Name: Smiley’s Lexington BBQ Date: 10/1/20 Address: 917 Winston Rd, Lexington, NC 27295 Order: Chopped barbecue sandwich with hush puppies and a Cheerwine (link to menu) Pricing: $
Monk: Smiley’s Lexington BBQ was an early stop on our barbecue journey, about 5 months into the blog and back when our photos were extremely filtered photos from Instagram. However, both Speedy and I really liked the barbecue and ranked Smiley’s as 4 hogs at the time. As I have been working my way through the Lexington barbecue restaurants for my own rankings, it was almost certainly worth a revisit 8 years later.
Then, word came a little over a year ago that Highway 8 which Smiley’s and Speedy’s both sit on was slated to be widened by the NC DOT and they both would be among the casualties lost (John Tanner certainly had some thoughts). The initial timing I had heard was summer 2020 but with the pandemic throwing a wrinkle in many things, it seems as if Smiley’s has received a temporary stay of execution. I hope it ends up being more permanent but regardless I wanted to make one more stop while I still could.
And I’m so glad I did, because Smiley’s provided an excellent late morning breakfast in my chopped sandwich, hush puppies, and a Cheerwine. The chopped barbecue was fresh, smoky, and topped with a tangy, crunchy red slaw. Just perfectly executed Lexington-style barbecue, with my only complaint was that the sandwich fell apart a bit easily and made for a quick and messy eating experience.
The basket of hush puppies was piping hot and my only regret was that I only had a couple of them and left more than half to waste. I wish that I could have somehow gifted these to someone without making it weird.
As I paid my bill, I asked the waitress if there was any update on the highway widening and she nodded her head side to side, saying that they hadn’t heard anything recently. “We’re just living day to day.”
Make it a point to get to Smiley’s Lexington BBQ while you can.
Name: The Gambling Stick Address: 501 Gallatin Ave, Nashville, TN 37206 Order: Beef brisket, pulled pork, “pigsket”, beef back ribs + vegetable slaw (link to menu) Pricing: $$$
Speedy: A place I’ve wanted to visit for a while but just hadn’t gotten around to is The Gambling Stick, a permanent food truck in East Nashville. It’s conveniently located next to the Porter Road Butcher Shop, where they get all of their meat. There are a couple of picnic tables outside The Gambling Stick if you want to eat there, but it’s basically a food truck in a parking lot so I got my order to go. I made sure to try most of the meats available (skipping the hot link), as I’d read good things across the board. The meal was nicely packed, so I dove in as soon as I got home, hoping to continue my streak of good ‘cue lately.
Monk: It looks like Porter Road Butcher Shop specializes in “local, pasture-raised, and antibiotic free with no added hormones” that is regularly visited by the butcher so kudos to them on getting their meat from an ethically responsible shop.
I must say, I’m actually surprised you skipped the hot link, being the spice fiend that you are. Did it have dairy in it?
Speedy: I didn’t ask. Sometimes you just have to make tough decisions, Monk, and I felt four meats was enough for me that day.
Monk: I would say what’s one more meat but glass houses and all…
Speedy: I’ll start with the good: both pork products were good to very good. The pulled pork had a nice smoke flavor, but was just slightly dry. I was provided with some vinegar based sauce (available in regular and spicy); however, I didn’t find the sauce too appealing. It was thicker than I like in a vinegar based sauce and may have had some mustard in it. Overall, I didn’t think it worked.
Fortunately, the “pigsket” which I was told was “pork brisket,” did not need any sauce. It was moist and very well seasoned and just hit the spot. I’m not sure exactly what cut of meat this was – perhaps a tenderloin – but it was by far my favorite part of the meal. In fact, if I go back to The Gambling Stick, this will be the reason.
Monk: This cut of meat really piqued my interest so I did a little digging. Based on the name I half expected it to be some sort of turducken-like frankenstein of pork tenderloin stuffed inside a pork shoulder stuffed inside a brisket but after some half-assed internet research, it appears to be cut from around the breastbone of the pig. It sounds incredible, though.
Speedy: The beef products were both disappointing. The brisket was quite dry and needed more seasoning (both salt and pepper). The need for seasoning also translated to the beef rib. You don’t see beef back ribs often, and I think there’s a reason for that. It’s a tough cut of meat to get tender, and unfortunately these beef ribs failed to hit the mark in taste and tenderness.
Monk: I must say, I’m happy to see you digging into the Nashville barbecue scene. Perhaps a Nashville Top Joints post is in the works?
Speedy: Monk – spoiler alert!
Monk: …my bad…
Speedy: Overall, I was a little disappointed in The Gambling Stick, as I had read really positive things. Overall, I think the pork products were good, but the beef missed the mark. The “pigsket” alone makes it worth a visit, but I don’t see myself becoming a regular.
Name: The Oak Texas BBQ & Catering Order: 3 meat combo (brisket, beef hot link, bacon brisket) + cilantro slaw Pricing: $$
Speedy: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – ordering brisket outside of Texas is a dangerous proposition. However, afewplaces have opened my eyes to the possibility of awesome brisket outside of Texas, and one in particular made me a believer in food trucks. So when I found out The Oak Texas BBQ was going to be outside my new favorite brewery in Nashville (shout out, Crazy Gnome), I knew I had to try.
Monk: It’s been a fun ride watching Speedy walk back his original declaration of never having brisket outside of Texas.
Speedy: I showed up just after noon to a small line, and I quickly got excited seeing the two large Texas style offset smokers burning large chunks of wood. By the look (and smell) of things, I was in for a treat.
Of course, I went with all three meats offered, plus the cilantro slaw on the side (skipping the cheese grits). It wasn’t long before this delicious Texas trio was delivered to my picnic table and I was able to dig in. Of course I started with the brisket. I asked for a mix of fatty and lean and was given two generous slices of brisket. The brisket was cooked perfectly, had sufficient moisture, and a wonderful, peppery bark. It didn’t quite melt in my mouth in the same way that the best brisket does, but it was definitely a brisket to be remembered. Martin’s has officially been unseated as the best brisket I’ve had in Tennessee.
Speedy: Next up was the beef hot link. The hot link had good flavor but could have used a little more snap in the casing, and maybe a touch more heat. I enjoyed it, but it was a distant third place in terms of meats for me.
Finally, saving the best for last, was the “bacon brisket” aka smoked pork belly. My goodness was this delicious. Surrounded by the same peppery bark as the brisket, but with that great pork flavor, this was the best barbecued meat I’d had in months. Really, really phenomenal stuff and a must order.
Monk: I smoked a pork belly a few months back in a similar manner (in addition to pork belly burnt ends) and freakin’ loved it. I still haven’t smoked a second one yet, so I need to do that soon so I don’t make myself a liar.
Speedy: The cilantro slaw was nice and crunchy, but could have used a little more vinegar zing. However, it was worth ordering.
Monk: The Oak sounds fantastic and definitely worth a stop next time I’m in Nashville. Will they be a regular food truck at Crazy Gnome (which I also want to check out)?
Speedy: Great question, Monk. I know they have plans to be back on September 26, but don’t know otherwise. I’m definitely hopeful that it becomes a regular occurrence.
Name: Southern Smoke BBQ Address: 29 E Warren St, Garland, NC 28441 Order: Chopped barbecue, ribs, and smoked chicken with jambalaya and Dr. Pepper Pricing: $$
I’m a Lexington-style barbecue guy through and through – as the saying goes, you prefer what you grew up on – but 8+ years into this barbecue journey I’ve learned not to be too dogmatic about my barbecue. I’ve learned that a slice of properly smoked brisket can be the best thing I’ve eaten in a long, long time and that a well smoked sausage in a snappy case can be something both my wife and I happily share when I inevitably drag her and the kids to yet another barbecue restaurant. Also, the other style of NC barbecue in the state rivalry – that is, eastern NC style – can wow me just as much as a sandwich from Lexington #1. Recently, Southern Smoke BBQ in the small town of Garland, NC (pop. 621) in eastern NC did exactly that.
Southern Smoke is the creation of Matthew Register, whose book I recently wrote on post on, and as the story goes was started in 2014 after he got inspired by reading “Holy Smoke” by John Shelton Reed and his late wife Dale. Others have covered his story better than I will attempt to here, but he and I have been circling each other on social media for the past few years and I’ve been meaning to find a way to get to Garland ever since. Not an easy feat, mind you, since its 3.5 hours away from Charlotte and 1.5 hours from even the Brunswick County beaches we often visit as a family. Recently inspired by an excellent John Tanner’s BBQ Blog entry, I made the decision to finally bite the bullet and go during the Monk family’s week-long stay at Ocean Isle Beach.
A side note – besides the barbecue itself, it was a real joy to drive the county roads and through the small towns of eastern NC that I hadn’t had the pleasure of passing through before. I lived in Fayetteville, NC for about 6 years until 6th grade but certainly hadn’t been on highways 701 or 211 or passed through the towns of Elizabethtown or White Lake.
On this day, a Washington Post reporter and photographer was in town interviewing Register as part of a story spotlighting Garland. Meanwhile, workers were speculating about who might be purchasing the Brooks Brothers shirt factory in town that had recently shuttered. Their hope was that it would help restore jobs for the 150 or so workers who were laid off earlier this year, and re-energize the local economy. I’m not giving up the city for a small town anytime soon, but its certainly nice to visit.
Once I reached Garland and Southern Smoke, I parked underneath the massive magnolia tree across the street and walked up to place my order outside of the restaurant where they’ve transitioned to taking orders during the pandemic. From there, I took my order of barbecue, ribs, and chicken (graciously comped but by no means affecting this review) out to their backyard seating area, which under normal times is used for their themed “South Supper Series” dinner parties they host at different times of the year. I would love to somehow take the vibe of it and drop it in my own backyard in Charlotte.
And I’ll be danged if the eastern style chopped pork didn’t hit the spot that day. It had the perfect balance of smoke and tang and my taste buds immediately thanked me for making the journey. My understanding is that Register and team smoke pork butts instead of whole hog before dressing it with their eastern style sauce. Say what you will about other types of barbecue, but the simplicity of that style of barbecue (perhaps the original style of barbecue in America) just makes sense. It definitely did on this day.
Each day that they are open – currently Thursdays and Fridays but adding Wednesdays next month – ribs and chicken of some sort (sometimes smoked, sometimes fried) are usually available in addition to the barbecue. The ribs are meaty baby backs and as with the barbecue were well smoked with a perfect balance of smoke, salt, and sweet in each bite. As for chicken, I’m not usually a chicken at a barbecue restaurant kind of guy but these two quarter chickens are certainly worthy of an order.
The sides at Southern Smoke rotate daily, and not all are your typical barbecue sides (Register jokes that he has a reputation on the barbecue food festival scene of being the guy with “pretty sides”). In fact, on this day I got jambalaya which shouldn’t be at all surprising if you’ve read Register’s book which not only features classic barbecue dishes and sides but also pulls from the Lowcountry and Mississippi Delta. The cornbread was on the sweeter end of the spectrum (which I always enjoy) and appeared to be cooked in a skillet. It was mouth-wateringly wonderful.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Matthew for a good bit after I finished my meal, and the conversation certainly wasn’t limited to barbecue. He’s a smart, thoughtful guy and our conversation ranged from soccer (we are both big Manchester United fans) to music to books to the current state of affairs. Of course we talked a good bit of shop as well, and it was great to hear his perspective on barbecue.
Southern Smoke BBQ is a destination-worthy barbecue restaurant in a small town in eastern NC. While you might be tempted to describe Garland as being in the middle of nowhere, the barbecue from Matthew Register and team is at least 200 mile barbecue – if not more. Do yourself a favor and find time to make the trip like I did. You won’t regret it.