Linkdown: 10/21/20

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I was happy to get a text from Garren Kirkman of Jon G’s Barbecue a few weeks back saying that famed Charlotte food writer Kathleen Purvis had finally come to check them out (although he didn’t know it at the time). And the verdict is in: Kathleen agrees with what we’ve been saying for years: Jon G’s is legit, particularly that brisket. Check out the rest of her top 5 at the link below.

Native News

Even with the Barbecue Festival cancelled, the annual release of Fine Swine Wine from Childress Vineyards goes on, with Bob Timberlake once again contributing pig art; “This year’s blend features rich, bright flavors of cherry and ripe strawberry. Soft and smooth tannins provide an enticing pallet for the smoky, Lexington barbecue flavors.”

More coverage on Lexington’s “Lift Up Lexington” event taking place of the annual Barbecue Festival

The Redneck BBQ Lab’s first franchise will be in the former Q Shack location in North Hills in Raleigh under the name “The BBQ Lab”

Mac’s Speed Shop has been handing out free pulled pork for voters in front of the Bojangles Entertainment Complex

Bob Garner joins the Tying It Together podcast with Tim Boyum of Spectrum News to discuss the famed history between barbecue and politics in NC

Check out this tailgate pack from Picnic

Non-Native News

Husk Greenville is now Husk Barbeque

Huey Nash Jr. discusses his late father’s dream to become the first Black food vendor at the State Fair of Texas.

Barbacoa in LA

Charlotte Barbecue News from the Third Quarter of 2020

Monk: The biggest news was of course the closing of Bill Spoon’s Barbecue in late September, which I wrote a little bit about in our 9/16 Linkdown. Afterwards, the news came out that it wasn’t only the pandemic that killed them off – it had been some time coming due to an aging customer base and Spoon’s inability to attract new, younger customers that may have wanted a more full service barbecue experience. Until the end, they thought of themselves as a “traditional barbecue house” which means they only accepted cash and didn’t serve beer or wine. And they were ok with that, even if that ultimately wasn’t what Charlotte wanted. Rest in peace, Bill Spoon’s Barbecue.

July

7/6 Sweet Lew’s BBQ announces adjusted hours of operation, now Wednesday through Sunday, removing Tuesday

7/24 Sweet Lew’s Barbecue introduces an updated menu with hash now on the menu full time and house made sausage that was helped develop with advice from Garren of Jon G’s Barbecue

7/25 Noble Smoke celebrated one year of being open with an all-day party

August

8/20 Bargarita, a “new restaurant serving margaritas and BBQ tacos” opens in the former Solstice Tavern location in NoDa. No word on where or how they smoke their brisket or pork for tacos.

8/28 The Annual Mallard Creek Barbecue, “The Grandaddy of North Carolina Barbecues,” was officially cancelled for the first time in 90 years

8/31 Big Tiny’s BBQ in Mooresville celebrated four years of being open; Pitmaster John also celebrated a birthday

September

9/1 Noble Smoke introduces Taco Tuesdays

9/8 Seoul Food Meat Co will open a second location in the Optimist Park neighborhood (not NoDa as noted in their post) as part of an adaptive-reuse project called Lintmen’s

9/16 Bill Spoon’s Barbecue closed after 57 years in business

9/20 Sweet Lew’s Barbeque begins smoking whole hogs on Sundays, the only Charlotte-area restaurant smoking whole hogs as far as I am aware of

9/28 We interviewed Garren and Kelly of Jon G’s Barbecue about what it’s like to open a barbecue restaurant in the middle of the pandemic

What It’s Like to Open a Barbecue Restaurant in the Middle of a Pandemic

Good news: Garren and Kelli Kirkman of Jon G’s Barbecue finally realized their dream of opening a barbecue restaurant this year. Bad news: the restaurant opening was in the middle of a global pandemic with all of the social distancing and protective measures that go along with that. A little over three months into their dream, I reached out to Garren and Kelly to see how the first few months have gone.

How has the reception been the past 3 months or so after opening your long-awaited brick and mortar?
Pretty humbling to say the least. It blows our minds when people from all walks of life start lining up to eat our food. From local Anson county natives all the way to people from Texas and beyond, we truly feel so honored to get to do this week to week in our own building.

What were you able to learn from your three soft openings in June and July?
Those soft opening days were crazy and hectic, but we knew that we needed to train our staff that had never worked on the food truck before. 

It was also a goal of ours to help people understand how the line would work and make the wait seem like more of a party than a wait at all. 

The biggest thing (more from a business perspective) was to dial in our ticket times. We wanted to be very similar in the food truck times, but still engage in our customers with conversation and a welcoming atmosphere. Amazingly, every week, be it a $10 ticket or a $300 ticket it is still a 1-3 minute turnaround. 

What are some of the unexpected things you didn’t realize you’d have to do as part of running a restaurant? 
Well, food truck life is definitely not for the faint of heart. It prepared us in ways that we didn’t even know we needed until we opened the restaurant doors. It felt like a relief and a dream to have our own space to cook in. It is nice to not have to drive ourselves to where we are serving worrying about flat tires, generator issues, praying the food stays put in the trailer while traveling and serving in 107°or 30°. 

Changing gears, how early have you been selling out each Saturday?
The earliest was 3:30, but on average around 5:00 pm. Sometimes what we have on special, Brunswick Stew for example, is sold out by noon. We did Pork Chops on special (which we thought were phenomenal, by the way) that we were giving away at the end of the night. Sometimes it’s just a gamble.

What’s been the most popular menu item?
Overall, brisket continues to take the top spot, but we sell double (sometimes triple) the amount of sandwiches in the restaurant versus the food truck days.

Any plans for opening outside of Saturdays in the near future?
We’d love to, but not sure what that schedule looks like at this point. A very large (75% or more) of our guests are people who drive from 1+ hours away and couldn’t necessarily make that trip for a weekday lunch break.

We are finally getting catering calls again, which has been null since March. Catering is typically a weekday job, so we are at the restaurant prepping and delivering that for people as well. 

With a small building comes limited refrigeration and warming space. We have to keep everything at safe temperatures and grow into whatever is next for us. 

That makes a lot of sense. In terms of upcoming specials, are there any you’d like to tease?
We just rolled out our Brunswick Stew, and my gracious it went FAST. We’ll continue to have that through the Fall. We are also toying with the idea of a burnt end. Posted one picture on social media and we think people will enjoy those as well. 

What would you like every customer to know before they make the trip out to Peachland?
Don’t let the line be a downer. The best part is that it’s outside (covered for rain and such). You can social distance and still feel somewhat back to normal in these crazy times we live in today. Make friends, BYOB, share stories and talk to us when it’s your time to order. We wouldn’t have gotten to this point without our amazing customers and staff. We love getting to know you. At the end of the day, we are a small business and it’s still us (Garren and Kelly) working the front lines and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Thanks to Garren and Kelly for taking time out of their busy schedule to talk with us.

Jon G’s Barbecue is located off Highway 74 at 116 Glenn Falls St in Peachland, NC (about 40 minutes east of Charlotte). They are open Saturdays from 11 until 6pm or until the meat runs out.

Monk’s 5 Favorite Barbecue Meals of the First Half of 2020

Monk: A little later than I’d normally like to post a first half look-back but then again, I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a weird year. At least barbecue is (mostly) back. After a lot of backyard smoking (a little more on that below) and an attempt at mail order, barbecue restaurants started to reopen in late spring and adapted to the current situation with all formerly extinct practices like curbside service and carhops that made perfect sense in a pandemic environment.

In alphabetical order:

Chopped pork tray from Backcountry BBQ (review)

A barn full of firewood out back was a sign of good things to come when it came to Backcountry Barbeque, an unassuming barbecue joint south of Lexington that landed in the top tier of my Lexington barbecue rankings.

Pork belly burnt ends and sliced pork belly from my backyard (story)

While I haven’t quite lived up to my promise that I would smoke pork belly again very soon, it is very much on my to-do list for upcoming backyard smokes. Particularly as the weather starts to cool down this fall. I still think about those pork belly burnt ends from time to time.

Beef rib, brisket, ribs, and cheddar bossa sausage from Jon G’s Barbecue (review)

You guys all know how I feel about Jon G’s by now, so not too much more needs to be written here except that you should make the trip, particularly if they have a beef rib on special (but be prepared to pay for it). I’ll also reiterate how glad I am that Garren and Kelly finally opened their store and are doing it their way.

Chopped pork from Rick’s Smokehouse (review)

Rick’s was the favorite of my new Lexington discoveries as part of my recent Lexington barbecue quest, landing just below my co-favorites Lexington Barbecue and Bar-B-Q Center.

Pork, ribs, and chicken from Southern Smoke BBQ (review)

Not too much more to add from my recent review other than Southern Smoke was my absolutely favorite new barbecue I’ve tried this year. I’ll repeat myself from my review: “Do yourself a favor and find time to make the trip like I did. You won’t regret it.”

What should I try in the second half (or what’s remaining of it) of 2020? Leave a comment with your recommendation.