Friday Find: Frank Scibelli on Order/Fire

Frank Scibelli is the restaurateur behind Midwood Smokehouse, which I would argue brought back “True Cue” barbecue to Charlotte when it opened in 2012. That is, barbecue smoked over wood with no gas or electric assistance. Midwood has grown from it’s Central Avenue location to a small regional chain with 3 locations in Charlotte, another in Huntersville, and one in Columbia, SC.

In this episode of the Charlotte-based web series Order/Fire, host Marc Jacksina sits down with Frank to discuss his restaurant history in Charlotte. It’s not exclusively about barbecue and Midwood, but it’s a worthy view nonetheless. The barbecue-specific section starts at 13:38 and lasts until 16:45.

The 4th Annual Free Range and order/fire Pig Pickin’ featuring Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s BBQ

Each year for the past four, order/fire, a Charlotte-based culinary web series, and Free Range Brewing have collaborated on an annual pig pickin’ and viewing of the latest episode of the web series. You may recall two years ago they featured Sam Jones from Skylight Inn/Sam Jones BBQ. While I missed last year’s edition, this year they featured Lewis Donald from Sweet Lew’s BBQ, with all proceeds going towards a great cause, the Community Culinary School of Charlotte, a non-profit that provides workforce training and job placement assistance in the food service industry for adults who face barriers to successful employment. Definitely a great cause, and one in-line with some of the values of Sweet Lew’s (more on that in a bit).

The location is the same, but the surroundings are completely different, with apartments now surrounding the Free Range Brewing building whereas it was an empty lot just two years ago. Because of the potential for inclement weather Saturday night, Lewis and order/fire host Marc Jacksina opted to utilize the covered Sweet Lew’s smokehouse for the majority of smoking before relocating to the brewery Sunday morning.

As I arrived shortly after doors opened, Lewis and his two sons were beginning to pull from the pig and before long the sound of chopping filled the back patio. Speaking of the pig, Beeler’s Pure Pork (who supplies pork shoulders for Sweet Lew’s BBQ) had graciously donated a 95 lb pig for the event, which allowed more of the funds to go to the Community Culinary School of Charlotte. Duke’s Bread donated the rolls, again allowing more of the funds to go to CCSC.

Lunch was served before the first showing, and with a suggested donation of $10 per plate everyone got a full plate of chopped pork and a roll, with sides of slaw, mac and cheese, and baked beans and a cookie. In a nice bit of synergy, the sides were actually prepared by the CCSC. Lewis was also walking around handing out slices of brisket as long as it lasted. With bellies full, it was time for the first screening of the episode.

Free Range Brewing co-owner Jeff Alexander, order/fire host Chef Marc Jacksina, director Peter Taylor, and Lewis Donald took the stage for some quick words before the episode airing. In speaking with Lewis over the past few months, I’ve gotten a good sense of his vision for Sweet Lew’s BBQ – to be a community restaurant that is fully integrated with the Belmont neighborhood – but this episode really fleshed it out so much more through the conversation between Lewis and Marc. It’s hard to believe its only been about 5 months now, but Lewis clearly loves being in the Belmont neighborhood and was putting in work to build ties with neighbors starting with the construction of the restaurant last fall. And he’s got more great ideas for the coming months, from his continued practice of hiring teens from the neighborhood to a back-to-school carnival with free haircuts for kids next August. My social work wife was just eating up the backstory and vision, and for good reason because it’s something you don’t always see from a restaurant.

But the conversation also revealed more of Lewis as a person, from his background growing up in Cleveland, OH to his path in the food industry over the past 20 years, with stops in California, Hawaii, West Virginia, and ultimately Charlotte. Lewis has just about seen it all in the types of roles he’s had, from fast food, country clubs, fine dining, and corporate positions. Lewis is a guy who self-admittedly doesn’t talk a lot, but I was glad Marc was able to get quite a bit out of him in their discussion. Great stuff, and I’ll be sure to post the episode once its available online because it’s one you don’t want to miss.

Finally, a note on Free Range Brewing. I love what they have continued to do since they began operation. They actively promote a family-friendly atmosphere in which they want the NoDa community to gather. In addition to the annual pig pickin’, they host the other viewings of order/fire episodes as well as partner with local farmers and artists. If you live in Charlotte and haven’t been yet, I urge you to check them out well before next year’s pig pickin’.

Photo Gallery: A Free Range Pig Pickin’ with Sam Jones

For the second year running, Free Range Brewing and Order/Fire combined powers to host a premiere screening of an episode of the web series with a pig pickin’ to follow. While last year’s episode featured four NC breweries (Burial Beer Co., Fonta Flora Brewery, Fullsteam Brewery, and Free Range Brewing), this year’s episode was on Sam Jones and Skylight Inn. Sam joined the festivities and smoked a 230 pound hog the night before for the pig pickin’. The whole shindig and its $10 suggested donation for the barbecue benefited the Community Culinary School of Charlotte, so there was an abundance of reasons to make it out to Free Range on a Sunday afternoon.

The 40 or so minute episode of Order/Fire was primarily a discussion between Sam and host Mark Jacksina that took place at Skylight Inn with topics ranging from the history of Sam’s family and barbecue to his first experiences gaining exposure outside of Ayden and his involvement with the Fatback Collective. It was a casual conversation between the two, with Sam peppering in his usual mix of one-liners and idioms. The packed house enjoyed the screening and you can view it here once it is made available online.

Now the first time I tasted Sam Jones’s barbecue, it was at when he smoked a whole hog at Midwood Smokehouse’s Southern ‘Cue Supper in 2013 and the whole hog literally (actually figuratively) blew my mind. I had not yet tasted cracklin’ skin mixed in with whole hog barbecue and absolutely loved that texture. The whole thing was a “revelatory experience” I hadn’t been able to try in the 3.5 years since. That is, until this day, and it definitely did not disappoint in the slightest. I’m still thinking about that pork as I type this, as a matter of fact.

Afterwards, I made a resolution: I will visit Skylight Inn and Sam Jones BBQ in 2017. Mark it down.