Keep on Riding Up or Down Past Boulevard Barbeque

Name: Boulevard Barbeque
Date: 3/10/23
Address: 810 S College St, Morganton, NC 28655
Order: Two meat combo platter with pork, brisket, red slaw, jalapeno cheese grits, and hush puppies (link)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Boulevard Barbeque is a restaurant in Morganton, which sits at the entrance to the Blue Ridge mountains in Burke County, NC. Mountain barbecue can be hit or miss in North Carolina, with places such as Buxton Hall Barbecue and , Hubba Hubba Smokehouse being on the great end of the spectrum. Boulevard, as it turns out, sits on the exact other end of that spectrum.

I went with the two meat platter of chopped pork and sliced brisket, which looked appetizing enough when placed on the table. However, looks were deceiving in this case as the pork was dry and mediocre despite having some decent bits of bark chopped in. It had a vaguely smokey taste to it, and Boulevard has a rack of wood outside its front entrance. But I suspect this is a wood-assisted gasser situation as this tray of pork was sorely in need of some sauce.

Keeping with the theme, the sliced brisket looked the part sliced about a half inch thick with a decent crust, but upon tasting it was dry slices from the flat of the brisket.

They give you a literal mountain of hush puppies almost certainly from frozen, though they were good enough in the moment. Alongside it I got a passable red slaw slaw and average jalapeno cheese grits.

In addition to the food, the restaurant itself was in need of a good scrub, as noticeable buildup of dust precariously sat above our heads in the (thankfully) turned off ceiling fans. The bathrooms were in even worse condition. There are far better options for barbecue in the mountains than Boulevard Barbeque so I’d recommend you keep on driving on I-40 in whichever direction you were already headed

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

Cafe 71 Smokehouse Closed Abruptly Amidst Allegations of Mismanagement

This is where I’d normally set the table for my visit to Cafe 71 Smokehouse, which opened up last fall in the space formerly occupied by Rick’s Smokehouse in the small town of Welcome, NC just north of Lexington. But the course of this post changed when Cafe 71 abruptly closed a few weeks ago just shy of 4 months open.

I recently visited Cafe 71 much the same way I did Rick’s three years ago, leaving Charlotte on a banker’s holiday to make the 1.5 hour drive up to Lexington for lunch. I had planned to hit two Lexington joints that day but with the Monkettes in tow, I decided not to push it.

And what I found in my tray at the time was delicious, smoky pork that filled the void of traditional wood smoking left when Rick’s Smokehouse closed last April. The slaw had a nice balance of tangy with just a hint of sweet, and the hush puppies were fresh. All in all, a good meal. It was certainly in the conversation for a 4.5 hog rating which would have matched that of Rick’s when I originally visited.

I apparently should be glad I was able to get a meal at all, because it has since come to light that Cafe 71 did not keep regular hours and would oftentimes close for the day because there was no more food available. Weird. Normally, this is what a barbecue restaurant craves: smoking tons of meat and serving the freshest, best version of of it until it runs out for the day. Then doing it all over again for the next day. For Cafe 71, it was a matter of restaurant mismanagement. Owner Newlan Spears falsely blamed it on a lack of regular kitchen staff in a recent Lexington Dispatch article but comments on the Dispatch Facebook page paint a story that goes beyond simple mismanagement: apparently no employees or vendors were getting paid. In that article, Spears complained about having 25-30 kitchen staff during his 4 months open but turns out that there is high kitchen turnover when paychecks are bouncing. Waitresses only stayed because they were getting (deservedly) tipped for their great service. Spears also had outstanding debts at Shuler Meats and Orrell’s Food Service. Here’s what was posted in the Facebook comments from a former waitress:

While the situation does not appear to be good for anyone, it does explain an odd confrontation I had as I left the restaurant. After eating (and enjoying) my meal and paying, I let the girls go to my car (parked right out front) while I did my usual routine of snapping photos – sign, smoker, woodpile, wide shot of building, etc – when Spears approached me asking why I was taking photos. I explained that it was for my barbecue blog and while he was mostly appeased in the moment, he did throw in a comment that I was making the waitresses uneasy. And I’m not going to lie, this comment bothered me a little. But now I understand that Spears probably thought I was snooping around on account of his shady business practices.

It’s a shame that Cafe 71 Smokehouse wasn’t able to give it a legit go but there’s still some good news in Lexington. Speedy’s owner Roy Dunn announced that it was relocating instead of closing, keeping the 60 year old restaurant open. Also, I was informed that a new joint called Southern Fire Pit has opened in the former Arcadia Q (which was formerly Speedy Lohr’s of Arcadia) and is smoking over wood. Both will be on my to-visit list next time I make it to Lexington.

And late breaking news that all is not lost for this location and its traditional pit. As I write this it appears based on a Facebook comment that the previous owner Rick Matthew of Rick’s Smokehouse is going to reopen a barbecue restaurant in the same space. The name? Well, apparently it will be called Jimmy’s. I can’t wait.

At Perry’s Pig Pickin’ BBQ, You Can Get Your Barbecue With a Side of Bait and Tackle

Name: Perry’s Pig Pickin’ BBQ
Date: 1/13/23
Address: 6727 Wilgrove Mint Hill Rd, Mint Hill, NC 28227
Order: Barbecue plate with Brunswick stew, mac and cheese, and red slaw
Pricing: $

Monk: It’s not often that there is a completely new-to-me barbecue place in the greater Charlotte area that I’m not at least somewhat familiar with but in late 2020, that was the case with Perry’s Pig Pickin’ BBQ from a Charlotte Ledger story (paywall). And if the last name Perry sounds familiar to local Charlotteans that’s because as the article describes, owner Irvin Perry (who owns and runs it with his wife Melanie) is the only one of four brothers who did not stay in the jewelry business; his brother Ernest is behind Perry’s Diamonds & Estate Jewelry in SouthPark and his other two brothers own jewelry stores in Wilmington and West Jefferson. Irvin went the small superette route and opened up Perry’s Market in the late 70’s. He added the gas pumps later.

The barbecue counter is in the back corner where initially a butcher shop resided when the store first opened in 1977 before being replaced by a deli and then the barbecue counter. There is no on-site seating so you pick your barbecue and sides and they are packed into a to-go box and you are on your way.

Stopping at a nearby park and eating off my back hood (hence the runny stew in the picture above), I found the barbecue to be tender with plenty of tang but not a lot of smoke. The tang would be in large part due to the vinegar sauce squirted onto the sauce at the counter as well as the red vinegar-based slaw. Throw it onto a bun, however, and it made for a good sandwich. According the Charlotte Ledger story linked above the barbecue is “made-on-site” but I did not put my eyes on what exactly does the cooking.

The mac and cheese was not bad but what might bring me back in the future is the Brunswick stew, which I would definitely get again. Just a well executed version of the stew, and I might be inclined to get at least a pint of it next time.

In Perry’s Pig Pickin’ BBQ I was hoping for a hidden gem and while I don’t think I would quite go that far what I found was dependable, above average gas station fare that serves the community for a good price.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – N/A
Pork – 3 hogs
Brunswick Stew – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Truth Barbeque in Houston is Indeed the Truth

Name: Truth Barbeque
Date: 1/7/22
Address: 110 S Heights Blvd, Houston, TX 77007
Order: Brisket, turkey, Carolina whole hog, pork ribs, house sausage link, brussel sprouts, green beans  (link)
Pricing: $$$

Speedy: I have a tradition whenever I travel. The first thing I do is text Monk, tell him where I’m going and ask, “Where should I grab some ‘cue?” On this day, while I was waiting to board in the Nashville airport, Monk responded almost before I even hit send, “Truth Barbeque.” So it was on.

Monk: While I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Truth yet, it received high praise when I recommended it to a friend of the blog a few years back. Not to mention it was #3 on Texas Monthly’s most recent Top 50 list from 2021. So I knew it was definitely going to be the place for Speedy and co. 

Speedy: Our party arrived at exactly 11:00 on a Saturday morning, which is exactly when they open. There was a sizable, but not daunting line out the door. We waited about 30 minutes until it was our turn to order at the cafeteria style counter.

Our group went with a pair of 2 meat plates and added a sausage link so we could try all the meats (save for the beef rib special) and ordered a variety of sides. After getting through the line and taking our pick of tables in the sizable dining room (we chose indoor seating, but outdoor is available), we were ready to eat.

Since this is a Texas joint, we have to start with the brisket. It’s good. Like really good. Peppery, tender, but *maybe* could be slightly more moist. We got the lean cut (we weren’t asked, but others did specify fatty and got that). Was this brisket as good as any I’ve had outside of Texas? Probably. But we’re in Texas, and the standard is different. So I can’t put it in my holy quadrumvirate (Franklin’s, La Barbecue, Pecan Lodge, Killen’s) but it was damn close. 

Monk: Damn, the fact that Speedy has been to enough Texas places to even have a quadrumvirate of Texas places of such high esteem is making me question my life choices. 

Speedy: The turkey, on the other hand, was the best I’ve had. Peppery, tender, moist, melt in your mouth deliciousness. I’ve gone on record lately expressing that turkey is the lost meat of barbecue, but at a place as highly lauded as Truth BBQ, I didn’t expect it to be my favorite part of the meal. But it was, and that’s not to take anything away from the other meats. It’s a must order, period.

Monk: I too am on the turkey train now and this sounds amazing. 

Speedy: The house sausage was also very solid. House-made, this sausage had good snap and nice garlic-y flavor. It had a little bit of grease, but was a solid effort. The pork ribs were also good, although ultimately my least favorite of the meats. The ribs were cooked and seasoned well, and had good flavor, but ultimately didn’t have anything outstanding or unique. 

The surprise of the meal was the Carolina whole hog (a Saturday special). Being in Texas, I didn’t expect much here, but when I bit into that hog and closed my eyes, I was transformed back to eastern NC, tasting delicious chopped pork with just the right coating of vinegar-y sauce. This was the best pork I’ve had outside of North Carolina. What a treat!

Monk: I know that Texas places will use whole hog as a differentiator to stand out from the pack, but glad to hear this was a successful version of it at Truth.

Speedy: Of the sides, I enjoyed the brussels most, but they were roasted and mushy instead of crispy (which I prefer). The mixed in brisket helped with the flavor, and I would order them again, but I don’t think I’d go out of my way for the sides. My party ordered the tater tot casserole and gave it high marks, so if you tolerate dairy, that’s probably the order.

One other thing worth talking about is the “Texas gut bomb,” or the tummy ache and sleepiness after any big Texas bbq meal. I did not feel this after Truth BBQ. I’m not sure if this was because of minimal grease, the high volume of turkey I ate, or some other reason, but my stomach was a happy camper all weekend. 

Monk: Aww, great to hear about your happy tum tum, Speedy! 

Speedy: Overall, as usual, Monk was correct…

Monk: …oh I like the sound of that!

Speedy: Truth BBQ is a truly great barbecue joint and definitely worth a visit. And do yourself a favor and order extra turkey!

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Turkey – 5 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Pork (Carolina whole hog) – 5 hogs
Pork ribs – 4 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs