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Jan 8, 2013 - Reviews    No Comments

Crossing Chapel Hill

Day 4

  

Grady’s (Dudley, North Carolina)

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Grady’s is a small restaurant in Dudley, North Carolina, with all the traditional feel of a small Southern BBQ restaurant.  The building is a small, unassuming white structure, with wonderfully hand-lettered signs on the outside walls, and a classic “Pepsi” sign out front.  As we pulled up, we were greeted by the smell of barbecue, and with this being our first barbecue restaurant of the day, we were hungry and ready to go.

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Once inside, the atmosphere was cozy and homey, with plenty of wood paneling (I am always a sucker for wood paneling) and pictures of the owners and their friends and family.  Business was still getting started for the day, but a few were lined up to order, and some customers were already enjoying their orders.  As we stepped up to the counter, we were introduced to Ms. Grady.  As we could tell from the name of the restaurant, she was primarily responsible for the running of this efficient and orderly joint.  Stephen and Gerri Grady have been keeping this place running smoothly for 27 years.

From the start, Ms. Grady was a delight, with a big smile and a desire to keep her customers leaving happy.  When we ordered, we basically requested whatever she recommended most (which was more or less everything), and sat down, eager to start.  Our plate consisted of barbecue chicken, barbecue pork, and fried chicken (yay!).  Grady’s was also the first restaurant where we got sides of vegetables, including coleslaw, collard greens, cabbage, butter beans (my new favorite), German potato salad, and black-eyed peas.  It was fantastic having fried chicken- Sarah says it was the best fried chicken she’s ever had, and this was the start of a definite smokier flavor to the meat.  With the great food that we received here, we tried our hardest to clean our plates, despite having two more stops for the day in our future.

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Afterwards, Stephen Grady showed us the smokehouse.  This building, not 15 feet from the restaurant, has been standing for 25 years- it burned down once two years after the restaurant began.  The smells were terrific, and the building was well-organized, with plenty of Mr. Grady’s homemade vinegar barbecue sauce prepared and stocked.  With our bellies mostly full, we headed towards Lexington.

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Smiley’s

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As we headed over to Lexington, there was a definite shift in the style of barbecue.  The meat is similarly cooked, but they cook the shoulder and butt instead of a whole hog cooking process.  Also, this was west of Chapel Hill,    and is where we begin to head into red sauce territory, but it is still fairly light and involves plenty of vinegar.  One more note on sauce- in Lexington, it is referred to as ‘dip’.  Here, the atmosphere was very friendly, and provided curb assistance- a honk from your car results in immediate service.  We opted for seating indoors, as at this point, almost any break from  the van is welcome.

Our waitress, Anne, was fantastic, and introduced us to our first taste of “Cheerwine”  (which I now crave).  We ordered hush puppies, BBQ cole slaw, chicken, and both roughly chopped pulled pork and sliced shoulder.  There was dip on the meat, and also two warmed servings on the side.  The meat was also just a bit smokier than we had eaten earlier, and this was the first time that we were able to try sliced shoulder, as well as pork that had been cooked by the shoulder and butt separately.  Both the roughly chopped and the sliced pork were amazing, as was the chicken, which was tender and lightly coated in barbecue sauce as well.

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After eating, the owner showed us the pit where they cook the meat.  This location, unlike those we saw at previous restaurants, was in the same building as the restaurant, for ease of access and to save space, and they cook over hickory.  Inside the kitchen, we were shown how they cook pork rinds, which are very popular, and how the sections of the pork are chopped up and served with the dip placed over the meat only once it is being served.  Our next stop was not five minutes away, so we savored what last bits we could, said goodbye, and headed on over to Lexington BBQ.

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Lexington BBQ

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Just down the road and right up a hill, we found Lexington BBQ.  Dave of Sweet Baby Ray’s recommended it to us, but called it by a different name, Monk’s (after Wayne Monk, the man who started this restaurant), which is a name for the restaurant that is still often used by the locals.  Stepping in, we noticed that this place was a lot bigger than most of the restaurants we have visited.  Waitresses were bustling everywhere, but we were still seated almost immediately.  We ordered, of course, barbecue pork with coleslaw and hush puppies (these Sarah’s, and my, favorite so far), and a new item, a pork skin sandwich.

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The food was quickly served, and we quickly dug in, despite having eaten not 30 minutes ago.  There was a definite similarity between the two Lexington restaurants, as both used a similar method of cooking, in pits attached to the kitchen, and a similar vinegar/ketchup-based barbecue sauce.  The pork skin sandwich was intriguing, and dangerously good.  It involved a bun (naturally), fried pork skin (of course), and coleslaw.  In a couple of bites, it was gone.  After finishing our meals to the best of our ability, the grandson of the original owner of Lexington BBQ gave us an amazingly thorough tour.  We noticed the telltale piles of wood outside, and he showed us how there was a door connecting to the pits indoors, through which wood could be put to stoke the fire.

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Inside, we were shown how the pig shoulders and butts are cooked, in the skin, unnecessary parts are removed, and the pork is then coarsely ground.  Lexington BBQ was also the first place to cook turkey, and it is cooked in a similar manner as the pork.  Here, we were able to better watch the action of the kitchen.  Orders moved in an assembly-line manner, which was fascinating and mesmerizing to watch.  One man would chop the meat, fresh per order, the next would add the sauce, and so on.

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Everything moved like clockwork, and I think we could have stood there watching for quite a while, if we would have had time.  Because this was our last stop for the night, we indulged in pecan pie (my personal favorite – delicious!) and apple cobbler.  With full stomachs and a full schedule for the next day, we said goodbye, and piled into the van.  Thank you, everyone at Lexington BBQ and at Smiley’s, for your friendly faces and willingness to put up with us!

Written by Maggie

Jan 7, 2013 - Reviews    2 Comments

4 Restaurants in 2 Hours (Pictures to come!)

Day 3

Sorry we haven’t had much up in a few days.  We have been busy driving from restaurant to restaurant stuffing our faces with the different Barbecue styles of the Carolinas.

On day 3 we ate at 4 restaurants in 2 hours!  We were most definitely full and started to learn that we need to pace ourselves.  We ate at so many in such a short amount of time because in this area it is common practice that the Barbecue restaurants are only open until they run out of food, which generally happens around 2 p.m.

At this point in the trip we are east of Chapel Hill, NC where you find a lot of Whole Hog Pit Barbecue.  This area likes to focus on the purity and integrity of the meat versus the sauce.  In all of these places the meat is basically seasoned with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and vinegar.  On the table they offer Texas Pete Hot Sauce and a seasoned apple cider vinegar water.  Sweet Tea is the popular beverage in this area.

Skylight Inn—Ayden, NC

The Skylight Inn was an inspiring first stop!  Here we had the pleasure of meeting with Sam Jones who is soon to be appearing on Food Network’s “Pit Masters.”  Sam is the 3rd generation in his family to run The Skylight Inn, which has been open and unchanged for 65 years.  Sam was gracious enough to take us into his smokehouse and really show us around.  He is definitely a story-teller and it is clear that he loves people just as much as he loves his craft.  We were charmed by his warm personality and inviting nature and had fun listening to everything he had to tell us about BBQ.

In Wisconsin we are more used to pork that is pulled.  Here in North Carolina they take sections of the pig and finely chop it mixing the dark and white meat to secure a more moist and fuller flavor.  Sam explains that the best part of the pig is the whole pig.  He even includes the skin in with the pork, leaving very little to go to waste.  While we found some locals do not care for the bits of skin in with the meat.  We found that it added a lot to the experience to have that hint of crunch in there.

He emphasizes that Barbecue is regional and to him what barbecue is all about is the meat, explaining, “You can put enough BBQ Sauce on a napkin and still eat it!”  Meaning that he feels BBQ sauce can be used to cover up poorly cooked meat.  Sam uses Oak to smoke his whole hogs.  When we asked why he preferred Oak he again pointed out that BBQ is geography and that Oak is abundant is his area.  That is really why the styles of Barbecue across America are so different; people would use what they had in their region.

As we left, Sam Jones insisted that we each take a T-Shirt to go.  He also told us we needed to check out Rodney Scott’s BBQ restaurant in South Carolina.  He describes Rodney as his BBQ Counterpart in SC and also “his brother from another mother!”  We didcheck out Scott’s BBQ on the 5th day and were very pleased.  More details to come on Scott’s later 🙂

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Parker’s Barbecue—Greenville, NC

Next we hit up Parker’s Barbecue.  This was a very busy sit down restaurant.  Our server Ryan was extremely friendly and willing to take a minute to talk with us.  We had a pulled pork plate and the pulled pork sandwich with hush puppies, corn sticks (a french fry-like stick made of corn), and coleslaw. Unlike the other restaurants we stopped at that day, Parker’s uses gas to cook their pork.  One thing we started to notice at Parker’s BBQ is that in North Carolina the coleslaw is minced with not much in it besides a sweet mayonnaise base.  We also had some unbelievable chocolate cake in honor of Maxx’s birthday (The Black Sheep’s Sous Chef who would rather be in Florida than with us on this awesome trip…not that we are bitter).  We had a very pleasant visit at Parker’s BBQ but it was fairly quick because we needed to get to the next stop.

B’s Barbecue Greenville, NC

B’s Barbecue are also masters of pit-cooked whole hog.  They use charcoal instead of wood when preparing their pig.  This is another second and third generation restaurant.  It is amazing to us that there are so many families upholding traditions.  We are finding that Barbecue is much more than a type of cuisine…it is a livelihood and lifestyle…Barbecue is what brings them together.

Three sisters and a daughter were hard at work serving a line of hungry customers and quickly running out of food.  By the time it was our turn to order they were out of the BBQ chicken, so we only ordered the pulled pork.  They do not include any of the skin in their pork, which seemed to be a big plus for some of the locals.

We were jealous of the local gentleman who sat across from us with the last piece of chicken.  Being a regular he had called their personal cell phone and made sure there was a piece set aside for him.  B’s Barbecue does not have a phone number open to the public, but that does not stop anyone from swarming the restaurant to make sure they get some grub before the restaurant runs out.

Bill Ellis Wilson, NC

Bill Ellis is a giant Barbecue attraction.  With 15 catering trucks they deliver their food all over the state.  The building was huge with 3 different ways to order.  There was a drive thru (which was backed up with at least a dozen cars), a to go room, and an all you can eat buffet.

We ordered yet another plate of pulled pork with a side of coleslaw, hushpuppies and pork skins.  The pork was done in the same way—whole hog with a few seasonings and vinegar.  The coleslaw was minced like typical North Carolina slaw, but had a mustard taste.  This was our first encounter with pigskins, which are fried and thrown in a bag for people to enjoy.  I hated myself for loving the very addictive fried delicacy.

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Written by Sarah

Jan 4, 2013 - Reviews    3 Comments

Parky’s Smokehouse

Day 2 (Odometer Reading: 150394)

With a 12 hour-drive ahead of us from Lafayette, IN to Ayden, NC, we were concerned that we may miss out on discovering any BBQ for the day.  Fortunately, a billboard outside of Lebanon, IN threw us in the direction of Parky’s Smokehouse.  Since the restaurant was voted the “Best Casual Dining” in 2011 Boone County People’s Choice Awards, we thought we would give it a try.

The décor was nice but didn’t seem fitting of a typical BBQ restaurant.  However, we did enjoy some of the details such as fun murals (which were painted by a former employee) and sassy sayings on the bathroom walls.  We particularly liked their hours sign, which stated “Open at 11…Closed Several Hours Later.”

We were warmly greeted by the staff Sarah and Dana (we hope we spelled your names correctly!) and had a wonderful time chatting with them about the area.

Parky’s Smokehouse’s menu was quite extensive; so we let Sarah, our waitress, help us with our selections.  We enjoyed The Barbecue Blast, which included a quarter rack of ribs, a white or dark chicken quarter, pulled pork, brisket, turkey breast and smoked sausage.  We also ordered the Battle of the Champion Pork Loin For every Battle of the BBQ pork loin sold, a donation is made to the Boone County Cancer Society!  We finished our meal with a Bread Pudding with a Praline Sauce and a scoop of local Vanilla Ice Cream.

We left Parky’s Smokehouse very satisfied with full tummies and enlightened by the wonderful service!

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We decided that the BBQ plate with easy description was a bit of  genius.

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Written by Sarah

Jan 3, 2013 - Reviews    4 Comments

Gemato’s

Day 1 (Odometer Reading: 150,136)

Seeing a menu with a Greek salad, gyro, and a full rack of ribs didn’t seems to make a whole lot of sense- in our minds we feel that we have a pretty good idea of who was going to make the best barbeque and where.  That being said, the Greek BBQ joint,  a longstanding BBQ spot not on the BBQ belt is something we must understand if we wish to offer barbeque in the north.

With plans to leave at ten in the morning and an actual departure time of shortly after one o’clock, you would think that we would have made time for lunch but we hadn’t. As restaurateurs, we are used to eating about once every ten minutes and the cupcakes lovingly made by Stehpanie needed to last more than a day.  So, as we crossed the Illinois border we headed toward Publican Quality Meats in Chicago. Unfortunately, as we drove into town on January first we realized that they were not open. We then stopped at Tiger Direct to pick up some equipment for the trip and asked them to recommend the next best thing. That happened to be Gemato’s.

Gemato’s looks to a remnant of a long lost Hardee’s or other chain, the décor seemed to remind us of the old west. We ordered a bit of everything at the order window and waited for our food. Their ribs, a favorite of Mary Ann (a regular customer), were good but we favored the chicken. The ribs fell of the bone, thought we are not sure yet if that is a sign of great BBQ, and seemed to have a smoke flavor that penetrated all the way through the meat.  The chicken was not overcooked and had a great mix of sweet and spice.  Everything was cooked over an open wood flame which may have been the cause of an overcooked brisket that we didn’t finish and a pulled pork that needed more moisture to bring out the flavor. Everything had a light brushing of their tangy and thin bbq sauce, which you could also buy by the bottle and there was a small side of fairly typical l side of fairly typical coleslaw.

Gemato’s left us looking forward the barbecue of the south. Still, we left with full bellies and excitement for the adventure ahead.

In what seemed like no time, we rolled over to mile 150,394, forward to rolling into our beds.

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Written by Tyler