Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q – Charlotte, NC

Name: Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q
Date: 1/21/19
Address: 13840 Steele Creek Rd Charlotte, NC 28278
Order: 2 meat combo with Carolina-style pork and brisket, collards and coleslaw (link to menu)

Monk: Sometimes you don’t get to stake out the perfect barbecue run on your day off. No complaints here, but with the Monkette in tow for the MLK Holiday, I didn’t feel I should make a run to somewhere 1-2 hours away like I had done in years past (Bar-B-Q King (Lincolnton) and Big Tiny’s BBQ (Mooresville) in 2017 and Speedy Lohr’s and Smokey Joe’s (Lexington) in 2018). After a chilly morning hike at the McDowell Preserve on Lake Wylie, none of the potential Gastonia or Belmont options were open or made sense so we went to a Jim ‘N Nick’s about 10 minutes back towards our house. Because while this wouldn’t have been my first choice, what am I gonna do, not have barbecue?

Jim ‘N Nick’s is a well-regarded regional Southeast chain, and in my only prior visit to one of their stores (in Concord, where I made almost the exact same order without planning to) I mostly enjoyed my visit, minus the pickle toppings. Fast forward a little over 5 years, how would another visit to JNN (albeit to a different location) fare compared to some of the other chain options that have since opened in Charlotte?

As for my meat options, the Carolina-style pork means eastern NC pork as indicated by the visible red pepper flakes in the sauce the meat is chopped in. Despite those pepper flakes, the pork wasn’t overly spicy but was tender.

The brisket was another story. It arrived lukewarm and the fat in the brisket slices wasn’t completely rendered. Or perhaps more likely, reheated from the prior day. To make things worse, JNN insists on pre-saucing their brisket. All in all, it was a bit of a mess.

The good news is that customers always get a basket of cheese biscuits up front, and of course I ate 3.5 of the 4 we were given. I could taste that both the coleslaw and the collards were fresh and scratch-made, even if nothing about either were particularly memorable.

In what could be a future post about chain options in the Charlotte area, Jim ‘N Nick’s would have fared a little better prior to this visit. I do appreciate that they are a chain that does assist the smoking process with actual wood (albeit in a Southern Pride gasser), as indicated by the cords of wood just off the side of the building near the smokehouse. However, the execution was lacking on this visit at this location.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 2 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Brisket – 2 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Linkdown: 2/13/19

Our State Magazine’s February issue has a big write up on 26 Essential NC Barbecue Joints

Vote once a day between now and February 25

Steve Raichlen’s upcoming book on brisket comes out in April; here’s a book review

Speaking of Texas barbecue, Daniel Vaughn’s list of the best sausage wraps in Texas (aka #roadsausage)

J.C. Reid on the rise of vertical smokers where space is a little more limited

Relevant Instagram tips for some…

Linkdown: 1/23/19

Long Leaf Politics: True North Carolina Barbecue hurting. Would a state law help?

This might be a story in the affirmative and while I never made it there myself, by all accounts Bill Ellis Barbecue in Wilson was an eastern NC institution. It unfortunately closed quietly last week after 55 years in business and follows an unfortunate trend after closures at Allen & Son in Chapel Hill and Q Shack in Raleigh

More on NC barbecue; I’m not sure what prompted this but Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro with a mini-thread laying down the truth:

Dream job, and not just because of the barbecue:

Mighty Quinn’s is looking to continue expanding in 2019

HOORAY BRISKET

Yea…just, no

Rien Fertel remembers Douglas Oliver, pitman for Sweatman’s BBQ in Holly Hill, SC, who died in the fall of 2017

Charlie Vergos Rendezvous – Memphis, TN

Name: Charlie Vergos Rendezvous
Date: 12/18/18
Address: 52 S 2nd St, Memphis, TN
Order: Pork ribs and brisket combination (link to menu)

Speedy: I’ve been spending a lot of time in Memphis lately for work, working mostly with a local team. When my co-workers learned of this blog, they started peppering me with recommendations, but not once did a local tell me to visit Rendezvous. Apparently it is considered more of a tourist destination, but it is 1) super famous and 2) two blocks from my client site, so a visit seemed in order.

Monk: My neighbor here in Charlotte who used to live in Memphis confirmed that it is a bit of a tourist destination but that he always found their ribs to be pretty good, actually.

Speedy: The sign on Rendezvous advertises “charcoal ribs,” and walking up, it’s easy to smell the charcoal smoker throughout Rendezvous alley. As I went with a co-worker on a Tuesday night, the restaurant was fairly empty and we didn’t have to wait for a table. Upon entering Rendezvous, you descend into a basement and come to an old dinner-esque place. It doesn’t look like the decor has been updated a whole lot since it’s 1948 opening, but still, it’s spacious and comfortable.

The menu at Rendezvous is pretty simple. I knew I was getting ribs, but the waiter also recommended brisket, so I took him up on it. Standard sides are beans and slaw, and there’s not much else in terms of sides, so I just went with what was given.

The food came out super fast. The waiter told us that there was both spicy and normal sauce on the table, but advised we try the ribs dry first, which I obliged. I’ll say this right off – Rendezvous is not the best barbecue meal I’ve had in Memphis, but I don’t understand why it’s so shunned. The ribs were meaty, cooked well (maybe slightly undercooked) and had a nice, smoky flavor. They were fine without the sauce, but I did enjoy the spicy sauce as well.

Monk: It’s looking likely that I will be back for Memphis in May next year so if I’m wandering around downtown is it worth a stop?

Speedy: Well, there’s a Central BBQ downtown as well, so I’d recommend that first, but I wouldn’t steer you away from Rendezvous.

I didn’t expect much from the brisket (I never do outside of Texas), but it was actually decent. It had good tug and nice flavor. I could’ve used a little more bark and ended up using the spicy sauce on this as well, but I would order it again. Overall, a solid effort.

The one thing that surprised me was the slaw. Rendezvous’ slaw is mustard/vinegar based, and really is quite enjoyable.

Monk: Having not tasted it, it sounds like the slaw at Bill Spoon’s here in Charlotte. I’m curious if there is a Memphis connection there.

Speedy: I thought of Bill Spoon’s as well – it’s very similar.

Overall, if you’re expecting the best barbecue meal of your life at Rendezvous, you might be disappointed. But if you go in with realistic expectations, you’ll find it to be just fine.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs

Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sweet Lew’s BBQ – Charlotte, NC

Name: Sweet Lew’s BBQ
Date: 12/5/18
Address: 923 Belmont Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205
Order: NC smoked pork shoulder plate with red slaw, collards, and cornbread plus ¼ lb of brisket (link to menu)
Price: $$ (out of $$$)

Monk: With Jim Noble’s forthcoming barbecue venture Noble Smoke delayed until next Spring, the title of “most anticipated Charlotte barbecue opening for 2019” fell to Sweet Lew’s BBQ by default (though not without merit). I got a chance to sample some of Sweet Lew’s chopped pork a few months back and while they had hoped to open in October, construction delays and permitting being what it is they weren’t able to open until the first week in December. I showed up eagerly on opening day right before 12 noon,

Sweet Lew’s is located in the Belmont neighborhood in a converted service station with a brand new pit room built out back. There Lewis Donald, co-owner (along with Laura Furman Grice) and pitmaster, smokes the meat on a Myron Mixon smoker. As you walk in through the front door, guests are greeted by the welcome sound of chopping by Lewis himself. At Sweet Lew’s, the meat is sliced or chopped to order and the sides are served cafeteria-style similar to how a lot of Texas places do it (as did Midwood Smokeshack, RIP). They’ve got a small dining room and a patio that will come into play more when the weather warms back up in the Spring.

The coarsely chopped pork is described as Lexington-style pork on the menu and while it is very good, I don’t find that label to be completely accurate. The pork butts (sourced from Beeler’s Pure Pork in Iowa) are rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked over wood before being finished with a vinegar sauce. Mix it with some red slaw and Texas Pete and you’ve got a pretty good version of classic NC barbecue, just no quite true Lexington-style.

I was lucky enough to get a fresh brisket pulled out just before my order. Sweet Lew’s sources their briskets from Creekstone Farms in Kansas and are smoking them Central Texas style. There’s a lot of flavor in the bark of the lean slices, but I got a little bit of a sodium overload by the end of the meal. Still, this is one of the better briskets in Charlotte for sure.

To be a true Lexington red slaw, I found that it needs a little more ketchup for the sweetness to balance the vinegar tang. Each combo plate comes with a slide of cornbread and while I would have preferred hush puppies, I’ll take it. The collards were pretty standard but next time I’ll probably order the Virginia boiled peanuts instead. I’m excited for the daily specials, which start this week and consists of Turkey Tuesday, Hash Wednesday, Sausage Saturday, and Fried Chicken Sunday.

Sweet Lew’s BBQ has hit the ground running and sold out of meats on the couple of days, a feature they had been touting since the venture was announced that would set them apart from other Charlotte spots. I’m sure the smoking will ramp up in the comings weeks to meet demand but its comforting to know that the meat will always be fresh and not reheated from the previous day. For this among many other reasons, we should all be very excited that Sweet Lew’s has raised the stakes in the Charlotte barbecue scene and should only continue to get better.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Sweet Old Bill’s Burgers, Que & Brew – High Point, NC

Name: Sweet Old Bill’s Burgers, Que & Brew
Date: 11/21/18
Address: 1232 North Main Street, High Point, North Carolina
Order: Three meat combo (pork, brisket, ribs) with hush puppies, corn pudding, and slaw
Price: $$ (out of $$$)

Monk: Well, what do you know? The Barbecue Bros’ hometown of High Point has grown to the where someone has opened up a yuppie cue spot (next to a brewery no less). High Point’s always had standard issue barbecue joints like Kepley’s, Carter Brothers, or Henry James but a full bar barbecue joint that serves not only pulled pork but brisket, ribs, chicken and more? Now that’s something new for the Home Furnishings Capital of the World.

Speedy: While this is exciting, I take great offense at calling Kepley’s a “standard issue barbecue joint.” Where’s the respect, Monk?

Monk: All respect given, Speedy. That was not a comment on the quality of the food – I only meant that none of those I mentioned above go the “International House of Barbecue” route and also don’t serve beer or alcohol like Sweet Old Bill’s.

SOB’s opened in early November on North Main Street and shares a wall with the well-received Brown Truck Brewery. At the back of the Sweet Old Bill’s side of the building is a wood-assisted gasser just off the kitchen. Inside, a large bar area occupies approximately half of the interior with a decor that I would probably best described as “industrial chic” with my limited interior decorator vocabulary.

The three meat combo plate was decently priced at $18 and I chose pork, brisket, and ribs. Not ordered but also available was chicken and turkey. The pork had hints of smoke but benefited from being eaten with the slaw and table vinegar sauce, a small batch sauce I didn’t recognize or snap a photo of. I will note that a red slaw was advertised on the menu but what came out was a mayo-based white slaw. I still ate it, but was really hoping to try their version of a Lexington red slaw. Regardless, not a bad start to the meal.

The brisket at SOB’s comes pre-sauced but underneath that sauce were lean slices with a decent pepper bark. This was definitely not a Central Texas style brisket, but for High Point it was not bad. Not great, mind you, but not awful.

Speedy: For NC brisket, “not awful” is high praise…  

Monk: The dry-rubbed ribs were well seasoned and not overcooked, giving a good tug with each chew. Of the three meats I ordered, the ribs were probably my favorite, and thankfully they weren’t drowning in sauce like the brisket.

I already mentioned the slaw but when it came to the rest of the sides the scratch-made hush puppies were more on the savory end of the spectrum but were nicely fried orbs of cornmeal goodness. The highlight of sides was definitely the corn pudding, which had some sweetness and also appeared to be scratch made.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that they had a nice selection of craft beers, many of which were local to NC. I ordered a Brown Truck porter, which was made not 10 feet on the other side of the wall from where we were sitting – pretty cool and not too many other barbecue restaurants could claim that I’d bet.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with my meal at Sweet Old Bill’s. Being a new restaurant, they could have easily cut corners in a few areas but thankfully did not. The meats are not all quite there but I appreciated the attention paid to the side dishes. Keep in mind that they were only a few weeks old for this meal so with time I think they will eventually get to a good spot. They are certainly off to a nice start.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Ribs – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Friday Find: Matthew Odam joins the House of Carbs podcast

Matthew Odam, food critic for the Austin Statesman, joins House to talk all things Austin food including his latest best Austin restaurants list, tacos, and of course barbecue. The barbecue starts at around the 29:00 mark and includes talk of the inventive stuff LeRoy & Lewis are doing at their trailer, the barbecue/Mexican hybrid at Valentina’s, and of course, Franklin Barbecue.

Linkdown: 11/14/18

– Bill Addison’s fifth annual list for Eater is now out and includes 2 barbecue restaurants: 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio and Franklin Barbecue in Austin; Franklin is one of only five restaurants (barbecue or otherwise) that have made his list all five years

– Whole hog barbecue is making its way to Texas

Carolina-style whole-hog barbecue is also making inroads in the self-proclaimed capital of Texas barbecue, Austin. Chef Evan LeRoy of LeRoy & Lewis Barbecue uses a trailer-mounted, whole-hog pit to offer pulled pork on his regular menu.

In perhaps the most ambitious implementation of Carolina-style whole-hog barbecue in Texas, chef Ted Prater of Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden in Austin is building a self-contained smokehouse with custom-built pits dedicated to cooking whole hogs. It’ll be ready in December.

– The owners behind Sauceman’s in Charlotte have sold the lot their restaurant sits on and are looking to relocate in Southend

– A short photo post on B’s Barbecue in Greenville

– From this month’s Garden and Gun, former Charlotte Magazine editor Michael Graff recalls the ribs he grew up on in Charles County, Maryland

– Dr. Howard Conyers spoke at his undergrad alma mater, NC A&T, yesterday on how science influenced his love of barbecue

– The more you know

– Damon Stainbrook, a former French Laundry sous chef, has opened his second Pig in a Pickle barbecue restaurant location in the SF area and is smoking onsite over California white oak

– I continue to love how Dave Grohl’s fallback profession is seemingly “Carolina pitmaster”

– Update: no longer a fallback profession:

Review: The Sqweelin’ Pig – Black Mountain, NC

10772421952_img_0935
Name
: The Sqweelin’ Pig
Date: 11/3/18
Address: 3206 US Hwy 70 W, Black Mountain, North Carolina 28711
Order: Three meat combo dinner with pork, ribs, brisket, hush puppies, green beans, mac and cheese
Price: ~$21

Monk: As I’ve encountered in travels in the mountains of Western NC, barbecue is very hit or miss once you go west of, say, Hickory or Shelby. For every Buxton Hall or even Luella’s, there are those places that may smoke over wood but aren’t all that good or those that don’t even bother with wood. It’s all a game of barbecue roulette, essentially.

10772441408_img_0963

The Sqweelin’ Pig started as a food truck that smoked solely over wood when now pitmaster Buddy Clemons lost his construction job in 2012 and decided to make a late career change to barbecue. It seems as though its working out pretty well for him and his wife (who then quit her own job to help him) as this Black Mountain location that opened earlier this year is the third location after Weaversville and Barnardsville northwest of Black Mountain. Here, a trailer is positioned just outside of the main restaurant with the woodpile stacked against the building.

10771810416_img_0938

The wood smoke did come through once the three meat combo platter of pork, ribs, and brisket was delivered to the table. For the most part, the wood smoke alone didn’t make for great barbecue. The pork and ribs were passable (the pork being a bit better when adding one of their sauces, including an interesting blackberry vinegar sauce) but the brisket was what you expect at most places in the mountains of NC – thin, dried out, and with a consistency more like roast beef than Texas brisket. I’d be curious if they are reheating yesterday’s brisket.

The sides are scratch made but weren’t particularly noteworthy. I will note that all beer bottles, including several local beers, were all $2.50. My wife and I each opted for beers from High Wire out of Asheville while my father-in-law went for Coors Light. Again, each of those beers were $2.50 so not bad at all.

Unfortunately, The Sqweelin’ Pig fell into the “smoke over wood but aren’t all that good” category of western NC mountain barbecue places. I’d recommend sticking with the pork if you make it, but I’d also mention that Buxton Hall is only about 30 minutes west of Black Mountain…

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Brisket – 2 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs