BBQ Jew’s View: Whitley’s Bar-B-Que

315 Beechwood Blvd (Hwy 11), Murfreesboro, NC
252.398.4884
No Website
Hours: Thu – Sun only
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Eh.”

Barbecue on a Sunday
As a devout BBQ Jew, I typically steer clear of BBQ joints that are open on Sundays.  They tend to be second rate, though there are some very notable exceptions to this rule (e.g., Lexington #1).  On this particular Sunday, I was driving back from a day of canoeing at Merchant’s Millpond State Park in northeastern NC, a place well worth visiting.  A few hours of paddling in an alligator-filled swamp had me hungrier than a crocodile, and my buddy and I were happy to find that Whitley’s was open on Sundays.

gator

This guy could put away a lot of 'cue.

Sauce Unfit for a Gator
Whitley’s offers an impressive looking Sunday buffet of barbecue, chicken, other main dishes, a wide variety of sides, and dessert.  However, at $14 a person–far and away the most expensive NC BBQ buffet I’ve ever encountered, and in rural Murfreesboro of all places–I hesitated.  Between the price and plans to check out a couple of other BBQ joints on my ride home, as well as my general distaste for eating ‘cue off a steam table, I chose to order from the menu.

Whitleys Murfreesboro (2)

The $14 buffet would've been good for $8.

The barbecue plate I ordered came with corn sticks, an Eastern NC delicacy with which I have relatively little experience given how common hush puppies are.  I was happy to get a chance to eat some corn sticks, though I found Whitley’s to be on the dry and unflavorful side.  Unfortunately, Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Grandpa’s Kitchen

149 E South Main Street (Hwy 158), Littleton, NC
(252) 586-3211‎
No Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Where Would Jesus Dine?”

When Pigs Fly
As I near the aptly named little town of Littleton, the speed limit on Highway 158 drops from a generous country road limit to a stingier limit befitting the bucolic setting.  As I reach the edge of a small historic (or at least old) business district, a sign catches my eye: “Grandpa’s Kitchen, Area’s Finest BBQ.”  Also the area’s only barbecue, I think to myself, but no matter.  An unpredictably flashing neon sign spells out “Bar-B-Q” and, as if by instinct, I steer my car into the small parking lot.  A hand carved wooden pig with eagle wings greets me outside the front door. I have arrived.

If pigs could fly...

If pigs could fly, they'd wallow in the mud in the sky

Grandpa’s Kitchen is one of those places that is a pleasure to dine at, even though it’s barbecue is nothing out of the Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Hog Heaven Bar-B-Q

2419 Guess Road, Durham, NC
(2nd location at 2780 Durham Road in Roxboro, NC)
919.286.7447
Website
Hours: Mon – Sat 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“Closed Sundays for Worship & Family.”
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Is this hog heaven? No, it tastes like Iowa.”

Porkatory
Good (tasting) pigs go to heaven when they die, or at least to Grady’s, Lexington #1, and other such divine BBQ joints.  Evil (tasting) pigs go to hell–or at least lousy BBQ joints–when they die.  Despite the angel-baiting name, the pigs served at Hog Heaven aren’t nearly good enough to make it into the pearly gates.  Neither are they among the worst pigs you can eat.  Instead, Hog Heaven is a pork purgatory, where less-than-worthy pigs suffer eternal blandness.

From across the dining room.

From across the dining room.

Interestingly, Hog Heaven has won several reader’s choice awards for serving the Triangle’s best barbecue.  Unfortunately, these awards show only that the masses don’t have much taste when it comes to ‘cue (and, alas, that there ain’t much good pork in the Triangle).  Hog Heaven serves thoroughly mediocre pork that never cooks anywhere near a wood coal, and thus lacks in any authentic flavor.  The tasteless pork is not helped by the thin but sweet and sticky sauce, which is a truly odd concoction.  Since Hog Heaven is supposed to be an Eastern-style joint it is not surprising that the sauce seems ketchup-free, yet it is sweeter than all but the sweetest of the Lexington-style dips.  It is sort of like syrup with a dash of hot pepper in it, and would not seem out of place at the Waffle House.  I  recommend you skip the sauce and simply douse your pork with as much Texas Pete as needed.  To Hog Heaven’s credit, the pork is hand-chopped to order and that gives it a good, not-too-fine consistency, though it is a tad mushy for my taste.

Hog Heaven offers an admirably large menu of side dishes, in the Eastern-style tradition, as well as main course Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: The Q Shack

302 E Main Street, Carrboro, NC
919.240.4043
Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: D
Porky Says: “Barbecue tough for a mother to love.”

***NOTE: This Q-Shack location is now out of business.***

Sunday Morning Coming Down
Probably every barbecue lover has been faced with this dilemma: It’s Sunday and the hankering for barbecue strikes, but all the good local joints are closed.  Do you a) go against your primal instinct to hunt ‘cue and eat something else, b) go to a second rate joint to get your fix, or c) drive the 1.5 hours required to reach a good joint open on Sundays?  Unfortunately, I chose option b) a couple weeks ago and got just what I deserved from the Q Shack, a lousy meal. 

My wife, Mrs. LeSwine, and I had a friend in town and she wanted to eat some ‘cue before heading home the next morning.  Instead of just explaining that the few good joints in the Triangle are closed Sundays, we decided to try out the Carrboro Q Shack (complete with its too-clever motto, “BBQ Tender as a Mother’s Love”).

Slick corporate propaganda: not a good sign.

Slick corporate propaganda: a funny sign but not a good sign.

Just Don’t Order The Pork…
I’ve eaten at Durham’s Original Q Shack several times and have always been fine with their brisket and other non-NC ‘cue offerings, although I’ve never been wowed.  The Carrboro Q Shack is part of a small regional chain with locations in Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Bob’s Bar-B-Q

1589 NC Highway 56, Creedmoor, NC‎
919.528.2081
No website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: D+
Porky Says: “Creedmoor or less.”

How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By ‘Cue?
Bob’s Bar-B-Q is a nice enough place with a large, lodge-like atmosphere and an authentically old fashioned feel.  The comfortable feel is helped by the friendly staff who greet customers as they step into the cafeteria-style serving line.  But alas, the ‘cue doesn’t come close to matching the sweet staff.

Unfortunately, the staff  isn’t the only thing at Bob’s that is sweet.  This is one of the only barbecue joints I’ve ever been to where the barbecue has a sugary taste without any sauce added.  Frankly, it’s distressing.  The barbecue had a good, rough-chopped consistency but its wood smoke-free and oddly sweet taste was not helped by the steam table from which it was served.  The fiery hot Eastern style sauce at the table was quite good, and reminiscent of Scott’s famous recipe, but could not save the pork from mediocrity.  For what it’s worth, the meat is reported to be pork shoulders (a Lexington-style trait), while the sauce and the sides served at Bob’s are very much in the Eastern tradition.  Cross-breeding of this sort is more common than most people think, especially in and around the Triangle area.

The barbecue plate I ordered was accompanied by (surprise) very sweet, very finely chopped slaw made with lots of relish.  The Brunswick stew, which I’ve heard some folks rave about, struck me as a bit (yes) sweet, watery and low in flavor.   The hush puppies were not overly sweet, but were dry and chewy, again likely from the steam table (steam tables are brutal on hush puppies, in my experience).

The rest of the menu, which I did not sample, included chicken and a variety of lunch grill items (hot dogs, grilled cheese, fish sandwich, etc.) with rotating specials like chicken and dumplings.  The pies looked good, especially the pecan, but I had already ingested enough sugar from the BBQ so I steered clear.

BBQ Jew’s View: A & G Bar-B-Que & Chicken

800 S Lake Park Blvd, Carolina Beach, NC
(910) 458-8620
No Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: D-
Porky Says: “Put some SPF 30 on your tongue.”

The hot light's on, but you can drive past.

The hot light's on, but you can drive past.

Beach Blanket Barbecue
Based on my limited experience eating barbecue at or near the beach, I think the best advice I can provide for such situations is not to indulge.  Perhaps it’s the over-supply of sunshine and sand, the undersupply of hickory, or the BBQ joint owners having mercury poisoning from all the nearby shellfish, but for some reason beach BBQ joints rarely offer ‘cue worth eating.  A & G Bar-B-Que & Chicken, located on the main drag just off the waterfront in Carolina Beach and featuring a generous two ampersands in its name, does nothing to change my mind about beach ‘cue.   That’s the bad news.  The good news is that next time you are in Carolina Beach you can skip the ‘cue and have plenty of room for donuts from Britt’s, which vies for the title of Best Donut Shop in America, in my opinion.  More on that later.

The good people of Carolina Beach are lucky enough to live in a nice beachfront community and they know how to shag (it’s just a style of dance, relax), but they really should head inland if they want to eat barbecue.  Since I don’t have much good to say about the barbecue or sides I sampled at A & G, I’ll talk about something positive instead…

Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Holt Lake Bar-B-Q & Seafood

3506 US Highway 301 South, Smithfield, NC
919.934.0148
No Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Deep down, I’m pretty superficial.” – Ava Gardner

Some Reasons to Travel to Smithfield
Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest pork producer and is based in the small town of Smithfield.  Virginia.  Though Smithfield, North Carolina is not actually the home base of the world’s largest pork producer, it is in the heart of the state’s swine belt and has a rich history related to the golden leaf.  It is also Ava Gardner’s home town, so I would guess she ate her share of barbecue plates back in the day, and the Ava Gardner Museum downtown is a featured attraction.  Smithfield also hosts the annual Ham & Yam Festival, which was held just a few weeks ago.  Although the festival won’t be back until Spring 2010, Smithfield, NC is a nice little town that is working hard to revitalize its historic downtown (Smithfield dates back to 1777) and it’s worth a visit. 

By now you may have wondered why I am starting my review of Holt Lake Bar-B-Q with all of this information on the town of Smithfield.  I want you to know there are many good reasons to visit Smithfield.  Holt Lake Bar-B-Q simply isn’t one of them.

I should've turned back at the 1st sign of spaghetti

I should've turned back at the 1st sign of spaghetti

The Review
Holt Lake Bar-B-Q and Seafood is Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q

11964 N.C. Highway 50 North, Willow Spring, NC
919.894.4530
No Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Dude, where’s the wood?” [Editor’s note: it’s somewhere]

A good looking barbecue plate from Stephenson's.

Stephenson’s barbecue plate.

Stephenson’s has a long, proud history and is featured as one of 24 barbecue joints on the NC Barbecue Society’s exclusive Barbecue Trail (which lists only those joints that cook with wood and meet various other criteria).  Yet I was underwhelmed during a recent visit.  First of all, despite being listed a wood burner I saw no evidence of a wood pile  and the barbecue did not taste wood-cooked to me.  I wonder if Stephenson’s has switched from wood cooking, or perhaps they use charcoal instead of split wood and keep their charcoal inside.  Even if they do cook with wood and I somehow missed it, I simply did not think Stephenson’s ‘cue was particularly good. [Editor’s note: I’ve been told by reliable sources that they do indeed stick cook over wood!]

I found the barbecue a bit greasy, almost slimy even.  It was coarse-chopped (seemingly by hand) to a nice consistency, but lacked in flavor.  Stephenson’s almost straight vinegar sauce helped the flavor but did not save the ‘cue from mediocrity.  The sides, on the other hand, were quite good.  The coleslaw was lightly “mayo’d,” with quite a lot of added sugar (a bit more than I think slaw needs, actually) and generously flecked with pickle/relish.  The hush puppies were perfectly fried, fluffy golden brown spheres.  The barbecued potatoes were also good, with a classic Eastern-style tangyness to them.  In summary, I always judge a BBQ joint primarily Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Carolina Q Dog

409 Blackwell Street, Durham, NC
919.687.6500
Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C+
Porky Says: “An inside the park heart attack.”

Baseball and Barbecue: Two Beautiful Traditions
I recently headed to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) in downtown Durham, NC to root for the hometown heroes.  But baseball was not the only thing on my mind.  A co-worker had told me about the “Carolina Q Dog” and, in the name of good journalism, I vowed to try it.   

The Carolina Q Dog is sold at the Dillard’s Bar-B-Q concession stand right behind home plate on the DBAP’s main concourse (actually, its only concourse).  Dillard’s is a Durham institution located just a few miles from the DBAP, and I will review the joint separately another time.  The Dillard’s ballpark concession stand offers a limited menu that features their ‘cue in plate and sandwich form, among other dishes.  The Carolina Q Dog is offered only at the ballpark and consists of a footlong hot dog smothered in chopped BBQ with a side of slaw.  It’s better than it sounds.  Or maybe it’s worse than it sounds, depending on your perspective.

I didn’t think it chopped pork on an all-beef dog sounded like a good combination, but it turned out to be pretty tasty.  The fact that Dillard’s barbecue is finely chopped and has mustard-tinged vinegar sauce (in the South Carolina tradition) is very helpful when paired with a hot dog.  Next time you go to a Bulls game and want to give your arteries a work out, try the Carolina Q Dog.  It’s a nice treat by ballpark BBQ standards.

Hot diggity dog!
Hot diggity dog!

Still, even though the Carolina Q Dog was pretty good, I doubt they’ll be changing the Take Me Out to the Ball Game lyrics anytime soon…
Take me out to the DBAP, Take me out with the crowd/Buy me a foot long with bar-b-q, I don’t care ’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… AAGH!! DOES ANYONE HAVE A DEFIBRILLATOR?!

BBQ Jew’s View: The Barbecue Joint

630 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill, NC (but plotting a move so call and check)
919.932.7504
Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Microbrews and brussel sprouts?!”

Returning to the Scene of the Crime
It had been several years since I’d last been to The Barbecue Joint, as my first and last visit there several years ago gave me no reason to go anywhere but Allen & Son when dining on swine in Chapel Hill.  However, a couple of friends had been talking up The Barbecue Joint lately, and Mrs. LeSwine was eager to pay it a visit.  I wish I could report that I had a change of heart and that The Barbecue Joint won me over.  Alas, The Barbecue Joint has some good dishes but barbecue is still not among them.  

Good beer, and a very bad sign...

Good beer, but a very bad sign...

Innocent Until Proven Guilty  
Let’s start with the positives.  The Barbecue Joint offers a large menu of pretty good, slightly upscale versions of Continue reading