BBQ Jew’s View: Whole Foods BBQ Bar

81 South Elliott Road, Chapel Hill, NC
919.968.1983
Website
Hours: Sun-Sat 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Whole Foods serves BBQ?!”

There’s a Whole Fool Born Every Minute
I hope you are seated as you read this next sentence.  Whole Foods serves its own, house-cooked barbecue.  And I actually worked up the nerve to try it. 

I know, I know, eating barbecue at Whole Foods seems about as wise as a barbecue joint offering tofu on its menu.  But I am an intrepid soul when it comes to barbecue and I’ll do nearly anything for the sake of a blog post.  Plus, Whole Foods is based in Austin, Texas, which even this Carolina boy admits is pretty serious barbecue country.


No Foolin’
It pains me to admit this, but the NC-style pork barbecue at Whole Foods was not bad.  Not real good and certainly not great but okay, adequate, passable, just fine, thank you.  I was expecting a gussied up dish that bore little resemblance to real NC BBQ but the pork was rough chopped to a nice consistency, moist despite being on a steam table, and served with a simple Eastern-style vinegar and spices sauce.  The pork even contained some outside brown meat, firmer and more flavorful than the rest.  Most importantly, the barbecue contained no unwanted additions: no chunks of organic kumquat fruit, no sauce made with locally-raised fig compote, and no free-range kale juice used as seasoning. 

Whole lotta pork.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are relatively few barbecue joints I’d pass up in favor of Whole Foods, but if you find yourself (as I did) needing a quick NC BBQ fix you could do worse.  (As an aside, I had the beef brisket too and it was awful.)  If you find yourself in that weak position, do what I do and recite the following prayer for strength:

“Yea, though I walk through the parking lot in the shadow of Whole Foods, I will fear no tofu: for thou art with me; thy pork and thy sauce they comfort me.  Thou preparest a Cafe table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my tongue with vinegar; my iced tea cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the church of ‘cue forever.”

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BBQ Jew’s View: Byrd’s Barbecue

2816 Cheek Road, Durham, NC
919.530.1839
No Website
Hours: Mon-Fri 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Noah’s Temple didn’t make me a believer.”

“Worth Your Time to Find”
I’m embarassed to admit that I first heard of Byrd’s Barbecue fewer than 6 months ago.  Byrd’s–with the motto “Worth Your Time to Find” etched onto its rooftop sign–is located in Durham within 20 minutes of my house.  And it was founded over 50 years ago.  (According to a recent News & Observer article, Noah and Michelle Temple bought Byrd’s in 2005.  Noah used to work at Danny’s Bar-B-Que in Cary, which we’ve yet to visit but have poked fun at.)  How could I have not know about Byrd’s sooner?  And was it worth my time to find after all these years living in the dark? 

I still can’t figure out the answer to the first question, but maybe it has something to do with the answer to the second one: No.  Although it is a decent enough place, Byrd’s is nothing special.  It’s one of hundreds–or thousands–of mediocre barbecue joints in NC that long ago took the cheaper, easier path and stopped cooking over wood, in the process sacrificing quality, flavor and tradition.

Looks Like the Real Deal,
If you choose to ignore the propane tank that looms behind the building (which, of course, you should not), Byrd’s has the look of a gem of a BBQ joint.  Located just outside the city limits, it occupies a rural setting that is appropriate to good ‘cue.  The modest wood frame building looks the part too.  And the parking lot welcomed a steady stream of Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Prissy Polly’s

729 Highway 66 South, Kernersville, NC
336.993.5045
Website
Hours: Mon-Sat 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C+
Porky Says: “Polly has an identity crisis.”

 
 
 
 

Prissy Polly's: The view from my table

Pollyanna
With a great name like Prissy Polly’s, which made it into my barbecue joint name hall of fame, it’s tempting to be Pollyannaish about the quality of the barbecue.  The fact that the restaurant is named after the founder’s mother makes it even better.  But despite the great name, Polly’s suffers from an identity crisis.  And, leaving the name aside, the food they serve is just okay.

Trying to Do Too Much
Instead of focusing on preparing one style of barbecue well, which is a difficult enough task, Polly’s tries to serve both Eastern- and Lexington-style ‘cue and does neither especially well.  According to their own website:

“Originally Prissy Polly’s served only Eastern-style barbecue.  This caused a bit of consternation among some of the local folks, who were accustomed to Lexington-style barbecue. To please the taste of those who preferred Lexington-style, Prissy Polly’s began to offer both styles of barbecue.”

I have to give Polly’s a lot of credit for being bold enough to start an Eastern-style BBQ joint in the heart of Lexington-style territory.  And the Eastern-style ‘cue they serve is definitely the better of the types.  I can’t really blame Polly’s for caving to local preferences either.  Judging by the fact that they have stayed in business for 18 years and have a sparkling, large restaurant, adding Lexington-style ‘cue to the menu was the right decision. I simply don’t think their Lexington-style ‘cue is particularly good.

One, Two, Three Types of ‘Cue
Since Polly’s started out serving Eastern-style barbecue, let’s focus on that first.  The biggest problem with Polly’s Eastern-style ‘cue is that it is not cooked over wood and the lack of care shows in a lack of flavor.  Sadly, Polly has plenty of company in both the east and the west in terms of not using wood, but that doesn’t excuse them.  Leaving that aside, Polly’s Eastern-style BBQ is moist and has decent flavor, which is enhanced by a slightly too salty but quite good vinegar/pepper sauce that accompanies it, though it appears to be machine chopped and is a bit mushy.  I’d probably give their Eastern-style ‘cue a B- if I were grading it alone.  Polly’s Lexington-style barbecue fares worse.

Polly’s actually offers two types of Lexington-style ‘cue.  (Pay close attention, this gets a bit confusing.)  Polly’s original Lexington-style BBQ is called “Original Lexington,” and they have served it for years.  It features a rather thick, sweet dip that has as much in common with KC Masterpiece or Kraft as it does with traditional NC style sauces.  Recently Polly’s added another Lexington-style dip option, this one called “Traditional Lexington.”  The dip used for the newer traditional version is significantly better than the original recipe, as it is much thinner and more vinegar-based, though it is still too sweet for my palate.  The Lexington-style ‘cue was too heavily sauced in the kitchen and needed no added dip at the table.

First course: Eastern-style

Second course: Lexington-style

Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque

109 E. Davie Street, Raleigh, NC
919.832.7614
Website
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Cooper’s is past retirement age.”

Urban Barbecue
Given the modest piece of real estate it occupies in the shadows of some of downtown Raleigh’s sparkling new office towers, Clyde Cooper’s BBQ’s continued existence is noteworthy.  And the location in the heart of downtown gives Cooper’s a better excuse for not cooking over wood coals than most joints have.  Between Cooper’s location and history–the joint has existed since 1938, and founder Clyde Cooper lived from 1899 to 1998–I really want to like it.  Yet I have eaten there several times over the years and found it mediocre at best.  Because new owners took over Cooper’s late last year, I decided to give it another try.

The good news is that the current owners wisely kept Cooper’s old time atmosphere, thick and authentic, intact.  (The NC license plate on the wall that reads “Soieee!” is a nice, I think new, touch).  The bad news is the current owners kept the mediocre barbecue intact too. 

Still hanging on after 71 years.

Like many joints, both urban and rural, Cooper’s used to cook with wood but the days when grease-laced hickory smoke wafted out of the back of the joint are long since gone.  Alas, I suspect it has been that long since Cooper’s has served a good plate of barbecue.  The fact that Cooper’s, though an Eastern-style joint in terms of its menu and sauce, cooks hams and shoulders rather than whole hog barbecue, doesn’t help my opinion of it either.     

The Food: Not Yuppicue, Just Not Good
I respect the fact that Cooper’s has stayed true to its roots in terms of the feel of the restaurant and the type of menu it offers.  It might have been tempting to turn Cooper’s into a sort of barbecue showplace/museum that caters to convention center visitors and other barbetourists.  (As an aside, can we organize ourselves as a state and create a barbecue museum already?!) Yet the menu remains simple, the presentation plain and the price fair.  That’s Continue reading

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