Buy Me Some Peanuts and Barbecue

Baseball season is in full swing and the biggest news is from the concession stand.  Since Dillard’s BBQ, long-time Bulls game concessionaire, met its demise (well, mostly) in the offseason, my hometown Durham Bulls have brought in some new ‘cue.  Does the BBQ come from long-time Durham Bullock’s? Nope, they are only AA BBQ. Relative newcomer Backyard BBQ Pit? No again.  The Bulls have made the barbecue equivalent of signing a big name, albeit overhyped, free agent. “Now introducing, for your hometown Durham Bulls, our new barbecue vendor: The Pit restaurant from Raleigh, North Carolina!”  (Of course, soon enough The Pit will be from Durham too.)

I must say, at $6 for a sandwich The Pit’s ballpark barbecue is annoyingly overpriced like all ballpark concessions, but the ‘cue is a significant upgrade from Dillard’s.  To put it in baseball terms, the Dillard’s barbecue was like veteran pitcher Jamie Moyer: okay for five or six innings but not too special and likely to give you some heartburn before the game ended.  The Pit ain’t exactly Phillies ace Roy Halladay–maybe it’s Cole HAMels?–but it’s a big step up from Moyer: wood-cooked, good texture and generally capable of filling mealtime needs well into the late innings. (For the record, I’m not a Phillies fan and I’m not sure why I am using a convoluted Phils-centric analogy… deal with it.)

A picture of my too small, overpriced but fairly tasty The Pit barbecue sandwich is above. Note the crappy, from-a-plastic-container coleslaw, which is unforgivable. Still, better than an shriveled hot dog and a more than adequate representation of North Carolina barbecue; something we can be comfortable with the many out of town visitors to Bulls’ games tasting if it happens to be their first exposure to North Carolina barbecue.

Take me out to the DBAP,
Take me out with the crowd/
Buy me some peanuts and bar-b-q,
I’ll eat ’em both ’cause I’m the BBQ Jew/

Let me root, root, root for the D-Bulls,
If they don’t win it’s a shame/

For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game!


Dillard’s Departs

The news hit hard this week: We’re losing Dillard’s. Sad days for the Durham barbecue community.

The institution of an eatery, in business since 1953, will open its doors today for the last time. Dillard’s may not have cooked the state’s best barbecue (see the propane smoker in the rear), but it oozed community and served some just-like-you-wished-your-grandma-did cooking (see Porky’s past review).

Those who’ve never been can get a sense of Dillard’s through these moving pictures, courtesy of ABC-11. The segment confirms that part of the reason for the restaurant’s closing was that owner Wilma Dillard, daughter of founder Samuel, didn’t want to raise prices on folks in these hard times.

That reminded me of the recent ‘cue community rallying around Bullock’s when it became known that Durham’s oldest (1952) ‘cue shack was teetering on the edge. With Dillard’s, we never got the chance. And while I can’t help but wish Wilma had tried raising prices, I respect the heck out of why she didn’t.

Instead of mourning the restaurant’s closing, today is a day to celebrate Dillard’s fabulous greens, fluffy hushpuppies and solid barbecue. And did we mention the fried chicken? If you do head over to Fayetteville Rd., tip your cap (and leave a healthy retirement bonus) to a family that has fed all comers for decades, sometimes for free.

Here’s one quick story from a posting on the Downtown Durham listserv:

When I came to Durham in 1972, I noticed a large display ad in the Durham Morning Herald. It showed Sam Dillard dressed in a white suit with a gold-headed cane. The caption said, “I may not be a colonel, but I do make good chicken.”

Then a few weeks later there was piece saying that Kentucky Fried had sued him, on the grounds that use of the colonel’s trademark suit might cause confusion. [While] Sam Dillard is large and African American, [and] it wasn’t clear [what] the confusion was, KFC won. Then a few weeks after that came another ad, showing Mr. Dillard dressed in overalls. He was standing next to a fallen tree, and on the log was a neatly folded stack of white clothes with the cane leaning against it. The caption said, “Well, they took my colonel suit away from me, but I still make good chicken.”

The ad in question

Finally, we’ll leave you with the verse from Deuteronomy that Wilma and the crew have long had on their message board:

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

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 Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Dillard’s Bar-B-Q

3921 Fayetteville Street, Durham, NC
Hours: Uh, I forgot to write ’em down, I’ll find out soon…
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Man shall not dine on pork alone (at least not here).”

Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone
While most barbecue joints use their marquee signs to boast or advertise weekly specials, the sign outside of Dillard’s has read “Deuteronomy 8:3” for as long as I can remember.  Indeed, man cannot live on bread alone. Sometimes he craves pork. 

Dillard’s has been providing Durham residents and visitors with much more than bread since 1952, when its late founder Sam Dillard first started selling barbecue.  Mr. Dillard was a devout Christian, so the Deuteronomy 8:3 reference is not some tongue-in-cheek statement that a younger pitmaster might put on a sign to lure in the hipsters.  At Dillard’s the sign is sincere and heartfelt.  Unfortunately, while the fellowship at Dillard’s remains intact the quality of their cooking has suffered over the years.

Soul Food Aplenty
Dillard’s offers a large buffet of “southern style soul food,” as the restaurant’s website puts it.  (I have yet to experience northern style soul food, and hope to maintain this spotless record but I digress… .)  The buffet is served cafeteria style by friendly staff, some of them direct descendants of Sam Continue reading

Parties at the Pits

An easy to read post for Friday morning: four belated pictures from Spring barbecue celebrations, the first two from the Cuegrass event at The Pit in Raleigh and the second set at customer appreciation day at the Backyard BBQ Pit #1 in Durham.

BBQ Jew’s View: Mama Jean’s Bar-B-Q Shack

Angier & Driver Streets, Durham, NC
Hours: Usually Thu-Sat  11:30 a.m.. to 3:00 p.m. (or until sold out)
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B+
Porky Says: “This pork on wheels is the real deal.”

Drive-Thru BBQ
The name Mama Jean’s Bar-B-Q Shack is, in fact, a misnomer.  This joint is no shack.  Far from it, as this joint isn’t a joint at all. It’s a BBQ truck.  Specifically, it’s a truck where you order barbecue that is cooked next to the truck on a large charcoal and hickory chip fueled cooker.  Although Mama Jean’s is far from trendy–in the best possible way–it is part of a growing trend in the food truck rich Triangle area, where everything from juice to burgers to tacos to crepes is hawked out of mobile restaurants on wheels.  And Mama Jean’s serves some of the best barbecue I’ve had in the Triangle, whether the ‘cue is on wheels or not.

Truck, Storefront, Whatever
According to Antonio Hill, Mama Jean’s owner and pitmaster, Mama Jean’s will be opening a regular sit down restaurant soon on the same street where he sets up his truck.  But for now, while he puts together the final pieces needed to open the storefront, he’s pretty happy selling his food out of his “BBQ shack on wheels.”  Really, I could care less about where he sells his food. He can cook and he does it with charcoal and wood chips, which is close enough to traditional wood-cooking for me.  Heck, if it continues to taste good he can sell his ‘cue out of the back of a Ford Fiesta for all I care.

Mama Jean’s Grub
There is no obvious menu posted on the food truck.  Actually, I didn’t see a menu at all.  Continue reading

Mama Jean’s: BBQ Shack on Wheels

Over the weekend The Rib Rabbi and I, along with our accomplice Nate “Ol’ Hickory” O’Keefe, volunteered at a barbecue-themed fundraising event.  More on the event soon, but that’s a separate post.  While at the event, we “discovered” a local BBQ joint we’d never heard of: Mama Jean’s Bar-B-Que Shack (as is common with barbecue joints, alternate spellings abound, with “Mama Jean’s BBQ Shack” and “Mama Jean’s Bar-B-Q Shack” also featured in their marketing materials).  Better yet, Mama Jean’s operates out of a truck, which as far as we know is unique for BBQ in food truck-rich Durham; other examples exist elsewhere in NC, such as Fatback’s BBQ & Rib Shack in Fayetteville.

Despite being set up squarely in the middle of a long row of BBQ cooking teams, the guys from Mama Jean’s caught our attention because they were the only ones using charcoal and wood instead of propane.  Of course, they also had that BBQ/Bar-B-Q/Bar-B-Que truck of their’s doubling as a hard-to-miss billboard.

Alas, we arrived at the event too late to sample Mama Jean’s cooking but we vow to check it out soon and report back.  We did get a chance to chew the proverbial fat with the Mama Jean’s crew.  They were nice guys who clearly care about ‘cue and were proud to be cooking over wood/charcoal.  They told us that they are working on opening a permament brick and mortar location soon, but for now you should be able to find their bar-b-bus parked near the corner of Angier and Driver Streets in Durham a short drive east of downtown.  They also would be happy to help you with catering your next event.  See their website for details and stay tuned for our patented BBQ Jew’s View review coming soon.

Eat a Plate at Bullock’s Today

Sometimes bad luck leads to good news.  After hearing that the recent salmonella outbreak at Bullock’s Bar-B-Cue had put a serious dent in their business, despite the fact that the outbreak may not have been Bullock’s fault, area chefs have rallied behind the venerable Durham institution.  Join local chefs at Bullock’s for lunch at high noon today to show your support for the BBQ joint, which is Durham’s oldest and likely best known restaurant.

It’s also worth checking out the post on Bull City Rising–as an aside, BCR is well worth reading if you give even a pig’s patoot about Durham–and viewing the comments.  The line of thinking that Bullock’s business may be declining in part due to the restaurant’s own mediocrity and increased local competition may have some truth to it.   Nonetheless, it’s hard not to root for a restaurant with as much history and as many loyal customers as Bullock’s.

BBQ: Good eatin’ or poison?!

It’s been a rough few weeks for NC barbecue lovers (and friends).  Between the rash of closings, fires and even a proprietor’s death, it appeared things had hit rock bottom for NC barbecue restaurants.  But now there’s more. 

Bullock’s Bar B Cue in Durham is being investigated for a salmonella outbreak, according to an article in the oh-so-creatively named Food Safety News.  The barbecue sandwich pictured in this article is covered in a thick tomatoey sauce and undoubtedly has never been within 500 miles of Bullock’s, but the salmonella outbreak was real.  Note that more recent media reports indicate that the food that contained the salmonella was a takeout order, indicating that perhaps food safety was compromised after the order left the restaurant. 

Thought it was safe to eat some Brunswick stew while debating whether there is salmonella in your BBQ sandwich? Think again.  The FDA has recalled 414 pounds of Brunswick stew from Louisburg-based Murphy House Barbecue.  The recall stemmed from the stew containing undeclared potential allergens of… wait for it… wheat and milk.  Okay, not quite as gross as salmonella, though one wonders what business wheat and milk have hanging out in a bowl of Brunswick stew.

VP “Biden” His Time at Bullock’s

What do Irish rock stars and the Vice President of the United States have in common?  Both eat mediocre barbecue when visiting North Carolina. 

Back in October, we learned that U2 chowed down on Clyde Cooper’s barbecue after a show in Raleigh (they had eaten Bullock’s on a past visit).  And now comes news that Joe Biden dined at Bullock’s on a recent visit to Durham.  Although I am not a huge fan of Bullock’s, I am pleased to see from pictures of the meal that it appears the Veep, Durham Mayor Bill Bell and others ordered “family style.”  If only Democrats and Republicans could sit down and share a family style meal, maybe we’d get some decent legislation passed once in awhile.  Instead, we end up with legislation that is more watered down than bad iced tea.  Speaking of tea, no word on whether Delaware’s favorite son Biden knew to refrain from ordering his unsweetened…