WRAL TV recently profiled the famous B’s Barbecue in Greenville, NC. The two minute video gives a good peek into the atmosphere of B’s, even if the reporter naively refers to the pit as an “oven.” I still think that the Skylight Inn in Ayden, just outside of Greenville, is a couple of notches better than B’s, but no denying B’s is among the state’s best, and best known, barbecue joints.
751 B’s Barbecue Road, Greenville, NC
No phone, no website, no problem
Hours: Tue-Sat from the time they open (10ish) to the time they close (they run out of food by ~ 2:00 p.m.)
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A-
Porky Says: “Don’t worry, B’s happy.”
Bill and Peggy McLawhorn started B’s Barbecue in the 1970s, but the place feels like it has been around many decades longer. For one thing, it has the classic feel of an early 20th century barbecue joint. Also, it’s a real dive: it’s hard to believe a joint “merely” 40 or so years old could be as run down as B’s. Not that anyone cares, of course, so long as they keep serving up good barbecue, truly excellent chicken and down east sides to complement the meats. B’s has earned legendary status despite its relatively short lifespan, and the phone-less shack only adds to the allure at this point.
The McLawhorn’s three daughters, who run B’s today, would be crazy to deviate from B’s ramshackle formula for success. As one of the daughters, Judy Dach, described it to interviewer Alan Pike in 2009: “I mean sure we’d like to have a nice new fancy building and eight or ten more people working so we can have a day off and that kind of stuff, but, to us, when when you start doing all that, then it’s—you know, it’s like any other restaurant and that’s not what we wanted it to be. That’s not what my dad wanted it to be; he wanted it to be ours.”
Getting Inside the Shack
Finding B’s is pretty straightforward, despite what I’d heard throught the grapevine. Finding a parking spot, on the other hand, is an adventure at busy times of day (and that is most any time). Saying B’s has a parking lot would be a generous misstatement. Rather, it seems the B’s building fell from the sky and landed haphazardly in the midst of some scattered gravel. A beautiful old oak tree separates part of the lot from the carryout window. Highway 43 runs next to B’s and is in the process of being expanded; it seems at any moment slight steering error might send a car hurtling into the dining room, just yards away from the right of way.
Confirming Judy Dach’s above comments on the condition of B’s space being part of what makes B’s, well, B’s, everyone who has ever told me about B’s has mentioned in the same breath the quality of the barbecue and the fact that it is a true BBQ shack. Having at long last made it to B’s to see for myself I can now attest that the barbecue is indeed good and the place is truly a shack. The exterior is poorly maintained, with fascia boards crumbling like so many day-old hush puppies. Inside the building, the dining room is bigger than seems possible, likely seating 40 or so people, but is otherwise lacking in redeeming qualities. A cooler buzzes noisily and drips out condensate onto the floor. A side trip to the men’s room reveals a floor seemingly held in place by a can of Great Stuff.
In short, B’s is a perfect place for a barbecue meal.
Oh Yeah, They Serve Food
The food is served cafeteria style with sides of green beans, tender and expertly flavored boiled potatoes, and tasty (greasy but not heavy) corn sticks laying in wait for hungry patrons. (As an aside, I find that corn sticks reheat well in toaster oven, as the grease keeps them from drying out like hush puppies tend to when faced with a similar microclimate.) The barbecue was very tasty. Not the best I’ve had, and a bit sloppily prepared compared to the near-perfection of the Skylight Inn several miles away in Ayden, but it is definitely worth eating. The chicken, in my opinion, was several notches better than the pork, which is saying something. It was simple but delicious with crispy skin and rich, smoky flavor; dipping it in the BBQ sauce took the experience to heavenly heights. Indeed, B’s simple looking barbecue sauce has surprising depth (whiskey as an ingredient, maybe?) and complements the pork and chicken with equal aplomb. B’s coleslaw is a classic white, sweet, mayo-rich Eastern recipe with a fine chop but not quite as fine as some, which gives it a bit more textue.
B’s was moderately crowded when I arrived at 11:00 on a Saturday and had a line out the door 15 minutes later. They stay open until they run out of food, a trait that refelects either a lack of dedication to work longer hours and cash in or Continue reading
3883 South Main Street, Farmville, NC
Hours: Wed, Fri & Sat 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A
Porky Says: “Whole hog on the Cobb.”
A Rich Tradition
Jack Cobb & Son Barbecue Place in Farmville is listed on the prestigious NC BBQ Society Trail map but it is well off the beaten path for most barbetourists. Despite offering barbecue that rivals or surpasses that of its geographic peers, Cobb & Son’s remains a quiet respite from the barbecue crowds that descend on places like the famous B’s Barbecue in nearby Greenville.
Cobb & Son’s history as a restaurant is rich with themes that echo the history of barbecue in North Carolina. In particular, barbecue’s history is closely tied to the state’s tobacco heritage; traditionally pig pickin’s coincided with the tobacco harvest, for instance. According to Jim Early’s The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: Manteo to Murphy, Cobb & Son’s founder Jack Cobb, an African-American, worked for a Farmville tobacco company in the 1940s and had a side business of cooking and selling barbecue to his black co-workers. Before long, “word spread around the community about Jack’s good ‘cue and white citizens wanted to buy Jack’s barbecue but would not come to Jack’s place to get it. Ever the entrepreneur Jack took his ‘cue to a white friend’s home and this man sold Jack’s barbecue for him.” Cobb & Son’s continued working to build an integrated customer base throughout decades of difficult race relations and at times encountering opposition from blacks and whites alike.
Any business from the 1940s that still exists is impressive, and one that has had to overcome hurdles like racism is even more so. The secret to Cobb & Son’s success all these years? My guess is because they are just plain good at what they do, and the barbecue is delicious regardless of one’s race, politics or preferred brand of cigarettes.
Jack Cobb’s son Rudy, now in his 70s, runs the restaurant today, as he has since his dad passed away in 1989 (Rudy has worked at the restaurant almost his whole life). When arriving at Cobb & Son on the edge of downtown Farmville, one gets the sense that little has changed at the place since its founding. It is a classic barbecue joint if ever there was one. And, luckily, that classic feeling extends to the simple, delicious food Cobb & Son’s offers up the three days a week it is open for business.
Cobb & Son’s occupies a fairly large building but there is no seating inside. The “dining room” at Cobb & Son’s is what can only be described as a mosquito-friendly screened porch, Continue reading
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A+
Porky Says: “Capitol Q indeed, Jones’ place lives up to the hype.”
The Skylight Inn is not the type of restaurant that tries to be everything to everyone. Far from it. Instead, the folks at The Skylight do just a few things but do them as well as any barbecue joint anywhere. The Skylight Inn is still referred to as “Jones’ Barbecue” by many old timers in deference to Pete Jones, who started the place, and the Joneses who have followed in his footsteps. The menu that Pete Jones established when he opened The Skylight in 1947 remains nearly unchanged today. When you set foot in The Skylight Inn your only choices are whether you want a BBQ sandwich or a tray (small, medium or large) and where to sit. The options are limited to barbecue, slaw and skillet cornbread from a 180 year old recipe! You might think it’d be disappointing to not have some variety on the menu, but I think I could make do with Jones’ pork-slaw-cornbread holy trinity most every day and die happy (and probably several years before I otherwise would).
“If I told you the recipe for the slaw, I’d have to shoot you in the head.”
When you visit barbecue joints and talk to the owners and cooks, you get used to the line, “I could tell you the recipe for [insert menu item], but I’d have to kill you.” This is practically a motto for barbecue folks. That said, The Skylight Inn was the first place I heard that line delivered by someone who was prepared to follow through on the statement. I asked Samuel Jones how they cook their hogs and he told me he’d be happy to share, as it’s simply hard work and sticking to tradition rather than any secret. On the other hand, he said, “If I told you the recipe for the slaw, I’d have to shoot you in the head.” Since Samuel had a handgun in his back Continue reading