2307 N College Road, Wilmington, NC
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “The biggest (not best) BBQ joint in the state.”
Big Enough to Swallow a Lion
Carolina BBQ has a couple of locations in Wilmington, one in Kenansville, and one somewhere in Virginia, if my waitress was telling me the truth. I stopped at the N. College Street location, which is a mile or so from Interstate 40 at exit 420. Speaking of 420, one would need to be mighty stoned to think the barbecue is good here, but I still enjoyed parts of my meal despite being stone cold sober.
The best part about a visit to Carolina BBQ at N. College Road is the atmosphere. It must be the largest barbecue restaurant in the state in gross square footage (the picture at left does not do the vastness of the space justice). It feels like you could fit an entire grocery store inside the restaurant, which is quite true given it inhabits a former Food Lion. As the hermit crab-like replacement for Food Lion, Carolina BBQ is the de facto anchor tenant in a strip mall that features a nail salon, Subway, and a few other non-descript businesses (I would describe them were they not so resolutely non-descript). I was sincerely impressed with the interior decorating job, which managed to make a grocery store feel almost homey. Sure, the seating capacity is enough to house probably 10 times the number of people ever likely to enter Carolina BBQ at one time, but it is a creative and attractive reuse of a difficult to fill space. The large historical BBQ photos printed on the far right wall are particularly interesting.
All You Care to Eat (and Then Some)
Carolina BBQ features “buffet style” dining. This means it is a buffet. I am not sure where the style comes in.
When Carolina BBQ advertises its buffet, it means business. At least at the N. College Road location, the only non-buffet options are to order only the salad bar or to order a BBQ sandwich. Not exactly much choice, but I can’t imagine what you’d want that is not available on the buffet. On the day I visited main dishes included meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, fried chicken, “barbecued”/baked chicken, ham hocks, fried fish, and, yes, barbecue (one with Eastern-style sauce and one with a Lexington-style dip stirred in).
The barbecue here is typical oven-cooked slop–edible pork but not really barbecue. Wrapping up the holy trinity that I use to grade BBQ joints were mid-rate hush puppies (not as fluffy and carefully fried as really good pups) or equally average corn sticks if you prefer, and sweet white slaw that, I would guess, comes out of a big plastic bucket. If you must try it, note that the slaw is found tucked away on the salad bar.
Side dishes I sampled included collards, fried yams, dirty rice, mystery greens of some sort, and cornbread. I also tried the banana pudding and peach cobbler from the dessert bar. Only the yams impressed me, while the other dishes were standard buffet fair–adequate but not memorable. That said, I don’t mean to bash Carolina BBQ. They deliver about what one would expect, which is a wide range of southern food at a fair price ($6.99 at lunch). I would not include it on my list of places to introduce someone to authentic North Carolina barbecue, but it is what it is and I can appreciate that.