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

BBQ Jew’s View: Whitley’s Restaurant

3664 NC Highway 8, Lexington, NC
336.357.2364‎
Website
Barbecue Jew’s Grade: C
The Rabbi Says: “Oy Vey.”

The menu at Whitley’s Restaurant claims to serve “Lexington’s Finest,” but I doubt even Whitley himself believes that. And you shouldn’t. Because in my book, that’s laying claim to serving some of the best swine in the state.

Whitley’s was not a sought out destination. It just happened to be a) in Lexington and b) conveniently close to another ‘cue joint to which I was early. So I thought, ‘when in Lexington…”

From the get go, there were mixed signals. A message board under aforementioned sign advertised a salmon patties special. Those abominations are not served at barbecue restaurants I frequent. More worrying, was the lack of that telltale smoky scent we’ve all learned to love. [Porky says: Months after writing this review, The Rib Rabbi and I discovered a Whitley’s website that claims the pork is cooked in a pit over wood coals, so it appears that the meat is cooked over wood for at least some of its cook time.]

Hmm

Restaurant or a barbecue joint?

Given those two indications, I was not expecting to enter barbecue nirvana. Yet upon entry, I encountered a hefty gentleman in suspenders and jeans. And the brick and wood interior with comfortable booths was about right. I wasn’t sure what to make of the rack of bagged cracklins for sale—in no less than five flavors! (Honey Q, salt and vinegar, regular, BBQ and hot BBQ.)

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

BBQ Jew’s View: Bullock’s Bar B Cue

3330 Quebec Dr., Durham, NC
919.383.3211
No Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Never mind the Bullock’s.”

Not Really a Barbecue Joint
I think I’d like Bullock’s more if it didn’t serve barbecue.

It’s not that Bullock’s barbecue is bad, but it seems like an afterthought on a huge menu that does a good job serving southern food from fried chicken to fish to ham, with all the sides you could ever want.  Bullock’s is a pretty good southern style restaurant that also serves so-so, Eastern-style electric-cooked barbecue (they long ago abandoned cooking over wood). The barbecue is pretty non-descript, standard fare for wood-free, Eastern-style ‘cue, though it is available either chopped or sliced, which adds some variety.   Frankly, I’m not sure what else to say about the barbecue, especially after seeing how Bullock’s attorneys have reacted to comments H. Kent Craig made about rumors regarding the source of Bullock’s barbecue. 

Family dining at Bullock's.  From http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3597/3321910552_25fd70ac3c.jpg
Bullock’s spacious dining room.  Picture taken from http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3597/3321910552_25fd70ac3c.jpg

It’s A Family Affair
Bullock’s is a family-run business that draws a mixed crowd of Durham natives, Duke students who have likely never tasted barbecue anywhere else except for possibly the Original Q-Shack, and the occasional celebrity.  (The vintage 1980’s picture of Bono and U2 with the classic, underwhelmed caption “Band from Ireland” is far and away my personal favorite.). There is actually much to like about Bullock’s, especially the “family style” dinners where everyone in your dining party agrees to eat what amounts to a buffet brought to your table—bottomless bowls of barbecue, chicken, vegetables, etc. And the endless supply of sweet, soft hush puppies that accompanies every meal is hard to resist, even if it is a wee bit unnecessary.

Closing Thoughts
Bullock’s has probably helped spread the gospel of barbecue to tens of thousands of folks over the years, especially given the number of out of town visitors who find their way to Bullock’s through Duke or other connections.  Hopefully many of those folks have gone on to try some ‘cue from other joints that do more justice to the ‘cue NC has to offer.  Still, if you can manage your expectations, you shouldn’t be disappointed by the overall dining experience at Bullock’s.  I’ve always enjoyed my trips there because of the friendly atmosphere, the large and diverse crowd of diners, and the fact that Bullock’s really is a Durham institution.  As long as you don’t go to Bullock’s looking for a great plate of barbecue you’ll enjoy yourself.

For an interesting post on the history of Bullock’s Bar B Cue, see our pal at Endangered Durham’s post here.