3883 South Main Street, Farmville, NC
Hours: Wed, Fri & Sat 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A
Porky Says: “Whole hog on the Cobb.”
A Rich Tradition
Jack Cobb & Son Barbecue Place in Farmville is listed on the prestigious NC BBQ Society Trail map but it is well off the beaten path for most barbetourists. Despite offering barbecue that rivals or surpasses that of its geographic peers, Cobb & Son’s remains a quiet respite from the barbecue crowds that descend on places like the famous B’s Barbecue in nearby Greenville.
Cobb & Son’s history as a restaurant is rich with themes that echo the history of barbecue in North Carolina. In particular, barbecue’s history is closely tied to the state’s tobacco heritage; traditionally pig pickin’s coincided with the tobacco harvest, for instance. According to Jim Early’s The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: Manteo to Murphy, Cobb & Son’s founder Jack Cobb, an African-American, worked for a Farmville tobacco company in the 1940s and had a side business of cooking and selling barbecue to his black co-workers. Before long, “word spread around the community about Jack’s good ‘cue and white citizens wanted to buy Jack’s barbecue but would not come to Jack’s place to get it. Ever the entrepreneur Jack took his ‘cue to a white friend’s home and this man sold Jack’s barbecue for him.” Cobb & Son’s continued working to build an integrated customer base throughout decades of difficult race relations and at times encountering opposition from blacks and whites alike.
Any business from the 1940s that still exists is impressive, and one that has had to overcome hurdles like racism is even more so. The secret to Cobb & Son’s success all these years? My guess is because they are just plain good at what they do, and the barbecue is delicious regardless of one’s race, politics or preferred brand of cigarettes.
Jack Cobb’s son Rudy, now in his 70s, runs the restaurant today, as he has since his dad passed away in 1989 (Rudy has worked at the restaurant almost his whole life). When arriving at Cobb & Son on the edge of downtown Farmville, one gets the sense that little has changed at the place since its founding. It is a classic barbecue joint if ever there was one. And, luckily, that classic feeling extends to the simple, delicious food Cobb & Son’s offers up the three days a week it is open for business.
Cobb & Son’s occupies a fairly large building but there is no seating inside. The “dining room” at Cobb & Son’s is what can only be described as a mosquito-friendly screened porch, since the area is screened in but has no door. Luckily, the bugs were not biting and the temperature was mild when I visited. Inside the restaurant, a poster on great African-American achievements decorates the wall behind the counter where you order. Given the often underappreciated, central role of African-Americans in North Carolina’s barbecue culture–for example, many pitmasters at famous white-owned joints are black and get little public credit for their essential role–it seems natural to think that future printings of this poster should add barbecue to the list of achievements. Other decor is sparse, with a couple of pig statuettes on the floor and a few other pictures, including a poster of Tarheel coaching legend Dean Smith that is sure to please at least some North Carolina natives.
Food that Matches the History
The barbecue is very “clean” by Eastern NC standards, with no noticeable skin or fat. This means it is a little less moist and has less of the skin/fat flavor that many Eastern NC aficianados swear by for good reason. Nonetheless, the pork is mighty tasty with subtle smoke taste that is enhanced by a vinegar sauce that contains a generous amountof diced hot pepper, which fall out of the small sauce cups in chunks once the liquid spills out.
Sitting outside and looking off at the town water tower on the horizon while biting into a succulent piece of Cobb & Son’s barbecue has to be one of the quintessential North Carolina barbecue experiences. It just feels right. The produce stand set up next to the parking lot that sells corn and other staples befitting a town called Farmville doesn’t hurt the atmosphere either. Next time you are in the Greenville area head off the beaten path a bit and pay Jack Cobb & Son’s a visit.
Clearly decor and dining comfort ain’t Cobb & Son’s calling card, but the place serves excellent whole hog ‘cue cooked over wood coals (from scrap lumber, it appears) in the old fashioned pit behind the building. Barbecue turkey and chicken are also on the menu, though I did not get a chance to taste them. The menu is otherwise fairly narrow with just a couple of sides besides excellent mustard-infused slaw, boiled potatoes and hush puppies.
History Continues Today