‘Cue Review: Lexington Barbecue #1, Lexington, NC

I have noticed that the people in North Carolina can get pretty picky about their barbecue.  They distinguish between traditional eastern North Carolina barbecue and what they call Lexington-style barbecue.  The easiest way to explain the difference is that eastern NC style has a vinegar sauce with no tomato, while the Lexington style would typically add tomato.  As you might expect, Lexington, NC is the home of Lexington-style, and Lexington Barbecue #1 is its holiest place.

Lexington #1 had long been on my list on barbecue joints to try, as I have read about it and seen on television several times.   Knowing my time in North Carolina was coming to an end (more on that later), I thought that it would not happen.  Luckily, Mrs. BBQisNotaVerb and I decided to take a trip to the Atlanta area to visit her parents, and Lexington was conveniently on the route.  In order to get to the restaurant, we had to take a slight detour onto Business I-85.  Both my TomTom and Google Maps took us to the wrong place, but a quick call to Lexington #1 gave us directions.  As it turns out, the restaurant is literally on an exit off of Business I-85.

The restaurant is housed in a large white building that is somewhat reminiscent of a barn, but most great barbecue joints don’t look too great from the outside.  That is not what matters, and I don’t trust ones that do.  When we walked inside, we found a counter with old-fashioned stools in the front room, and two other rooms for dining areas behind that.  We took a seat in a booth and picked up the menu.  It is pretty straightforward, without a lot to be confused by.  We both ordered a tray, which is just barbecue and slaw.  The barbecue was, quite simply, excellent.  Rarely, if ever, have I had better.  It was moist and had a great smokey flavor.  The sauce was a little spicy and just okay, and the slaw was a brown color and had way too much vinegar for my tastes.  But oh man, the barbecue.  Absolutely worth the minor deviation from our route.  I even ordered a couple of pounds to go, and my feelings were confirmed by my in-laws.  If you ever get the chance to stop in, do it.

 

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‘Cue Review Update: Changes in Store at The Pit

Recently we reviewed The Pit in Raleigh.  Looks like there will be some changes over there.  Renowned Pitmaster Ed Mitchell appears to be leaving.  I guess he saw our review and decided to open something more “authentic”.

Here’s a link the article from NewsObserver.com.  The article also says to expect a new location of The Pit in downtown Durham sometime next year.

Also, here are some nice pictures from Kevin’s BBQ Joints Blog.

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‘Cue Review: Byrd’s Barbecue, Durham, NC (2816 Cheek Road)

Today I had lunch at Byrd’s Barbecue in Durham.  Byrd’s is located on the north side of town, just outside the city limits.  That said, it feels like you are closer to a farm than to downtown.  I had not heard of Byrd’s before, but I was looking for a place relatively close to home and found it with a quick google search.  I was completely unsure of what to expect. 

Byrd’s has a paved parking lot (sometimes a bad sign), but I did notice a gravel overflow lot.  The building itself looks rather old, which seems to be a pattern for barbecue joints.  When I opened the front door, I was in a small room with about ten tables.  The room appears to be an old closed-in porch, as one has to walk through another door to get to the order counter.  The menu was simple and posted on the wall.  I was hoping for ribs, but that is evidently a Wednesday specialty, and today was Thursday.  I settled for the old standby: barbecue sandwich with slaw, a side of Brunswick stew, and sweet tea.  I was a little early and fortunately beat the noon rush to the small restaurant, so they had my order out almost as soon as I had paid.  I took my tray, retreated through the second door back onto the former porch, and took a seat at a table in the corner with a picnic-style checkered tablecloth (again, a good sign).

I started with the stew, and it was excellent.  Perfect consistency.  Not too soupy, and not too thick.  Easily the best stew I have had in a while.  The barbecue was almost as good.  I would have prefered a little more slaw on the sandwich, but the meat was moist and had a nice charred taste.  There are two styles of sauce available.  One they call “Memphis Style”, and the other is the “Old Fashioned.”  The Memphis Style is tomato-based and sweet, and I would prefer they left it in Memphis.  However, the Old Fashioned is a traditional vinegar-based sauce, and I enjoyed it.  It had a little bit of spice in it, but it was certainly not too hot for my tastes.  And the sweet tea was just about perfect.

All-in-all, Byrd’s is one of the best I have had in the area.  I would put it right up there with Allen & Son, although the latter might have it beat on atmosphere.  I liked it so much that I went back to the counter and tried to buy a t-shirt.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have my size (maybe I need to lay off of the ‘cue for a while so that I can go back and get a medium!).

http://www.byrdsbbq.com/

                                                                                               

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‘Cue Review: Smokey’s BBQ Shack, Morrisville, NC (10800 Chapel Hill Road)

Last Friday, I took the opportunity to visit Smokey’s BBQ Shack in Morrisville.  Smokey’s is about 5 minutes off of I-40 between Chapel Hill/Durham and Raleigh. 

As I drove up, I noticed a good sign: a gravel parking lot.  It always seems that the best barbecue places have gravel parking lots.  Furthermore, the building looks exactly like the name of the place implies: a shack.  If a restaurant can survive with no parking lot and a run-down exterior, it must mean the food is really good.  As I walked up the steps to the front door,  the line inside was so long that I had to wait outside for several minutes.  Another good sign.  Once inside, I noticed immediately the character of the place.  There are basically two rooms in Smokey’s.  The first looks to be an old porch that was enclosed several years ago, and the second is part of the original building.  Making my way through the line in the first room, which is seating, to the second, where to counter for ordering is, one can’t help but read a few of the signs that cover the walls.  There are a few ads for hunting clubs, but most are irreverent and somewhat humorous.  I could here Kenny Chesney singing “Never wanted nothing more” in the background, and I hoped that would be a good omen.

When I finally made my way to the counter, a gentleman, who I assume was “Smokey”, took my order: the double play, ribs and chopped pork with Brunswick stew and cole slaw.  Smokey chatted briefly with me, and, considering the line was still out the door, I took this as a compliment.  Smokey is a die-hard Tennessee Volunteers fan.  Now, being a Georgia Bulldog fan myself, this was somewhat concerning, but I decided that I could forgive him if the ‘cue was good.  Anyway, it is always good to meet a fellow college football fan in this basketball-crazed region. 

One I picked up my sweet tea and my order, I looked around for a seat.  Not finding one, I did spot a sign that read “picnic area out back.”  I wasn’t sure if this was some joke, along the lines of all the other signs, to pick at unsuspecting visitors, but I tried it anyway.  I made my way past the kitchen, through a screen door, past a washing area, and old pit, and into a small field out back.  Sure enough, picnic tables lined the sides of the field nearest the trees, and most were full.  I took a spot at an empty table and dug in to my plate.

The ribs and the barbecue were dry rubbed, cooked without sauce.  The ribs had  a very nice flavor, and, while somewhat fatty, were excellent.  The pork also had a nice flavor, but it was a little dry.  I tried both of the sauces, which tasted very similar.  Both were vinegar based, but slightly thicker than most in the area.  The only difference that I could tell between the two was that one was hotter than the other.  Both were too sweet for my tastes.  I ended up mixing some of the slaw with the pork.  I really enjoyed the meal, and I would recommend it to anyone in the area.  If I had to rank it, I would place it somewhere between Allen & Son, which is my top so far, and the Pit, which was only okay.  Definitely worth a try.

http://www.smokeysshack.com

   

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Guide to the South: Boiled Peanuts

The ancient Greeks said that ambrosia was the food of the gods, which lets us know that Greece must have been a Northern state.  Down in the South, we prefer boiled peanuts.

Way back in college, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend one summer in Washington, D.C. as an intern for a senator from Georgia.  There were a few other guys in the program that sponsored me, and three of us lived together in a townhouse on Capitol Hill.  Wait, I should clarify that.  Three of us lived together in a room in a townhouse on Capitol Hill.  The rest of the house was filled with other interns from around the country, so that there were ten of us, total, in the house.  Just what D.C. needs, ten charged up twenty-one year olds terrorizing the neighborhood.  We liked to call it The Real World, D.C.

All of that is a long lead in to say that we had roommates from all over the country with little exposure to Southern delicacies.  Being proper  Southerners, we found it our duty to educate them.  Part of their education was boiled peanuts.  My parents happened to visit me one weekend as a stop on a road trip, and they brought with them a bushel bag full of green peanuts (basically immature peanuts that have not yet hardened).   As we started cooking, a roommate from New Hampshire walked in and asked, “What are those?  Peas?”  Now you can’t blame him for being a Yankee, but…Anyway, after a few hours we served up the treat.  Most of the house gave rave reviews, but there were a few skeptics that we couldn’t convert.  Oh well, I don’t ask that you love them, but I do ask that you give them a try.

Boiled peanuts are pretty straightforward to make.  If you can, it is best to get the peanuts straight from the farm.  For an authentic, although time-consuming, experience, you may even get the vine (peanuts are legumes and grow underground on the root of a viney, low growing bush) and pick them off while sitting under a shade tree and drinking sweet tea.  If that is not an option, grocery stores usually have them when in season in the summertime.  After washing the peanuts, place them in a large pot and cover with water.  Salt liberally (this is key – don’t try to be healthy and go light on the salt).  Boil for a few hours, until the meat of the peanut becomes soft, and enjoy!

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Garden&Gun: The Sauce Question

Garden&Gun features barbecue around the South in their latest issue.  They have a nice write-up on places to try around the South, as well as a basic guide to the different sauces of the region.  Worth picking up a copy if you have time.  Here is link to the sauce guide:

http://gardenandgun.com/article/barbecue-sauces

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‘Cue Review: The Pit, Raleigh, NC (328 W. Davie Street)

Having lived in the Triangle area for about two years now, I have heard a lot of high praise for The Pit, a Raleigh barbecue joint.  Yesterday, I finally made the drive over to give it a try. 

The first thing you notice when you get to W. Davie Street is that it does not look like the typical barbecue dive.  The Pit is located in what looks like an old warehouse in Raleigh.  I have to admit that I was more than a little skeptical when I drove up and saw a valet stand outside.  When you step inside, it looks more like a moderately upscale restaurant than a barbecue joint.  Gone are the picnic tables, cinder blocks, wood paneling, and old tablecloths.  These are replaced by trendy paints and a large bar that takes up the front portion of the restaurant.  My skepticism was further increased when I noticed, toward the bottom of the menu, a choice for tofu barbecue.  You read that right, tofu.  At a ‘barbecue’ restaurant. 

At this point, my expectations were not very high.  I decided to order something basic: a chopped barbecue sandwich with cole slaw, fries, Brunswick stew, and sweet tea.  After what seemed like 30 minutes, the tea arrived.  It was fairly decent, albeit too sweet for my tastes (which is saying something).  The stew was next.  It was turkey-based, with a generous portion of vegetables.  It was quit thin, so that it tasted more like vegetable soup than Brunswick stew.  That said, it was marginally good vegetable soup.  The barbecue was in the Eastern NC tradition: pork, pit cooked without sauce, chopped, and served with slaw.  While it wasn’t the best I have had, it was pretty good.  The slaw had the right amount of mayonnaise, and the pork was moist and flavorful.  There are two sauce choices.  The first, which I would recommend, is a vinegar based sauce.  It has enough kick to it, although it is complemented by an unfortunate sweet taste.  The other choice is a tomato based sauce, and I would generally warn visitors to stay away from it. 

All-in-all, The Pit was okay.  It was too “dressy” for my tastes, but Mrs. BBQisNotaVerb probably would have liked the options better than many of the barbecue places to which I drag her.  If you are in Raleigh, it is probably worth a stop, although I wouldn’t make a special trip, and you can certainly find more authentic places in the area. 

Website: http://www.thepit-raleigh.com/

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