Accident Kills Whitley’s Restaurant Owner

Sad news from Lexington where Mark Thompson, the owner of Whitley’s Restaurant, died in a motorcycle accident on April 15th.  I did not know Mr. Thompson and only dined at his restaurant once but, as with most locally owned restaurants, Whitley’s was obviously a labor of love.  He was also a strong supporter of The Barbecue Festival, in which Whitley’s was a regular participant.  It is not yet clear whether the restaurant will re-open. 

My condolences to Mr. Thompson’s family and friends and to the loyal patrons who knew him through his restaurant.

Porky’s Pulpit: An Essay on the Origins of My Addiction

My name is Porky LeSwine and I am a barbeholic.

The barbecue version of the food pyramid.

Early Symptoms
Like most addictions, it all started out innocently enough. I grew up in Orange County not far up the road from Allen & Son. My folks took me there from time to time. Back then it was just a couple of times a year habit. I liked barbecue from the start but didn’t think much about it in between those occasional meals. It’s a couple decades later and I’ve now eaten enough barbecue that my cholesterol level can be measured from 100 yards away. How did I, an innocent kid who grew up eating just the occasional BBQ plate, turn into a bona fide barbecue junkie?

After continuing my occasional BBQ routine through high school I soon left North Carolina to attend college in Missouri. There are good ribs in St. Louis but nothing quite like NC barbecue, so I found myself fitting in a visit or two to Allen’s every time I returned home. Soon I was stopping at Allen’s on the way home before even arriving at my parents’ house. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Still, I remained just an occasional visitor to the Temple of Divine Swine, not a member of the congregation. 

Diagnosis
After college I worked a job that sent me on several day trips to Lexington, where I interviewed people about their experiences with… well, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I started my interviews by asking people where I should go for lunch. I was amazed at how varied and passionate their responses were. It seemed like everyone had an opinion and they took pride in sending me off the beaten path to the “little place down the road a bit.”

I knew Lexington was barbecue Mecca (or maybe Medina for those of you partial to the ‘cue served in the Eastern part of the state ), but I was shocked to discover that Lexington had over 20 barbecue joints for 20,000 people. At one joint for every 1,000 people, there may be more barbecue options per person in Lexington than there are physicians or churches. But who needs a physician when a chopped tray a day keeps the doctor away? And who needs church Continue reading

John Wayne’s Barbecue Riding Into the Sunset

Sad news from the heart (or at least one of the kidneys) of North Carolina barbecue country.  John Wayne’s Barbecue in Lexington is going out of business today after more than 25 years of serving up ‘cue, BBQ chicken, and much more.  See the full story in The Dispatch or on the WFMY News website

The Dispatch article notes that John Wayne’s is one of seven restaurants that sponsors the annual Barbecue Festival.  It will be interesting to see if another restaurant steps in to fill the void. 

I never had the pleasure of dining at John Wayne’s so I can’t comment on how much of a loss this is for barbetourists like me, but it sure is a sign of the times.  It always seemed like barbecue joints in Lexington succeeded no matter what.  The town has 20-some joints despite a population of just a shade over 20,000.  Given how hard hit the economy of the Lexington area has been over the years, dating back well before the current recession, it’s a wonder more joints haven’t closed their doors.  Tim Myers, the owner of John Wayne’s, says business is down about 30% from mid-2008.  Let’s hope John Wayne’s loyal customers find a new local joint to support.

BBQ Jew’s View: Lexington Barbecue #1

 10 US Hwy 29-70 South (I-85 Business Loop), Lexington, NC
704.249.9814
No Website
Hours: Mon – Sat 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A+
Porky Says: “This Monk serves heaven on earth.”

The Honeymonk
Whichever name you call it by–Lexington Barbecue #1,Lexington #1, Monk’s place, Monk’s, or The Honeymonk–this joint is absolutely one of the best in the state.  I’ve been here a half dozen times or so over a period of several years and the barbecue and sides have been superb every time.  Wayne Monk, his family, and the other employees who work at Lexington #1 run an amazingly efficient restaurant.  They crank out ‘cue and all the fixings in high volume without sacrificing quality one bit.  Whether you show up when the line is out the door, such as during the annual Barbecue Festival, or on a slow day at an off hour, Monk & company will dish you out some of the best ‘cue known to man, woman, or child.

 In lieu of a full review of Lexington #1, I am going to defer to the Michael Stern of Roadfood fame on this one.   See Stern’s recent review of Lexington #1 from his Roadfood.com website.  Stern is one of the nation’s premier food writers and his website and books are well worth reading if you’ve yet to discover them.  All I’ll add to Stern’s recent review of Lexington #1 is that some reason the draft Cheerwine tastes extra good there… especially when served to you by Wayne Monk himself at one of the counter stools.  Add it to your bucket list today.  And then get off your duff and check it off the list tomorrow.

BBQ in the News: December 2009

Today marks the debut of an occasional feature called BBQ in the News, in which we share ‘cue related stories that come from near and far, and range from unimportant to not that important. Enjoy.

The Grinch Who Stole the Birthday Brisket – This story comes from Houma, Louisiana courtesy of The Daily Comet, which I think may be the paper Clark Kent worked at before moving up to The Daily Planet.  This sad story begins with Jonathon Pepper buying his wife Brandi a brisket for her birthday.  (That’s the gift that keeps on giving, Clark.)  Unfortunately, after 2 days of marinating, the brisket was stolen from the couple’s smoker while it cooked.  “I would honestly like to know who steals someone else’s barbecue in their backyard,” bemoaned Mrs. Pepper.   My theory:  Mrs. Pepper herself, in a fit of rage that her husband bought her brisket instead of a pork shoulder.

Free New Year’s BBQ in Fayetteville – According to the Fayetteville Observer, “The public is invited to a free feast of barbecue, collard greens, sweet potatoes and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.”  Need I say more?  Get thee to Cumberland County!

The Barbecue Gazebo – Okay, technically this is not a news item.  Still, did you know that you can purchase a “barbecue gazebo” from your good friends at Hammacher Schlemmer for less than $1,000 plus shipping?  Well, actually, the website says this item is no longer available.  Oh well, in that case I won’t mock it.

Barbecue Fork Involved in Stabbing  – According to Australia’s AdelaideNow, “TWO men spent their Rudd Government stimulus packages on drugs before one viciously stabbed the other in an argument over sugar.”  The article is very choppy and difficult to understand–as if the reporter was also using drugs–but it sounds like the meth using stabbing victim wielded a barbecue fork, while the meth using stabber wielded a knife.  Knife trumps fork.

Lexington Barbecue Tourism – According to The Dispatch, the slightly more than one year-old Lexington Visitor’s Center has been an asset to the local economy, in no small part due to its promotion of barbecue-related tourism.  More than 3,300 visitors have come through the doors since the Center opened on December 1, 2008.

McRib’s Revenge – The greatest threat to real barbecue since the invention of the propane cooker, the McRib has returned… at least to Las Cruces, according to hometown paper the Sun-News.  Run for your lives, good people of New Mexico, save yourselves!  Or at least heed the journalist’s advice: “Don’t ask too many questions.  What kind of meat is this? Don’t go there. If you overthink this, the McRib will start morphing on you. If you think, ‘This sort of tastes like chicken,’ it will. It can also sort of taste like beef and sort of like pork.”

All Aboard for The Barbecue Festival

Just a friendly reminder that this coming Saturday is The Barbecue Festival in Lexington, NC.  If you are looking to make a day of it–heck, why not?–consider riding Amtrak to and from the event.  It’s the one day a year that Amtrak stops in Lexington, which is pretty cool.  Riding the train commits you to a roughly nine hour stay in Lexington, which is just enough time to eat a BBQ breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Choo choo!

Advance Warning: The Barbecue Festival is Coming

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Consider this post fair warning that The Barbecue Festival, far and away NC’s largest and most porktacular barbecue event, is coming up in October.  Be there.  Or don’t. 

With or without you, there will be plenty of people descending on uptown (yes, they actually call it that) Lexington on Saturday, October 24th.  In the past crowds have been reported to be as high as 100,000+.  That’s a lot of folks to feed, so if you do head to Lexington, I recommend you skip the ‘cue sold on site and instead visit one of the nearby BBQ joints.  The BBQ Center is a short walk from the festival, and several other worthy joints are within a long walk/short drive.  The food they serve is much better than the stuff that gets thrown together for sale at the tents. 

I’ve been to The Barbecue Festival a few times before and it is always a good time.  Honestly, it is pretty much just a super-sized arts and crafts fair, but it is set in the heart of Lexington and there are some BBQ-friendly elements, from the food to the annual pig-themed sand sculpture.  Also, note that The Barbecue Festival is the culmination of Barbecue Month in Lexington, and there are quite a few events leading up to the actual festival.  Among my favorites are the “Tour de Pig” bicycle event (sponsored, appropriately enough, by a cardiology clinic) and the “Hawg Shoot” air rifle competition held at Lexington Senior High School.

Labor Day Feature: Life in the Pits with Brandon Cook

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off for Pork We Go
A few weeks ago the Rib Rabbi and I headed west down Interstate 85 to Lexington, where we rendezvoused with a Winston-Salem Journal reporter for dinner and an interview.  I’d been to Cook’s BBQ a couple of times before, loved their food, and figured it would be the perfect off-the-beaten path location to meet.  If the reporter found her way to this hidden gem of a restaurant several miles south of Lexington, then I figured she could be trusted to report faithfully on the divine swine.  Well, the reporter got lost somewhere on the way to Cook’s BBQ and showed up a little bit late for dinner (she did show up and did apologize so she passed my test).  Lucky for the Rib Rabbi and me, while we waited on our dinner date to arrive pitmaster Brandon Cook  gave us a thorough tour of the operation. 

Zen and the Art of Barbecue
I’d wanted to talk to Brandon ever since reading an interview with him in Holy Smoke, in which he described the way-out-of-the-way location of Cook’s BBQ as follows: “Our location is a very nice spot.  Nobody drops in accidentally; if you’re coming here, this is your destination.”  The quote’s half-Zen, half-mad scientist logic struck a chord with me.  I knew I’d like anybody who thought his restaurant’s location was perfect because nobody could find the place without knowing it was there.  And maybe Brandon was right about the location, as Cook’s BBQ was doing brisk business when we were there.  In fact, it had undergone a major expansion since the last time I’d visited a couple years back.  But it still serves delicious traditional NC barbecue, as well as not-so-traditional-for-NC Texas-style beef brisket.

Beef in Lexington?! It's okay, remain calm...

Beef brisket in Lexington?! It's okay, try to remain calm...

Cook’s Cook Can Cook
Brandon Cook is a fairly young man, but he works the pit like he’s been doing it for many decades.  Brandon grew up in the restaurant business–his dad, Doug, used to own Cook’s BBQ and now owns another joint in town–and learned to work a pit at an early age.  He has been cooking ever since.  Better yet, while scores of other pitmasters (including, not Continue reading

A Virtual Guide to Lexington-style BBQ

I recently stumbled upon this video from Davidson County’s tourism site while doing “research” (can I call it that?) for BBQJew.com.  Follow the link and click on the Lexington Style Barbeque video clip for… well, honestly, for an incredibly dry (lifeless, really) yet helpful and concise guide to eating ‘cue in Lexington.  It’ll save you some embarassment if you are an Eastern-style devotee taking communion at the Cathedral of Vinegared Ketchup ‘Cue for the first time. 

Also, note the two spellings used on the video: “barbeque” in the link and “barbecue” in the video’s title screen.  Go figure.

BBQ Jew’s View: Cook’s BBQ

366 Valiant Drive, Lexington, NC
336.798.1928
No website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A-
Porky Says: “My only beef with Cook’s is brisket.” 

You're not lost if you've found this sign

You're not lost if you've found this sign

“Right Turn on Rockcrusher Road”
I don’t own a GPS unit; I’m early-2000s-old-fashioned and rely on Mapquest.  Still, I can imagine questioning the sanity of the computerized lady were she to instruct me to turn off Highway 8 and onto Rockcrusher Road, as visitors to Cook’s BBQ must do. But the drive to Cook’s is well worth it, as Cook’s serves some of the best barbecue in a town that serves some of the best barbecue in the state. 

I first visited Cook’s about seven years ago, when it had a small but loyal following among Lexington area diners.  At that time the restaurant was a modest-looking, modest-sized wood building built by founder Doug Cook with timber he milled himself.  Maybe it was seeing the humble wooden building after driving down a road I thought surely led to nowhere, or maybe it was the smoky aroma, or maybe it was just the quality of the food.  Whatever it was, my first meal at Cook’s seven years ago was magnificent.  I had only found my way back once since then, and when I pulled into the driveway this time and saw a large expansion on the original building my heart sank a bit.  But the aroma of hickory-smoked pork still hung thick in the air. 

 

Don’t Fear the Brisket
Although my meal at Cook’s seemed a little less magnificent than my memories of my first visit, the ‘cue still rates high.  The pork is tender and cooked to perfection, with a distinct wood-smoked flavor from the 10 or so hours the shoulders cook slow-and-low over the hickory coals.  Pitmaster Brandon Cook, the son of Cook’s BBQ’s founder (who now owns Backcountry Barbecue across town), firmly believes that cooking over wood is the only way to make barbecue. 

Not much has changed to this corner of the building over the years

Little has changed to this corner of the building over the years.

Cook’s BBQ doesn’t heed all sacred barbecue traditions.  Beef brisket earns a place on a almost distressingly diverse Continue reading