona fide barbecue junkie? Click here to find out.

BBQ Jew’s View: The Pit (A Non-Review)

328 W. Davie St., Raleigh, NC
The Pit’s Website
(caution: this website is dangerously slick)
BBQ Jew’s Grade: I for incomplete
Porky Says: “Can’t we leave well enough alone?!” 

I just can’t bring myself to go to The Pit.

If barbecue was meant to be upscale it wouldn’t be made of chopped pork. And if folks in Raleigh need cloth napkins and a glass of chardonnay to enjoy barbecue, then perhaps they should just do without and leave the pork for the huddled masses. That said, The Pit’s pitmaster Ed Mitchell is a legend of NC barbecue. He used to own a joint in Wilson that had a stellar reputation, and sadly I never had the good fortune to visit it. That fact alone has almost drawn me to visit The Pit.

Main Course
Unfortunately, The Pit is a far cry from Mitchell’s old place—it is set up as more of a barbecue zoo than a barbecue joint, putting the wild barbecue beast on display for visitors to stare at while keeping a safe distance. The Pit’s website claims the restaurant is “a celebration of all of the great culinary offerings of the Old North State.” Based on the menu, apparently North Carolina’s “great culinary offerings” include Hot Spinach Bacon Dip with Baked Baguette Chips, Meatloaf with Onion Demi and Blue Cheese Crumbles, and Barbecued Tofu. I have never seen tofu slow-cooked over wood coals but I can only imagine tofu lets out a squeal that would scare the vegetarian right out of even the most devout PETA member. If serving tofu at a barbecue restaurant is not a sin in the First Church Synagogue of ‘Que, I am not sure what is.

Judging a book by its cover... (photo by Alaina B via Flickr)

Judging a book by its cover... (photo by Alaina B via Flickr)

Just Desserts
In fairness, The Pit’s menu features some classic whole hog NC barbecue and sides, and I have little doubt that Ed Mitchell is a great pitmaster. Plus, the focus on locally raised organic hogs and local produce is admirable. I just can’t quite bring myself to visit a barbecue zoo when a true barbecue safari can be had within 20 miles in any direction.

BBQ Jew’s View: Short Sugar’s Pit Bar-B-Q

1328 S. Scales St., Reidsville, NC
 Short Sugar’s Website 
(complete with lots of photos, a copy of the menu, etc.)
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C+
Porky Says: “I wish I’d known ye in your prime, Sug.” 

Sticky Fingers
Like The Rolling Stones, Short Sugar’s is a true legend. And like The Stones, I am quite certain Short Sugar’s put on a much better live show back in the day. Now, like Mick Jagger’s lips and Keith Richard’s everything, Short Sugar’s is less of a sight to behold than in decades past and may be coasting on reputation.

Short Sugar’s is among the most storied of NC barbecue joints, from the tragic history that resulted in its great name to the fact that it still to this day offers curb service and a 1950s style atmosphere (yes, there even appear to be some vintage ’50s grease stains). There is much to like about Short Sugar’s. The bucolic setting in the heart of what was until recently serious tobacco country, as Reidsville’s history is closely tied to that of the American Tobacco Company. The impressive indoor wood pit, where the pork shoulders and hams are finished. The classic diner counter. The joint’s 60 years of history. Its reputation. The fact that the pork is hand-chopped to order.  The unique sauce that many rave about. And on and on. But, in my humble opinion, the ‘que has a hard time matching the mystique.  It seems like a classic case of the whole hog being less than the sum of the parts.

Beggar’s Banquet
I found the barbecue a bit bland, not exhibiting much depth of flavor. This makes sense based on what I ‘ve heard about their cooking method, which as I understand it now only uses the wood pit to finish the barbecue for the last few hours.  It’s a shame that a joint with 60 years of tradition–and probably a handful of customers who have eaten there for all of these years–would switch to an electric cooker.  Continue reading

BBQ Meatloaf

Unlike its evil twin gefilte fish, meatloaf symbolizes that old saw of the sum being greater than the parts.

And just like barbecue, making a meatloaf transforms somewhat inferior meat into deliciousness. In barbecue terms, the traditionally lesser cuts like shoulder and brisket, can be converted–by flame, time and love–into something that inspires blogs. Meatloaf morphs the detritus from your fridge into a new entity.

Recently, the two intersected, when I fed leftover barbecue into my meatloaf mix. In addition to the traditional ingredients like egg, bread crumbs and onions, I added barbecue from The Q Shack.

Now, this not a total slam on The Q Shack, which I consider convenient and passable, if you’re in the mood for something other than traditional NC barbecue. It’s just that we had a real excess of the stuff and you can only eat so many leftover sandwiches from the Durham gas cookers. (Allen & Son leftovers, on the other hand, just might be an oxymoron.)

The BBQ Loaf

The BBQ Loaf

The barbecue meatloaf worked out really well (see for yourself). Topped with some excess Q Shack sauce and bound together with potatoes, this seems like the perfect destination for mediocre barbecue.

While Eastern barbecue purists would turn their nose at the use of both tomatoes and tomato-based sauce, it was just that kind of party. Besides, who knew barbecue could double as comfort food?

BBQ Jew’s View: Allen & Son Barbeque

Sign of the Shrine

Sign of the Shrine (photo by drinkerthinker from Creative Commons)

6203 Millhouse Rd., Chapel Hill, NC
No Website
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. Continue reading