Right on Que

The News & Observer has an update on Ed Mitchell’s much anticipated return to the barbecue world.  See the somewhat odd article here http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/24/3651596/durham-father-son-hope-barbecue.html  The gist of it is that Mitchell’s new restaurant, Que, is set to open in downtown Durham (just past the left field wall at the Bulls’ stadium) sometime around April 1.

The Pit Arrives in Durham

Outside brown, Eastern chopped, fried okra, and collards.  Photo by "Hominy" Halpern.

Outside brown, Eastern chopped, fried okra, and collards. Photo by “Hominy” Halpern.

On Monday I had the pleasure of dining at Durham’s newest barbecue restaurant, The Pit – Durham.  And when you visit The Pit you really are dining rather than just eating.  The ambience is upscale but relaxed, the space is large, and the menu is diverse.

This is the second location of the restaurant, following on the heels of the original The Pit – Raleigh by a few years.  Much like the Raleigh location, The Pit in Durham is owned by the Empire Eats restaurant group and is located in a beautifully restored historic (or at least old) brick building on the edge of downtown.   Most importantly to me, The Pit prepares barbecue the right way–on a charcoal and oak-fired cooker out back.

Between the Raleigh and Durham locations, The Pit is exposing huge numbers of people to barbecue, many of them probably never having had real (i.e., wood-cooked) barbecue before.  They take educating people about barbecue seriously, as evidenced by the presence of legendary barbecue TV host and author Bob Garner on their staff as a sort of barbecultural ambassador.  Among his duties is to train the staff of the restaurant, all of whom must pass a test on barbecue.  He also helps coordinate “heritage dinners” that bring well regarded, mostly rural BBQ owners to The Pit for special meals/events.

Although I still reflexively get my hackles up when I see brisket (not to mention tofu) on the menu of a North Carolina barbecue restaurant, I recognize The Pit is a business and not a NC barbecue museum.  If I ran a barbecue restaurant, I’d probably be out of business in a week. Thus, I applaud The Pit for helping bring real barbecue to the masses, and to Durham and Raleigh, which (like many urban areas in NC) have very few restaurants that serve real barbecue. Let’s hope someone in Charlotte, to give one woeful urban example, can convince The Pit to open a location there too. On that note, it’s worth pointing out that Texans have figured out how to bring real barbecue to urban areas, and the BBQ scene is exploding without losing traditional cooking techniques.  I hope we follow the Lone Star state’s lead on this trend.  (But don’t tell anyone from Texas that I said all that, as they probably don’t need the self-esteem boost.)

Finally, while I’m rambling, stay tuned to the Durham barbecue scene.  In a few months (I’m guessing) Durham will get another real barbecue restaurant as Ed Mitchell, formerly of The Pit, opens ‘Que on the other side of downtown. As someone who works right in the middle of downtown, I’m counting my lucky, greasy stars to soon be in walking distance of two wood burners.  I have a sneaking suspicion 2014 will be a good year, provided I refrain from any diet-related New Year’s resolutions.


Don’t Mess with Carolina, Texas

There is a new sheriff in town, and he appears to be drunk: or so it seems for the business plan of Curly’s Carolina, TX barbecue restaurant.  According to the website of the confusingly named restaurant in Round Rock, Texas:

Every region has its own spin on BBQ. The reality of Carolina Style BBQ in Austin, TX arose from residing in the Kentucky, Tennessee and Carolina regions for more than 40 years. After moving from Raleigh, NC to Austin in 2011, Jay Yates quickly realized he could not find the BBQ taste he grew up on and loved. Thereby the idea of Curly’s Perfect Pig was born.

Curly’s Perfect Pig proudly served the perfect combination of a tangy, spicy vinegar based sauce of North Carolina, in addition to the zesty South Carolina style mustard sauce on perfectly smoked pulled pork. In 2012 Jay met Texas pitmaster, John Brotherton, who was smoking some of the finest Texas BBQ in the state at his trailer, Hall Of Flame BBQ. The two quickly realized several synergies between them and became close friends.

In 2013, the two pitmasters joined forces to form Curly’s Carolina, TX… Got a hankerin’ for some delicious BBQ? Take a road trip to Carolina, TX…Y’all!

I’m not sure who should be more offended, Tar Heels or Texans.

International House of Barbecue Comes to Cary

City Barbeque, an Ohio-based chain, has announced plans to open its first restaurant in North Carolina.  According to this account, the new restaurant will be in “one of the hearts of barbecue country.”  If you guessed that the heart of barbecue country means Cary, then I suspect you’ve been drinking too much Kool-Aid from a Dickey’s Big Yellow Cup.

Based on browsing City Barbeque’s website, it looks like the restaurant is yet another “International House of Barbecue”, as my barbecue brother-in-arms John Shelton Reed likes to say.  City Barbeque serves pork shoulder, brisket, ribs, etc., with no regional, let alone local, emphasis.  (“OUR PORK SHOULDER IS REMINISCENT OF THE SOUTHEASTERN UNITED STATES, THE BRISKET AND SAUSAGE TAKE YOU TO TEXAS, AND THE RIBS EXUDE A BLEND OF THE MEMPHIS AND KANSAS CITY STYLES.”)  In other words, they offer a little something for everyone; everyone except for those of us who believe that at its best barbecue is locally distinct.  Also, some of us are awfully wary of ribs that “exude” anything!

In fairness, Ohio has no barbecue tradition so the IHOB model makes some sense there.  Yet in North Carolina, where the barbecue tradition is strong, it’d be awfully nice if we politely declined to visit IHOBs and instead focused our limited energies (and caloric capacity) on True ‘Cue.


Clyde Cooper’s Celebrates 75 Years

Congratulations to downtown Raleigh’s elder statesmen, Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue, which is celebrating its 75th birthday this year while preparing to move around the corner from its current location early next year.  Although Cooper’s has long been a gasser–meaning it doesn’t technically serve barbecue, but rather roast pork, in my rule book–any restaurant that survives 75 years must be doing something right.  WRAL TV put together a nice video tribute

Carolina ‘Cue Wednesdays at Crook’s Corner

One of Chapel Hill’s most venerable fine dining restaurants, Crook’s Corner, may be your new source for authentic North Carolina barbecue.  Starting this week, Crook’s begins a series called Carolina ‘Cue Wednesdays.  Here’s the announcement from their newsletter:

Inspired by Our State magazine’s monthly BBQ explorations and education, I’m taking off from Chapel Hill each week on a road trip-to pick up BBQ from one of our state’s tastiest BBQ joints. Next Wednesday, October 30, we’re kicking off the Carolina ‘Cue Wednesdays Series with The Skylight Inn BBQ from Ayden. Come to Crook’s to taste, for the first time or revisit, Sam Jones’ family’s unmistakably great hand-chopped BBQ-and the Skylight signature sauce. Choose cornbread or buns, our slaw. Bill Smith has great additional sides & desserts to go with (think collards, seasonal veggies, unusual things too like fried beet pies, and banana pudding for after). If you love all sorts of NC Barbecue, mark your Wednesday nights for Crook’s. You can think: Gene’s doing the driving, so you don’t have to. Please call for reservations.

It’s a great concept and a convenient way for people to experience great North Carolina barbecue without driving too far from home (though, for the record, everyone in the Chapel Hill area should first visit their own great BBQ restaurant, Allen & Son, or I’ll be angry).

Crook’s became famous many years ago when the kitchen was run by the legendary, late Bill Neal,  The restaurant continues to be known for classic southern dishes like shrimp and grits as well as the magnificently named “Cheese Pork!”  Crook’s has had barbecue on the menu for years, but it’s never been worth eating, in my over-educated opinion.  As I understand it, their ‘cue typically came from a nearby purveyor of gas-roasted pork (i.e., not actual barbecue in my wood-centric definition).  Let’s hope this new approach of importing their BBQ from far and wide is a success–the more people eating real BBQ the better!

Allen & Son’s Acquisition

It appears the Pittsboro version of Allen & Son (not to be confused with the legendary wood burner up the road in Chapel Hill) has expanded its empire by taking over a BBQ restaurant in Sanford.  All this according to our new friend Steve (aka “Skins” to his old friends, or so we may as well assume), who recently visited the new Allen’s colony and reports:

“I dined Saturday on some decent BBQ bought at Allen & Son BBQ in Sanford.  Jackson Bros BBQ in Sanford closed and is now an Allen & Son. The ‘que was moist and a bit spiced.  The sandwich was vary generous and could have been shared.   No taste of smoke. There is no seating inside.  The place was busy.”

I’ll go investigate before long. Until then, please enjoy Steve’s photos below.



Clyde Cooper’s on the Move

An interesting article on the long talked about and now finally happening move of the venerable Clyde Cooper’s BBQ of downtown Raleigh:  http://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/news/2013/07/31/clyde-coopers-barbecue-to-relocate.html?page=2

Blue Mist Bar-B-Q Blues (R.I.P.)

It is with considerable sadness that I report the recent closing of the venerable Blue Mist Bar-B-Q, which I would hazard a guess was one of North Carolina’s most visited and loved barbecue joints over the years.  Blue Mist was established in 1948 and for as long as I can remember occupied a modest piece of real estate on the eastern edge of Asheboro, just off of Highway 64, which for many years was (along with Hwy 70) one of two key east-west highways in the state.  Highway 64 stretches from the far western corner of the state to the Outer Banks, following a meandering path through much of the state’s tobacco, textile, furniture and BBQ belts.  Blue Mist was my family’s go to spot on trips to the North Carolina Zoo, and it was on a trip to the zoo this past weekend that I discovered it had closed.  At least for now, the small white pig statue still stands sentinel the front door, but he is looking a little more nervous than usual, perhaps wondering if he will soon join his Zoo-dwelling friends in a cage.

According to Asheboro’s Courier-Tribune, Blue Mist closed its doors for the last time on July 7th due to no more exotic reason than a decline in customers.  (Read the article here.)  Blue Mist was not among the best BBQ joints in the state but it was plenty good and had maintained its traditional wood-fired cooking methods, which put it in increasingly elite company over the years.  If we are to believe that all good things must come to an end, then we can be happy that Blue Mist was good for as long as it was.  Still, it will be missed.

My last plate at Blue Mist, it turned out.

My last plate at Blue Mist, as it turned out.

Updates to The Joints Listings

I realized awhile back that I’ve been to a couple dozen places that I’ve not found the time or energy to review fully, so at long last I’ve started the task of updating The Joints page to include more mini-reviews (a couple sentences and a letter grade).  Going forward I’ll keep adding these brief summaries on The Joints page, and eventually I’ll at least post some pictures of each of the places, in lieu of full reviews.  As always, drop me a line or leave a comment if there is a place I’ve yet to visit that you believe I should.