BBQ Jew’s View: Blue Note Grill

4125 Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, Durham, NC
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 that draws well from the middle age set, a large demographic!  No matter your age, the food is good quality and the service is friendly.   They do the bar and grill thing well, and I imagine it’s a fun spot to have a beer and watch some live music, so I’d recommend you pay the Blue Note a visit for those reasons. 

The bun was buttered and toasted. Need I say more?

As for the barbecue, the Blue Note Grill offers wet and dry ribs as well as “pulled pork… seasoned Eastern Carolina style.”  Keep in mind that the phrase “pulled pork” is a red flag for any place that purports to serve North Carolina barbecue.  Virtually no authentic NC BBQ joints use the phrase.  Similarly, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the phrase “seasoned” used to describe the use of Eastern North Carolina’s classic vinegar sauce.   I’ve also rarely encountered a BBQ joint that offers no hush puppies, and those joints that are puppy-free inevitably offer cornbread, corn sticks or rolls instead.  Alas, the closest thing to hush puppies at the Blue Note is onion rings. 

Despite the multiple red flags, I ordered a barbecue sandwich.  It came came with a side of very sweet and mayo-heavy slaw in a little plastic cup. Classic Eastern NC Slaw is a more subtle dish than slaw neophytes realize, and the Blue Note’s offering just didn’t work for me.  It tasted very much like yankee grocery slaw.  The onion rings, though out of place, were delicious.

More to the point, the  BBQ itself was only okay: it was tender and had a definite smoky flavor from the wood-enhanced cooker.  I asked one of the owners how they cook the BBQ and she explained that they do not have a traditional outdoor pit but rather a convection cooker, which as I understand it uses wood inserts to supplement the heat and add flavor.  They brine pork butts or shoulders overnight and then smoke them for 4-5 hours before removing wood and continuing to cook “low and slow” for hours more. They said they chop the meat by hand now but may switch to pulling it based on customer input–ironic, since pulling is not native to NC, but perhaps neither are their customers.

The Carolina-style sauce was decent but had an ever so slightly syrupy texture to it that detracted from its flavor.  Most distressing was the bun, which had been buttered and toasted.  This is a big plus for a burger but absolute heresy in the barbecue world.  All that said, please note that I visited the Blue Note Grill relatively soon after it opened and the owner was honest about her cooks still experimenting with the smoker and with the ingredients.  The barbecue may well get better, but for now I’d recommend you try something else on the menu.

2 Responses

  1. Hey Porky, GOOD review! It varied a wee bit from my review, but you got the essence and flavor down pretty good. Below is the review I entered in my spreadsheet from my visit back in August. I got the pulled pork plate:

    “Pulled pork was VERY smoky, but with excellent moistness and tenderness! Almost too much smoke with a light vinegar twang and a wee bit of heat. Good amount, some large chunks and some shreds – not chopped. C-slaw was very coarse shreds with lots of good creamy dressing. Dirty rice was really good with lots of hamburger and spice. Homemade roll was GREAT! $6.99 (charged me the “lunch special” price for the bbq sandwich combo) plus Tax & Tip.”

  2. I think you’re being a little harsh here, at least in light of your grades for other restaurants. Your review itself is accurate enough (a nice place, with — you even seem to admit — generally good food, but they aren’t clear on the concept of Carolina ‘cue). But, C-? You can’t possibly rank the Blue Note below The Barbecue Joint and other dreadful abominations. Either those other grades should be lowered, or the Blue Note’s raised. Maybe you should visit again (and while you’re at it, revisit Allen & Son in Chapel Hill — your gold standard is comically over-priced, sloppily made, and declining rapidly).

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