Whole Hog in Asheville? Buxton Hill says yes

With all due respect to President Obama’s favorite 12 Bones, Asheville is not a barbecue town.  However, Asheville is taking a decidedly down east step toward building its barbeculture.  Word on the Twittersphere is that a new whole hog barbecue restaurant will be opening in Asheville later this summer.

According to its Twitter profile (yes, I spent a lot of time researching this post), Buxton Hill will offer “All wood, Pit Smoked, Pastured Whole Hog Barbeque & Heirloom Southern Fare.”  At first blush this sounds an awful lot like a western North Carolina version of Raleigh’s (and soon Durham’s) down home-upscale restaurant, The Pit. And, yes, that is both a compliment (wood cooking and whole hogs should be encouraged) and an insult.

I’m curious to learn more about Buxton Hill, and given all the good beer flowing on the streets of Asheville, it won’t take much convincing for me to visit whether or not the barbecue is any good.

Porky’s Pulpit: Bourgie Barbecue

With the mainstreaming of barbecue across the country, it’s inevitable that the formerly humble food will finds it way onto menus at a increasingly varied range of establishments.  A case in point is Chapel Hill’s landmark gourmet food shop, A Southern Season, which recently made the following announcement about the newest addition to their delicatessen menu:

Authentic, North Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ
We are bringing you some of North Carolina’s finest—Pig Pickin’ style Pulled Pork with a tangy Eastern North Carolina-style vinegar sauce. Made exclusively with pork Boston Butts.

The Classic NC BBQ Sandwich
Stop by today for a classic BBQ sandwich $4.99 each.”

If you’ve never been to A Southern Season, you should know that I like the place.  You should also know that A Southern Season is famous for its chocolates, ornate gift baskets, wine selection, gourmet deli and cheese shop, and various overpriced snacks and knicknacks.  It is, at its essence, a gourmet southern food store for northerners.  The inclusion of a BBQ sandwich on A Southern Season’s deli menu is akin to McDonald’s deciding to offer an artisanal cheese plate.  Could it be good?  Possibly.  Does it make sense?  Certainly not.

Is bourgie ‘cue something that should concern barbecue traditionalists? A level-headed observer might say no.  I say hell yes.  Although I’ve yet to sample the barbecue sandwich at A Southern Season, I have no problem deeming it, sight unseen, as yuppicue of the highest order and warning my loyal readers to steer clear.  Well, unless you happen to be shopping for Belgian chocolate cordials and get a hankering for chopped pork… I couldn’t fault you for that.

Porky’s Pulpit: Barbecue “Evolution”

When the Private Equity Beat blog of the Wall Street Journal features a post about barbecue, it’s worth reading.  And they posted a good one toward the end of 2009.  In “Debating Evolution – Barbecue Evolution, That Is,” WSJ blogger Josh Beckerman, who admits he is no dyed-in-the-pig-wool barbecue fundamentalist, nonetheless takes a creationist-worthy stand against the so-called “evolution” of ‘cue. 

What has Beckerman riled up?  This press release entitled “The Barbecue Evolution” that was put out by a large company called Sadler’s.  The press release says, in part: “BBQ isn’t just for backyard parties anymore. Sophisticated barbecue was named a Top 10 Flavor Trend in 2009 by Flavor & The Menu and is predicted to go even more upscale with ethnic and regional flavors in 2010… .”

Beckerman responds to Sadler’s slick press release with fire and brimstone worthy of, well, a BBQ Jew, writing that he has no problem with the concept of mass-produced pit-smoked ‘cue but he’s “not so sure about brisket bow-tie pasta, one of the recipes – along with pulled pork Asian wraps and shaved pork quesadillas – that the company offers to ‘customers who want to experiment with upscale barbecue trends.'”  

He continues his sermon, offering, “Nor do we completely agree that ‘mango salsa or chipotle sauces are ideal compliments to the hardwood flavors of authentic, pit-smoked barbecue meats.’  Although fusion has its place in the world of food, we think barbecue may not be that place.” 

Preach it, Beckerman!

The Pit Expanding

A tip of the hat snout to Raleigh-based food blogger Dean McCord, who reports that The Pit is expanding.  The Pit, which I “reviewed” awhile back (see what I mean here), is an upscale BBQ restaurant in downtown Raleigh.  Apparently the people of Raleigh were not persuaded by my snarky commentary and continue to head to The Pit like, well, hogs to the slaughter.  See Dean’s full post on The Pit here and check out the main page of his interesting food blog VarmintBites.

Learn to Cook ‘Cue

The NC BBQ Society is offering a great, albeit pricey, opportunity to learn to cook real NC barbecue.  See the Raleigh News & Observer’s food blog for details.  Note that registration for the three-day class ends August 15.  As for the event itself, suffice it to say that one of the instructors is Steve Grady of Grady’s BBQ, one of the best barbecue joints in the state.  Oh, and the event is being held in NC’s beautiful Outer Banks.  If you attend, please give me a full report.  Better yet, give me $500 so I can attend myself.  Deal?

The woodpile behind Grady's tells you all you need to know

The pit and woodpile behind Grady's tell you all you need to know.

BBQ Jew’s View: The Barbecue Joint

630 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill, NC (but plotting a move so call and check)
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

Porky’s Pulpit: If You Don’t Like Barbecue, Then Faux ‘Cue

We have addressed the topic of yuppicue on this site before, and today’s post draws attention to a related and equally dangerous form of swine crime. I call this particular bastardization of barbecue “faux ‘cue.” Faux ‘cue includes just about any carelessly loose interpretation of NC style barbecue, but of particular concern are menu items offered at non-BBQ chain restaurants. Imagine the damage done to NC’s culinary reputation when an out of state visitor thinks he is sampling some of our prized local cuisine when he orders this abomination: the Pulled Pork Panini

Imagine a world where this becomes our local 'cue. [photo from Panini Happy website]

Imagine a world where this is our "local" delicacy. Note: this is not the Cafe Carolina panini, just a similarly scary sandwich at paninihappy.com.

I first came across Cafe Carolina’s Pulled Pork Panini–at a safe distance, rest assured–when going to one of the chain’s locations near my house for buy one get one free sandwiches. (Cafe Carolina is only worth a visit with such a coupon in hand.) I reviewed the menu board and, as would be the case for any attentive BBQ Jew, the word “pork” grabbed my attention. I read further and saw the full name of the sandwich, priced at nearly $8, which was described as “carolina style pulled pork with bbq sauce and coleslaw.” Now it’s bad enough for a place like Cafe Carolina to offer a barbecue sandwich, but its adding insult to injury to serve it as a panini. Barbecue has no more business as an ingredient for a panini than a hush puppy has being drizzled with a red wine reduction sauce. Continue reading

BBQ Jew’s View: The Pit (A Non-Review)

328 W. Davie St., Raleigh, NC
The Pit’s Website
(caution: this website is dangerously slick)
BBQ Jew’s Grade: I for incomplete
Porky Says: “Can’t we leave well enough alone?!” 

I just can’t bring myself to go to The Pit.

If barbecue was meant to be upscale it wouldn’t be made of chopped pork. And if folks in Raleigh need cloth napkins and a glass of chardonnay to enjoy barbecue, then perhaps they should just do without and leave the pork for the huddled masses. That said, The Pit’s pitmaster Ed Mitchell is a legend of NC barbecue. He used to own a joint in Wilson that had a stellar reputation, and sadly I never had the good fortune to visit it. That fact alone has almost drawn me to visit The Pit.

Main Course
Unfortunately, The Pit is a far cry from Mitchell’s old place—it is set up as more of a barbecue zoo than a barbecue joint, putting the wild barbecue beast on display for visitors to stare at while keeping a safe distance. The Pit’s website claims the restaurant is “a celebration of all of the great culinary offerings of the Old North State.” Based on the menu, apparently North Carolina’s “great culinary offerings” include Hot Spinach Bacon Dip with Baked Baguette Chips, Meatloaf with Onion Demi and Blue Cheese Crumbles, and Barbecued Tofu. I have never seen tofu slow-cooked over wood coals but I can only imagine tofu lets out a squeal that would scare the vegetarian right out of even the most devout PETA member. If serving tofu at a barbecue restaurant is not a sin in the First Church Synagogue of ‘Que, I am not sure what is.

Judging a book by its cover... (photo by Alaina B via Flickr)

Judging a book by its cover... (photo by Alaina B via Flickr)

Just Desserts
In fairness, The Pit’s menu features some classic whole hog NC barbecue and sides, and I have little doubt that Ed Mitchell is a great pitmaster. Plus, the focus on locally raised organic hogs and local produce is admirable. I just can’t quite bring myself to visit a barbecue zoo when a true barbecue safari can be had within 20 miles in any direction.