Opt for the Asian Fusion Rather than Traditional Barbecue at Seoul Food Meat Company

Name: Seoul Food Meat Company Mill District
Date: 10/7/23
Address: 421 E 26th St, Charlotte, NC 28205
Order: Hickory pulled pork, brisket, beef rib bao bun slider, baked ram and cheese, doenjang collard greens, fries (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$

Monk: Seoul Food Meat Company opened their second Charlotte location in the “Mill District” near NoDa and Optimist Park roughly one year ago in October 2022. That location in a former industrial part of town allows them to spread out a little more than their original South End spot, and they’ve taken advantage with a huge patio that includes a splash pad, playground, and dog park in addition to their large restaurant that includes 5 karaoke rooms.

On a nice day, its certainly a destination-type place where families, dog owners, and childless millennials and zoomers can spend multiple hours. That is certainly the hopes of the owners, between Seoul Food and the Urban District Market food hall just across the greenway.

In terms of the barbecue, I found both my pulled pork and the brisket lacking. The pork had some smoke on it but did not taste fresh. But even with its shortcomings, it was far more palatable than the brisket.

The brisket was covered in a ton of their house barbecue sauce, which I would describe as an Asian fusion barbecue sauce. This covers up the poor trim job of the brisket, and if you flip over the slices of meat you’ll see that a good portion of each slice is unrendered fat. Quite unappetizing.

The Asian fusion dishes I tried were more successful than the barbecue. The beef rib bao bun slider was again slathered with the house barbecue sauce but was a satisfying bite. The baked ram n’ cheese is a ramen noodle take on mac n’ cheese and while the youngest Monkette did not take to it (no huge surprise there) I ate it up.

The collards were labeled as “doenjang” which apparently is “a type of fermented bean paste made entirely of soybean and brine.” That did not come through in the bland, nearly flavorless collards.

If I’m back at Seoul Food Meat Company Mill District enjoying a nice day on their patio, I’ll be leaving the barbecue dishes alone and exploring more of the Asian fusion in the forms of the bao buns, Korean fried wings, or tacos.

Atmosphere – 4 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Brisket – 1 hog
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs

Firehawk Brewpub is a worthy addition to the Charlotte Barbecue Scene

Name: Firehawk Brewpub
Date: 8/5/23
Address: 309 N Main St, Mt Holly, NC 28120
Order: Orders of pork, brisket, and ribs with slaw, collards, beans, collards, pickled deviled eggs (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Earlier this year, Firehawk Brewpub exploded on to the local Charlotte barbecue scene with a lot of promise. Located in an old fire station near downtown Mount Holly just west of Charlotte, they announced themselves promising wood fired barbecue. After a late spring opening, it would not be but for a few months before I was able to make it out there for a meal after a morning at the US National Whitewater Center; the restaurant is a short 5-6 minute drive from the entrance to the center in downtown Mount Holly.

My first impressions of the location were great. In addition to true ‘cue barbecue, They’ve built out the restaurant to include both a front patio and a back deck but on this early August day it was much too hot for that. The property is a scenic setting off Dutchman’s Creek, an offshoot of the Catawba River. And did I mention Firehawk also brews their own beer?

There is no combo plate, so we ordered individual portions of pork, brisket, and ribs, each coming with sides of a mustard/mayo slaw and cornbread.

The 10 oz pork portion was coarsely shredded but was flavorful and smokey. As with a lot of places these days, they offer a variety of house-made sauces to try with the pork.

Similarly, the quarter-inch slices of brisket came out well-smoked but they could have perhaps used a little more trimming. Good flavor though.

Now, ribs are a place where Firehawk does something a bit different. They smoke a rack of baby-back ribs and then slice them individually, finishing them on an open flame grill to get more surface area of char. While individual ribs can have varying amounts of char, the flavor really did shine through. Apparently, they are the best seller since they opened, and I can see why.

In terms of appetizers, our group really liked the pickled deviled eggs. Along with the slaw and cornbread, we ordered beans and collards, both being above average. Next time I go back, I’m sure if I ordered any of their other sides I would be similarly impressed.

I’m already looking for my next excuse to head back out to Firehawk Brewpub. They are a worthy addition to the Charlotte barbecue scene, and for me is squarely in the top 3 best barbecue restaurants in the area. I can’t wait to bring more potential converts with me.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Dreamland Barbecue is an Alabama Institution, But How Do They Stack Up in 2023?

Name: Dreamland Barbecue
Date: 7/22/23
Address: 1427 14th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35205
Order: Rib sandwich (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: The only other real opportunity I previously had to try Dreamland Barbecue was on a drive when I passed through the state via I-20 on my way from Charlotte to Austin in 2009. Even though I was somewhat aware of Dreamland, on the longest day of driving (a 12-hour leg from Atlanta to Fort Worth) I prioritized driving time over scenic stops. It wasn’t until 14 years later that I was back in the state and had a chance to finally try their supposedly legendary ribs.

After a fantastic burger and some beers at Back Forty Beer Company, I knew I had a short window before meeting up with Monk cousins later in the afternoon. Luckily, we were staying very close to the Southside location of Dreamland.

After the aforementioned burger and beers, I definitely didn’t want a full rack and even a half rack would have been too much. Lo and behold, the rib sandwich. A rib sandwich is not a sandwich at all – its all about portion control as John Tanner so helpfully points out in this post – and for me it was the perfect size at roughly four ribs.

My sandwich came with a smaller fifth and sixth bone and was served on their own with a side of soft white bread with a cup of sauce. Dreamland’s ribs are smoked hot and fast over direct heat and being that I got there mid-afternoon I possibly (likely?) got some ribs that were cooked in an hour or less. Assuming that’s the case, I could tell by their lack of tenderness. If I ever decide to make it back to a different location, I will try to get there right as they open to have a better shot at getting “pleasantly chewy ribs with salty, crunchy edges” as Daniel Vaughn describes it in his article from 2015.

I will say, the sauce was an entirely new one for me but I enjoyed the tanginess of it. Perhaps it is cousin to the tangy, orange-y sauce I found at Randy’s Bar-B-Q in Savannah but I am only speculating. I do wish I had grabbed a bottle to try at home with my own ribs though.

I also took home a pint of banana pudding and proceeded to eat the whole thing in one sitting a few days later back at home in Charlotte. Well worth it.

I also did try their Magic City Dog, which is a smoked hot dog, from their stall at the Birmingham Barons minor league baseball game the night before and it was a darn good ballpark dog. Would absolutely order again.

I’ll have to admit, Dreamland Barbecue was a bit of a letdown for me, even in my limited tasting of just the ribs. But I don’t think its just me. Speedy was similarly disappointed a few years back in a visit that pre-dated the blog. My cousin who grew up in Alabama and has lived in the Birmingham area for a couple of decades said he doesn’t eat there anymore because of how far it has fallen in his eyes. Sadly, I think at this point I might only try Dreamland Barbecue again if I find myself at their original location in Tuscaloosa and only right at opening.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

The Roots of SAW’s Soul Kitchen is in North Carolina Barbecue

Name: SAW’s Soul Kitchen
Date: 7/21/23
Address: 215 41st St S, Birmingham, AL 35222
Order: Two meat combo platter with pork and sausage with collards, slaw, and cheese grits (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: SAW’s BBQ owner Mike Wilson (or SAW which is an acronym for “Sorry Ass Wilson”) originally grew up in Charlotte and in the early 2000’s was working as a sous chef at Dean & Deluca in Charlotte fresh out of culinary school at Johnson and Wales (though the Vail location, not the Charlotte one). Eventually he found himself back in Alabama – he went to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa for undergrad – working at a restaurant in Birmingham and doing barbecue on the side. In 2009, an opportunity to take over a closing barbecue restaurant presented itself. Wilson opened the original location of SAW’s BBQ in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood shortly thereafter. Since 2009, SAW’s has grown to six locations in the greater Birmingham area. Those six locations include the Avondale location the Monk family (plus Monk uncles!) found itself on a recent Friday this summer while visiting family.

Each SAW’s location has a slightly different name and menu and for Avondale it’s “SAW’s Soul Kitchen” with the barbecue staples but menu offerings that are more southern soul food (think fried chicken, patty melts, and fried green tomato BLT’s). This location is a cozy, no-frills restaurant where customers order at the bar and then seat themselves either at the bar or one of the handful of tables or booths in the small-ish restaurant.

The Monk Uncles had arrived just before us and took the liberty of ordering a bowl of pork rinds that were still warm upon our arrival. They were light and tasty, and a nice way to kick off the meal.

I shared a two meat combo platter of pork and sausage with Mrs. Monk, adding a third side of collards to the vinegar-based slaw and cheese grits we ordered as our two sides that come with the meal. In terms of the meats, both were above average without being outstanding. Both come standard with a vinegary-sweet sauce that was drizzled over but I added the vinegar table sauce to the pork to further cut that sweetness. The sausage was a standard smoked sausage with no cheese or other filler besides the ground meat.

To be honest, the sides kind of outshone the meats for me. I liked the fact that SAW’s has a vinegar-based slaw (perhaps a nod to Wilson’s NC roots) and it worked with the meat as a native-North Carolinian would expect. Although I only had a couple of tastes, the cheese grits were a highlight of the meal. And the collards were Mrs. Monk-certified.

Sadly, found and owner Mike Wilson passed away in late 2020 from a heart attack at the age of 46 but the legacy of SAW’s Barbecue lives on in the six Birmingham-area locations. Based on this visit, I could see SAW’s Soul Kitchen being a regular stop if I were ever to become a resident of the The Magic City.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Pulled Pork – 3.5 hogs
Sausage– 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs