Speedy Lohr’s

I finally made it to Speedy Lohr’s a couple of weeks back and it was well worth the visit.  Speedy Lohr’s is located a bit outside of Lexington in the (what I shall call) hamlet of Arcadia, and they cook their barbecue over wood as God intended.  As you can see in the photo below, Speedy Lohr’s adds a bit more sauce dip than I prefer but quibbles aside it was good ‘cue.

Fire Pit BBQ Opens in Wake Forest

If a friend had told me about a new BBQ joint in Wake Forest that cooks over wood coals and is run by Keith Allen’s next door neighbor, I’d have replied one of two ways:  “Hmm, that is a weird dream” or “Have you been drinking again?”  But when I read about such a restaurant in the News & Observer recently, I took it more seriously.

Evidently, there really is a new barbecue joint in Wake Forest that cooks with hickory and oak (gas-free, thank you very much).  And it really is run by a neighbor of legendary pitmaster Keith Allen of Chapel Hill’s Allen & Son, which is one of the best ‘cue spots on the planet.  I’m not sure that photosynthesis works with pitmasters, so I can’t figure out if Keith Allen’s special BBQ sunshine will help grow a neighbor into a great pitman, but I’m willing to test that theory.  I’ll be headed to Fire Pit BBQ soon, and I hope you do the same.

Now Closed: Nelson’s Barbecue

Sad news from Lumberton, where I’ve learned that just a few months after opening, Nelson’s Barbecue has shut its doors.  Owner Andy Price apparently overextended himself financially and, despite a beautiful restaurant space and a true passion for traditional wood-cooked barbecue, Nelson’s is no more.  No word yet on what will happen to the property or equipment.  I’ll check with Andy and see if he’d like to share anymore on this site.  I was impressed by Andy and his family, and am very sad to see their dream fade away so quickly.  Here’s to hoping an angel investor will swoop in and help Andy out.

Now Open: Nelson’s Barbecue

Gotta love the “Air-Conditioned” sign, a funny throwback touch.

Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending the grand opening of Nelson’s Barbecue, a wood-burning joint just off of I-95 in Lumberton.  Nelson’s is named after proprietor Andy Price’s dad, and the grand opening was a family affair, with his mom and dad, wife and kids in attendance.  It’s clear that Andy has set out to make everyone who walks into Nelson’s feel like a part of his extended family, and this restaurant means a lot more to him than just a business.  He’s been dreaming of opening a barbecue restaurant for 10 years and had a lot of help along the way from many of the people in attendance at the grand opening, from Congressman Mike McIntyre to Mayor Raymond Pennington to restaurant staff who stuck with Andy through a multi-year effort to get it off the ground.  The result is a family run business that employs 20 people in a part of the state that really needs the jobs.

Nelson’s Barbecue cooks its whole hogs in charcoal cookers, which puts them in elite company in a state that features 90-plus percent gassers (and probably 99 percent in Eastern North Carolina).  It’s a great way for a barbecue traditionalist/purist/fascist like myself to start the new year to see a wood-cooker open for business.
Nelson’s is a new restaurant run by a first-time restaurateur, and Andy and his employees readily admit that they’ll be tweaking their recipes in the months ahead.  Therefore, I encourage you to stop by soon and then schedule a return visit to see how this new restaurant evolves.  Their commitment to wood cooking is certainly a good start, and I look forward to returning again soon.  Until then, congratulations to the Price family for what you’ve already accomplished.

“New” Places for ‘Cue in Clayton, Durham, Lumberton

Within the last couple of weeks I’ve learned of three “new” restaurants serving barbecue.  It turns out only one of these places is actually new, but they were all new to me so perhaps they’ll be new to you too…

1) The venerable Durham institution Fishmonger’s, in business for nearly 30 years as a seafood market and restaurant, added barbecue to the menu a few years back.  I’d noticed the neon “BBQ” sign in the window a couple of times but never thought much of it.  As a restaurant known for oysters, shrimp, and other fresh caught seafood, I assumed their barbecue was store bought or from another restaurant.  Well, it turns out that Fishmonger’s founder and owner is a transplanted Texan from the Houston area, and he loves barbecue almost as much as he loves seafood.  He added his own gas-fired, wood chip burning smoker a few years back and turns out a wide assortment of barbecue, from Carolina-inspired pork barbecue with vinegar sauce to Texas standbys like brisket, sausage and ribs.  Their full BBQ menu is shown here.  I doubt they’re going to change their name to Porkmonger’s anytime soon but they seem eager to have more folks sample their ‘cue.

2) Food writer Greg Cox of The News & Observer reviewed Charlie’s BBQ & Grille in Clayton in a January 6th article.  Cox’s very positive, three-star review notes that Charlie’s is a place where, “Purists might turn up their noses at such an ecumenical approach to barbecue–not to mention that [owner Charlie] Carden uses an electric cooker to coax the smoke from chunks of seasoned hickory.”  Ecumenical?  Charlie’s menu includes brisket, Eastern, Lexington-style and even sweet Western North Carolina pork; chicken; ribs; and sausage.  Ecumenical indeed, and that always raises a red flag for me unless I’m in Kansas City or Texas.  However, it is encouraging that Cox’s article mentions the inspirational stint Carden worked at the rightly revered Allen & Son in Chapel Hill; Carden is clear that he never had any intention of setting out to duplicate Allen’s laser-like focus on vinegar-spiked chopped ‘cue.

3) Finally, the restaurant I am most excited to try: Nelson’s Barbecue in Lumberton, which opened just after Christmas (actually, on the 8th night of Hanukkah, I believe).  I’ll be sampling Nelson’s soon so will save the presumably juicy details for then, but I am encouraged that the owner, Andy Price, has decided to cook over a traditional wood-burning pit.  From what I’ve heard about Price from reliable sources, the guy cares deeply about NC barbecue traditions and knows what he is doing.  I have a sneaking suspicion that Nelson’s is going to be a must visit place for barbecue enthusiasts. We shall see.

Let Them Eat… Pork?: Barbecue French-Style

France has likely the world’s most revered culinary tradition.  It is country where just about everyone appreciates quality food and where bakeries, bistros and fine restaurants abound.  Thus, it must have come as a bit of a surprise when Lewisville, North Carolina resident Cap Anderson stumbled upon the following scene during a recent visit to Villeneuve de Formigueres in the French Pyrenees near the border with Spain.
According to Anderson, “The village was having a medieval festival featuring, you guessed it…pig.”  As shown above pork was cooked on a spit over coals laid right on the ground.  Not too dissimilar for early American barbecue.   And what was the side dish offered with the pork?  A stew of “potatoes, beans, onions, tomatoes from what I could see,” reports Anderson.  How do you say “Brunswick stew” en francais?

Sorry, Virginia, Brunswick stew was invented in France.

Back to the pig.  After it was cooked, the pork was pulled and sliced and placed on small grills to finish.  See more of Cap Anderson’s photos below.  And for any of you Freedom Fry-Focuses Francophobes, it looks like you need to give the French another chance!  Plus, French cooks have long been known for their use of virtually every part of the animals they cook, so perhaps there is a natural kinship between North Carolina’s whole hog barbecue traditions and those of the French.  Vive la France indeed.
You might be wondering how France’s take on Carolina barbecue tasted.  “We did not arrive in time to purchase tickets for the meal,” offers Anderson rather unhelpfully.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just need to check out French BBQ for myself…

BBQ Jew’s View: Bill Ellis’ Barbecue

3007 Downing Street, Wilson, NC
(800) 68-BILLS
Website
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B-
Porky Says: “Royally over-the-top all you can eat.”

The Prime Minister of Q
Number 10 Downing Street is the home of the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister and the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Government.  But many folks in Wilson, North Carolina would argue that 3007 Downing Street is far more important.  For it’s at this address that His Majesty Bill Ellis has his castle.  Bill Ellis’ Barbecue is a several acre complex that includes a buffet restaurant, a separate drive-thru/takeout building, and an 18,000 square foot convention center.  But is all of this real estate an indication of the great food that Ellis’ serves or a Royal family-style way of distracting from significant shortcomings?  A little bit of both, in my opinion.

Across the country, it is not uncommon for barbecue joints to trade in braggadocio and hyperbole.   From “The best BBQ you’ll ever eat” to “Need no teef to eat my beef”, barbecue proprietors are known to boast about their product even–especially?–when it is squarely mediocre.  But for the most part barbecue joints in North Carolina refrain from the bragging game.  NC BBQ joints tend to be modest places run by modest people.  Thus, it is a little jarring to come across the sprawling cluster of buildings that is Ellis’ Barbecue.  Although I saw no boastful signs or other overt displays of arrogance, it is hard not to feel like Ellis’ Barbecue is trying to prove something that need not be proved.  (One gets the same feeling perusing their website, where Ellis’ Barbecue refers to itself as the “Microsoft of Barbecue,” whatever that means.)

In addition to the several buildings at Ellis’ Barbecue (described above), there is a fleet of dozens of trucks that might make the British Army jealous: 18-wheelers, smaller tractor trailers, delivery trucks, and even dump trucks all with Ellis’ logo emblazoned on the side.  Despite Ellis’ claim of “coast-to-coast catering” it is hard to imagine any occasion, other than an invasion of Redcoats, that would require more than a fraction of these vehicles be put into service.  That said, owner Bill Ellis does have a large catering operation, a thriving restaurant business and even his own hog farm, plus that convention center.  If anyone BBQ joint can come at all close to justifying a fleet of trucks this large, it’s Ellis’ Barbecue.

Dining like Royalty?
Is it relevant to begin a restaurant review with a few paragraphs that have nothing to do with the food?  Possibly not, but Ellis’ Barbecue is one of the very few joints in the state where the food can get lost in the surroundings.  That is largely because the surroundings are so memorable, but also because the barbecue is quite the opposite.  (This is in stark contrast to Wilson’s other famous BBQ joint, Parker’s.)  Ellis’ Barbecue offers a well-executed buffet dining experience with several side dishes that stand out as far above average, the pork itself is middle-of-the-road.  You could do just fine for yourself by wading through the buffet line and gorging on candied yams, delicately spiced sweet yellow slaw, tender collards, odd-but-tasty Brunswick stew, classic boiled barbecue potatoes, fried chicken, meringue-topped banana pudding, hush puppies, corn sticks, and many other dishes.  Most of these dishes are good, some are very good, and only a few (the from-the-can fruit cobblers come to mind) are subpar.

The chopped barbecue provided on the steam table is much too moist and a bit greasy, due to the pooled sauce and drippings in the pan, as well Continue reading