Monk: In the years since the original location of Midwood Smokehouse opened in 2011, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ordered non-traditional barbecue (i.e. something other than chopped pork, brisket, ribs, burnt ends, pork burnt ends, etc). But recently I had the opportunity to sit down with head chef and pitmaster Matthew Barry as well as FS Food Group Brand Director Rémy Thurston and Callie Langhorne from M Squared PR, and taste several of their best barbecue-inspired sandwiches and apps.
On this day of delicious sandwiches, this was my favorite of the bunch. The Midwood take on a Philly cheese steak uses thinly-sliced smoked brisket and Boar’s Head white american cheese, but what I really loved was the Philly roll that is shipped in from JJ Cassone Bakery of Port Chester, NY, which has been in business since 1910. It had nice, crispy crust and a chewy interior. I learned to love Philly cheese steaks from my high school days working at a Jersey Mike’s, and as good as those are this one simply blows them out of the water.
Months before the great fried chicken sandwich debate of late summer, Midwood Smokehouse rolled out their two versions of fried chicken sandwiches in the springtime. The Pollo Texano is the better-selling of the two, and for good reason. The Springer Mountain Farms chicken thigh is brined, smoked, buttermilk marinated then fried before being dipped in a honey chipotle sauce. It is then topped with “angry pickles” and apple- jalapeño slaw, which add crunch and cuts into the sweetness of the sauce. I’m not sure if its intentional, but it pays homage to Carolina dipped fried chicken that is prevalent in the Piedmont of NC, albeit with a different sauce than the vinegar dip used by places such as Keaton’s in Cleveland, NC.
Appalachian Yard Bird
While it’s not the top seller, the other fried chicken sandwich on the menu is nothing to be trifled with. The combination of the same fried chicken thigh as the Pollo Texano topped with pimento cheese and their “angry pickles” is downright comfort food. You would be forgiven if you just wanted to eat this glorious mess of a sandwich with a knife and fork. Thankfully, the sturdy brioche bun from local Charlotte bakery Golden Grains is more than up to the task if you want to take a chance and eat with your hands.
The Fatt Matt is a more straightforward version of a barbecue sandwich, with Midwood’s sliced USDA prime brisket topped with the same apple-jalapeño slaw as the Pollo Texano. This tasty sandwich definitely would’t look too out of place in Texas.
Our appetizer before the course of sandwiches were the Smoked Meatballs, a trio of meatballs made with the smoked trimmings from their briskets. A mixture of smoked jalapeño BBQ sauce and melted cheese tops the meatballs, along with some green onions as garnish. These guys are listed as an appetizer on the menu, but I would’t blame you if you ordered these solo as an entree, maybe adding a side of fries.
Monk: Bryan Furman, pitmaster of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque and a 2019 Food & Wine Best New Chef, was back in Charlotte last weekend though it was not to continue scouting Charlotte for locations for expansion as far as I’m aware (unfortunately). It was, however, for a “BBQ Takeover” at Sweet Lew’s BBQ – think a tap takeover at a bar, but for barbecue. That Sunday, DJ Smitty was providing tunes on the patio, Birdsong Brewing was serving beer outside, smoked oysters were a special on the menu, and the line may have been slightly longer than normal but other than that it was more or less business as usual, just with Furman’s very good barbecue instead of Sweet Lew’s also very good barbecue.
The real boon for Charlotte’s burgeoning barbecue community didn’t take place that day but instead the night before, and I was sad to be out of town and unable to experience first hand. There, in the parking lot of Sweet Lew’s, some of Charlotte’s best pitmasters hung out, sampled each other’s barbecue, and assisted Furman in the smoking of several whole hogs. Garren Kirkman from Jon G’s Barbecue brought his brisket and Cheerwine hot links, Michael Wagner and Matthew Berry from Midwood Smokehouse brought their mobile BQ smoker to help smoke hogs, and of course Lewis Donald was there as the gracious host.
I have spoken separately with Midwood Smokehouse’s Wagner and Berry and Garren from Jon G’s about the lack of a cohesive Charlotte barbecue community, and this is certainly a step in the right direction to say the least. FS Food Group (the parent company of Midwood Smokehouse) Brand Director Rémy Thurston has recently mentioned to me that they want to be on the forefront of making Charlotte a true barbecue city, and some things may be in the works to bring these pitmasters (and perhaps more) back together sooner rather than later. All of this makes me hopeful that Charlotte barbecue is on the upswing and I truly believe that the best things are yet to come. World, you are on notice.