BBQ Jew’s View: Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque

109 E. Davie Street, Raleigh, NC
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 admirable, and probably wise given the loyal customer base Cooper’s has built over 70-plus years of serving white collar and blue collar workers alike. 

Each BBQ plate comes with fried pork skins, along with the usual hush puppies, a very nice touch even if skins ain’t really your thing (I confess I am in that camp).   Another nice touch is that the ‘cue is available coarse chopped or sliced as well as regular chopped, fairly unusual for Eastern-style joints.  Unfortunately, the barbecue itself is only so-so, and the sides don’t fare much better.  I ordered the regular chopped dinner with two sides ($6.25).  The pork was very dry and without much flavor; perhaps too much ham and not enough shoulder?  The classic, thin Eastern-style sauce was good, if not especially notable.  Still, I found myself reaching for the squeeze bottle of Texas Pete to add flavor. 

Plenty of food for $6.25

Aside from barbecue, Cooper’s small, focused menu includes BBQ chicken, fried chicken and ribs.  Firmly in the Eastern tradition, side choices include collards, cabbage, boiled potatoes, potato salad, Brunswick stew, slaw, fries, corn and butter beans.   See the Cooper’s website for the full menu.

Despite the so-so food, if you’ve never visited Cooper’s I’d say it’s worth paying a visit to eat a weekday lunch there.  There is something about the lively mix of bankers, politicians, and construction workers that populates the joint that makes a meal at Cooper’s flavorful even if the food is not.

11 Responses

  1. Cooper’s often gets the benefit of the doubt in reviews for all the reasons you mention: the history, the atmosphere, the skins, the downtown location, and the great people watching at lunch. For these things it should be praised, especially for it’s ability to stay downtown without getting pushed out by some high-rise.

    But as much as we want it to be great, it is not cooked over wood coals and the BBQ is decidedly mediocre as you have correctly pointed out. Thanks for the honest review.

  2. I always wanted to like Cooper’s. The BBQ is the pits. I lumped it into the same category as that place on Capitol Blvd (the name escapes me) that had the miniature house out front.

  3. D, you are likely thinking of Barbecue Lodge, and I am in agreement with you that neither place is very good.

  4. don murray’s I believe, by the “architecture”.

  5. Sure. I was referring to the previous emailer’s post concerning “that place on Capitol Blvd (the name escapes me) that had the miniature house out front”.

  6. […] in my humble opinion, Clyde Cooper’s ranks squarely in the middle of the pack of NC barbecue joints, but I’m […]

  7. Actually, I like Cooper’s. I grew up in Goldsboro when Scott’s, Griffin’s, and Wilbur’s were the places to go. IMHO, Wilbur’s has gone downhill big time, Scott’s is only open for lunch a couple of days a week, and Griffin’s closed so long ago I can’t remember. So I know BBQ. Now living in Raleigh, I go to Cooper’s occasionally and enjoy it. Veggies are good, I love the skins and hush puppies, and the cue is just fine for me.

  8. I agree with Dave from ENC, I don’t eat there that often – 2-3 times per year on average. But I honestly can’t recall having Q from Cooper’s that wasn’t good. I’ve found it better than a couple of famed down east joints that I won’t name.

  9. […] news from downtown Raleigh where the venerable Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue will soon disappear from the building it has occupied since 1938.  Cooper’s is not going […]

  10. Agree that Clyde Cooper’s BB is not very good but their BBQ Chicken is excellent. Have not eaten there in a few years but we used to drive over frequently from Durham on Saturdays to eat their BBQ Chicken for lunch. One of the few times a Durhamite will bow to anything in Raleigh, foodwise.

  11. I was suggested this website by my cousin. I am
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