Mr. Barbecue – Winston-Salem, NC

Name: Mr. Barbecue
Date: 3/8/19
Address: 1381 Peters Creek Pkwy, Winston-Salem, NC 27103
Order: Chopped sandwich with hush puppies and Cheerwine (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Despite growing up within driving distance to a lot of really great barbecue in the Piedmont of North Carolina, I didn’t go searching much beyond my usual joints (Carter Brothers when I ate barbecue in High Point, Lexington Barbecue for a special occasion). This led to me not trying Stamey’s in Greensboro until after this blog had started and it took even longer for me to get to Mr. Barbecue, a wood-burning barbecue joint in Winston-Salem open since 1962. A few weeks back, I found myself in the Twin City on a rainy Friday afternoon and it was time.

As soon as I stepped in, I realized what a bonehead move it was not to get here sooner. Mr. Barbecue is just about everything I want in a classic NC barbecue joint that just happens to be located in a city. The brick smokestacks were going full blast outside and the order counter inside had a classic joint feel (albeit slightly updated with flat screen monitors displaying the menu instead of an old school letterboard). That same classic joint feel continued into the two small dining rooms on either side of the counter as well.

I loved the actually retro feel of the paper wrapper the barbecue sandwich came in even before I dug into the sandwich itself. The wrapper proclaims that Mr. Barbecue is “genuine hickory wood bar-b-q” and I could taste that wood smoke in the chopped pork – not overpowering but a good hit of smoke. Of course, I went with slaw on my sandwich and the cold and slightly tangy red slaw contrasted the warm pork as as classic chopped pork sandwich should. And the freshly fried hush puppies were great as well. Just a damn fine NC barbecue meal.

Mr. Barbecue is a True ‘Cue certified wood burning barbecue joint that appears to do healthy business with the locals but doesn’t nearly get its due on the NC barbecue scene. I checked my NC barbecue books when I got home and it has just a short review in Bob Garner’s Book of Barbecue and a passing mention in Holy Smoke in a short article on the influence of Greeks; no mention at all in The Best Tarheel Barbecue by Winston-Salem native Jim Early, who not surprisingly hasn’t included it on the NC Barbecue Society Historic Barbecue Trail. It also hasn’t been written up in Our State Magazine or included in their recent list of 26 Essential NC Barbecue Joints. Whatever the reason for its flying-under-the-radarness, I would urge folks to give it a try, as I found it to be perhaps just a small notch below some of the best Lexington-style barbecue joints in the Piedmont.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Mr Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

R&R Bar-B-Que – Concord, NC (RE-REVIEW)

Name: R&R Bar- B-Que
Date: 3/1/19
Address: 755 Pitts School Rd NW, Concord, North Carolina 28027
Order: Small Brakeman’s BBQ tray with red slaw and hush puppies, small brisket sandwich (no bread), Cheerwine (link to menu)

Monk: There are really only a handful of “old school” style barbecue joints in the Charlotte area. And by that, I’m not talking about anything with a full-service bar or that doubles as a diner or even open for a certain number of years. When you think about an old-school feel, Bill Spoon’s Barbecue and Bubba’s BBQ are two restaurants that have history and fit the bill. As does R&R Bar-B-Que, a train-themed barbecue restaurant in Concord. Curiously, all three serve eastern NC-style barbecue, as I had noted in my previous review.

On a rainy Friday, I checked out R&R for the second time since my only visit a little over 5 years ago. This time, I liked it a bit more. I speculated that they smoked with some sort of gas or electric smoker not aided by wood (a la an Ole Hickory or Southern Pride), and according to the NC BBQ Map that appears to be the case. No surprise, since there wasn’t any smoke wafting around the parking lot on either of my lunchtime visits. Still, the barbecue that was presented was nicely chopped and moist. A few dashes of the hot vinegar sauce didn’t hurt, either.

The beef brisket, a Tuesday and Friday special, was another story. I ordered only out of morbid curiosity and not because I expected it to be any good. My concerns were validated a couple of bites in so I didn’t feel the need to finish my portion.

R&R does nail their red slaw, a pretty perfect representation of a Lexington vinegar-based slaw. It had the right balance of sweetness to tang and was served properly chilled. The hush puppies tilted more to the savory end of the savory-sweet spectrum but were still solid. Finally, they offer Cheerwine from the fountain, as every proper barbecue joint should (unless they have it in bottles, of course).

So R&R Bar-B-Que is still not essential barbecue, but for Charlotte its not bad and ably fills the niche of an old school barbecue joint.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Brisket – 1 hog
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q – Charlotte, NC

Name: Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q
Date: 1/21/19
Address: 13840 Steele Creek Rd Charlotte, NC 28278
Order: 2 meat combo with Carolina-style pork and brisket, collards and coleslaw (link to menu)

Monk: Sometimes you don’t get to stake out the perfect barbecue run on your day off. No complaints here, but with the Monkette in tow for the MLK Holiday, I didn’t feel I should make a run to somewhere 1-2 hours away like I had done in years past (Bar-B-Q King (Lincolnton) and Big Tiny’s BBQ (Mooresville) in 2017 and Speedy Lohr’s and Smokey Joe’s (Lexington) in 2018). After a chilly morning hike at the McDowell Preserve on Lake Wylie, none of the potential Gastonia or Belmont options were open or made sense so we went to a Jim ‘N Nick’s about 10 minutes back towards our house. Because while this wouldn’t have been my first choice, what am I gonna do, not have barbecue?

Jim ‘N Nick’s is a well-regarded regional Southeast chain, and in my only prior visit to one of their stores (in Concord, where I made almost the exact same order without planning to) I mostly enjoyed my visit, minus the pickle toppings. Fast forward a little over 5 years, how would another visit to JNN (albeit to a different location) fare compared to some of the other chain options that have since opened in Charlotte?

As for my meat options, the Carolina-style pork means eastern NC pork as indicated by the visible red pepper flakes in the sauce the meat is chopped in. Despite those pepper flakes, the pork wasn’t overly spicy but was tender.

The brisket was another story. It arrived lukewarm and the fat in the brisket slices wasn’t completely rendered. Or perhaps more likely, reheated from the prior day. To make things worse, JNN insists on pre-saucing their brisket. All in all, it was a bit of a mess.

The good news is that customers always get a basket of cheese biscuits up front, and of course I ate 3.5 of the 4 we were given. I could taste that both the coleslaw and the collards were fresh and scratch-made, even if nothing about either were particularly memorable.

In what could be a future post about chain options in the Charlotte area, Jim ‘N Nick’s would have fared a little better prior to this visit. I do appreciate that they are a chain that does assist the smoking process with actual wood (albeit in a Southern Pride gasser), as indicated by the cords of wood just off the side of the building near the smokehouse. However, the execution was lacking on this visit at this location.

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

Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Field House Bar-B-Que – Kannapolis, NC

Name: Field House Bar-B-Que
Date: 12/18/18
Address: 1907 S Cannon Blvd, Kannapolis, NC 28083
Order: Chopped barbecue plate with slaw, fries, and hush puppies; Cheerwine

Monk: I first heard of Field House Bar-B-Que in Kannapolis in regards to a 2017 name change from its original name of Varsity BBQ & Ice Cream after being sued by The Varsity in Atlanta. How a one store NC barbecue restaurant in operation since 1998 could be confused with the classic burgers chain two states away baffles me, but nonetheless Field House opted to change the name rather than going through a lengthy legal process.

As for the food itself, as best I can tell Field House uses a gasser but manages to get some decent smoke on the pork. While I ordered the plate with fries, they do serve Lexington-style trays which you don’t see too often on the stretch of highway between Salisbury and Shelby. Next time I’ll try to avoid the temptation of fries and just get the tray with pork, slaw, and hush puppies on the side.

Speaking of slaw, they do offer a choice of red slaw as well as white slaw so you can keep your Lexington tray traditional. I appreciate that the hush puppies are scratch made and not some frozen nonsense.

As best I can tell, nothing really changed in fall 2017 when Varsity Bar-B-Que was renamed to Field House Bar-B-Que (the old sign is even still out back). For local Kannapolis-ians (Kannapolites?), that appears to be a good thing. The old name does live in on the back of each waitresses’ shirts, however, which are styled as jerseys with “Varsity Team” as the player name above a “98” as the block style jersey number. Nicely played, Field House. Nicely played.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs

Varsity Bar-B-Q & Creamery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sweet Lew’s BBQ – Charlotte, NC

Name: Sweet Lew’s BBQ
Date: 12/5/18
Address: 923 Belmont Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205
Order: NC smoked pork shoulder plate with red slaw, collards, and cornbread plus ¼ lb of brisket (link to menu)
Price: $$ (out of $$$)

Monk: With Jim Noble’s forthcoming barbecue venture Noble Smoke delayed until next Spring, the title of “most anticipated Charlotte barbecue opening for 2019” fell to Sweet Lew’s BBQ by default (though not without merit). I got a chance to sample some of Sweet Lew’s chopped pork a few months back and while they had hoped to open in October, construction delays and permitting being what it is they weren’t able to open until the first week in December. I showed up eagerly on opening day right before 12 noon,

Sweet Lew’s is located in the Belmont neighborhood in a converted service station with a brand new pit room built out back. There Lewis Donald, co-owner (along with Laura Furman Grice) and pitmaster, smokes the meat on a Myron Mixon smoker. As you walk in through the front door, guests are greeted by the welcome sound of chopping by Lewis himself. At Sweet Lew’s, the meat is sliced or chopped to order and the sides are served cafeteria-style similar to how a lot of Texas places do it (as did Midwood Smokeshack, RIP). They’ve got a small dining room and a patio that will come into play more when the weather warms back up in the Spring.

The coarsely chopped pork is described as Lexington-style pork on the menu and while it is very good, I don’t find that label to be completely accurate. The pork butts (sourced from Beeler’s Pure Pork in Iowa) are rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked over wood before being finished with a vinegar sauce. Mix it with some red slaw and Texas Pete and you’ve got a pretty good version of classic NC barbecue, just no quite true Lexington-style.

I was lucky enough to get a fresh brisket pulled out just before my order. Sweet Lew’s sources their briskets from Creekstone Farms in Kansas and are smoking them Central Texas style. There’s a lot of flavor in the bark of the lean slices, but I got a little bit of a sodium overload by the end of the meal. Still, this is one of the better briskets in Charlotte for sure.

To be a true Lexington red slaw, I found that it needs a little more ketchup for the sweetness to balance the vinegar tang. Each combo plate comes with a slide of cornbread and while I would have preferred hush puppies, I’ll take it. The collards were pretty standard but next time I’ll probably order the Virginia boiled peanuts instead. I’m excited for the daily specials, which start this week and consists of Turkey Tuesday, Hash Wednesday, Sausage Saturday, and Fried Chicken Sunday.

Sweet Lew’s BBQ has hit the ground running and sold out of meats on the couple of days, a feature they had been touting since the venture was announced that would set them apart from other Charlotte spots. I’m sure the smoking will ramp up in the comings weeks to meet demand but its comforting to know that the meat will always be fresh and not reheated from the previous day. For this among many other reasons, we should all be very excited that Sweet Lew’s has raised the stakes in the Charlotte barbecue scene and should only continue to get better.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Sweet Old Bill’s Burgers, Que & Brew – High Point, NC

Name: Sweet Old Bill’s Burgers, Que & Brew
Date: 11/21/18
Address: 1232 North Main Street, High Point, North Carolina
Order: Three meat combo (pork, brisket, ribs) with hush puppies, corn pudding, and slaw
Price: $$ (out of $$$)

Monk: Well, what do you know? The Barbecue Bros’ hometown of High Point has grown to the where someone has opened up a yuppie cue spot (next to a brewery no less). High Point’s always had standard issue barbecue joints like Kepley’s, Carter Brothers, or Henry James but a full bar barbecue joint that serves not only pulled pork but brisket, ribs, chicken and more? Now that’s something new for the Home Furnishings Capital of the World.

Speedy: While this is exciting, I take great offense at calling Kepley’s a “standard issue barbecue joint.” Where’s the respect, Monk?

Monk: All respect given, Speedy. That was not a comment on the quality of the food – I only meant that none of those I mentioned above go the “International House of Barbecue” route and also don’t serve beer or alcohol like Sweet Old Bill’s.

SOB’s opened in early November on North Main Street and shares a wall with the well-received Brown Truck Brewery. At the back of the Sweet Old Bill’s side of the building is a wood-assisted gasser just off the kitchen. Inside, a large bar area occupies approximately half of the interior with a decor that I would probably best described as “industrial chic” with my limited interior decorator vocabulary.

The three meat combo plate was decently priced at $18 and I chose pork, brisket, and ribs. Not ordered but also available was chicken and turkey. The pork had hints of smoke but benefited from being eaten with the slaw and table vinegar sauce, a small batch sauce I didn’t recognize or snap a photo of. I will note that a red slaw was advertised on the menu but what came out was a mayo-based white slaw. I still ate it, but was really hoping to try their version of a Lexington red slaw. Regardless, not a bad start to the meal.

The brisket at SOB’s comes pre-sauced but underneath that sauce were lean slices with a decent pepper bark. This was definitely not a Central Texas style brisket, but for High Point it was not bad. Not great, mind you, but not awful.

Speedy: For NC brisket, “not awful” is high praise…  

Monk: The dry-rubbed ribs were well seasoned and not overcooked, giving a good tug with each chew. Of the three meats I ordered, the ribs were probably my favorite, and thankfully they weren’t drowning in sauce like the brisket.

I already mentioned the slaw but when it came to the rest of the sides the scratch-made hush puppies were more on the savory end of the spectrum but were nicely fried orbs of cornmeal goodness. The highlight of sides was definitely the corn pudding, which had some sweetness and also appeared to be scratch made.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that they had a nice selection of craft beers, many of which were local to NC. I ordered a Brown Truck porter, which was made not 10 feet on the other side of the wall from where we were sitting – pretty cool and not too many other barbecue restaurants could claim that I’d bet.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with my meal at Sweet Old Bill’s. Being a new restaurant, they could have easily cut corners in a few areas but thankfully did not. The meats are not all quite there but I appreciated the attention paid to the side dishes. Keep in mind that they were only a few weeks old for this meal so with time I think they will eventually get to a good spot. They are certainly off to a nice start.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Ribs – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Friday Find: What Does Pork From Cannabis-Fed Pigs Taste Like?

I previously posted a video of the Prime Time guys smoking ribs with Rodney Scott in New York. In this video, they visit a farm in Oregon, where pigs are fed a diet containing up to 25% cannabis leaves and stems.

Then the Prime Time guys help cook the secreto muscle of a 14 month old pig (doble the average lifespan of a pig) in a “planking” method over open flame at nearby restaurant Imperial. No, there is not a weed taste to the pig, but what the guys do find is that the pig tastes good because it has led a generally healthier life compared with most commodity pigs.

On today’s episode of Prime Time, Ben and Brent visit Moto Perpetuo Farm, where pigs are fed a diet that includes cannabis.

Art’s BBQ & Deli – Charlotte, NC

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Name: Art’s BBQ & Deli
Date: 8/30/18
Address: 900 E Morehead St, Charlotte, NC 28204
Order: Large chopped pork plate with slaw, hushpuppies, and sweet tea (link to menu)
Price: $11

Monk: Art’s BBQ & Deli is a breakfast and lunch spot located in the heart of the Dilworth neighborhood for the past 42 years. It’s known as a popular spot for Panthers players and is said to be a favorite of former QB Jake Delhomme (of particular note to Speedy, I’m sure). The walls are littered with signed Panthers memorabilia and photographs and there’s even a Panthers parking sign around the side of the building.

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Art’s follows the tradition of greeks who started restaurants or diners shortly after immigrating to the United States. Art Katopodis, the original owner, moved to the US from Greece in the 50’s and then to Charlotte in the 60’s. He started the restaurant 42 years ago in 1976 before retiring in 2002 and passing the reins onto his son and current owner, Danny.

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As for Art’s itself, it’s more of a diner/deli than a barbecue restaurant. Circling the building, I did not see a smoker nor detect any smoke in the air during the lunch rush. Not sure if they prepare the barbecue offsite, but if they do I don’t detect any smoke in the chopped pork. Though even if that were the case, it would have been hard to taste since the barbecue comes pre-sauced with a thicker, sweet sauce.

My guess is the barbecue is more of a roasted pork in an oven before being chopped and tossed in that sauce. Curiously, the Art’s branded sauce on the table was a vinegar-ketchup sauce in the vein of a Lexington dip and not what the pork was tossed in. Some dashes of that or Texas Pete helped the chopped pork by cutting the sweet sauce and giving it a bit more tang. All in all, I wasn’t wowed by the barbecue.

The mayo slaw was pretty standard but I have a feeling that the hush puppies were originally frozen as opposed to made from scratch. I did get a choice of rolls or corn muffins with my meal, and the corn muffins were far preferable to the hush puppies for my cornbread fix.

Art’s BBQ & Deli is a Charlotte institution and I wish them many more years of continued success, but I wouldn’t recommend it for barbecue. Try the breakfast, deli sandwiches, or fried chicken (a Thursday lunch special) instead.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs
Art's Barbecue & Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rodney Scott’s BBQ – Charleston, SC (Speedy’s take)

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Name: Rodney Scott’s BBQ
Date: 8/1/18
Address: 1011 King St, Charleston, SC 29403
Order: Pork and Rib Combo, fries/hush puppies, 6 smoked wings) (link to menu)
Price: $20 (combo), $6 (wings)

Speedy: Recently, I took a trip to Charleston with the extended family, so I knew I had to convince my brother and cousins to leave behind the wives and kids for a few hours to hit eat some ‘cue and drink some brews. Our first stop was Rodney Scott’s BBQ.

Of course I had heard of Rodney Scott before, but I had never been to either his Hemingway or Charleston location, so to say I was excited was a bit of an understatement. I knew I had to try both the pork and the ribs, and thankfully there was a combo plate on the menu, so despite the fact that I knew I had a second lunch coming up, I knew what I had to do. The best part – real-life Bro picked up the check. Just kidding – (spoiler alert!) the chopped pork was the best part, but the Bro paying was the second best part.

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After ordering, the food was brought out promptly, and it was time to dig in. I’ll start with the flagship of the restaurant – the whole hog chopped pork. Though we were in South Carolina, this was classic eastern NC ‘cue – smoked until perfectly tender, chopped fine, and sauced with the perfect vinegary, peppery dip. I loved the tang of the meat and don’t think I would change a thing. On his visit, Monk left Rodney Scott’s feeling mildly disappointed, but thinking back on it just makes me smile. I never tried any of the table sauce, because none was needed.

Monk: To clarify, I was only disappointed compared with that first bite at the legendary Scott’s BBQ in Hemingway, which was in the top 5 of barbecue meals I’ve ever had. My anticipation of that whole hog only grew exponentially in the almost 4 years between, so my visit was a slight letdown only compared with my (somewhat unfair) enormous expectations. On my next visit to Rodney Scott’s, I’m sure I’ll be able to properly appreciate it.

Also, while we tend to think of whole hog as eastern NC, the Pee Dee region of SC (basically, the northeastern corner bordering NC) has their own whole hog tradition which has its similarities. That’s what Rodney Scott draws from as does Elliot Moss of Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville, being that he is originally from the Florence, SC area. It makes sense when you look at it geographically.

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Speedy: The ribs, which Monk didn’t try, were also enjoyable. They were big, meaty, and cooked perfectly. I really enjoy dry rubbed ribs, which usually are extremely heavily seasoned and not sauced at all. These ribs were different in that they were not heavily seasoned and had only a hint of a glaze, so the pork flavor and the smoke really shined through. I think Rodney Scott did exactly what he wanted with these ribs, and I would recommend everyone try them, but they were very good but not transcendent to me. I did put some spicy sauce on for a taste, but it wasn’t really needed (though it went well). Overall, a very good effort and as a “second meat” at a joint, pretty impressive.

Monk: I definitely want to try the ribs next time. Everyone knows that Speedy is the rib guy of the bros, but I’ve read good things about them, including how Rodney Scott really cooked them for the first time at the 2017 Big Apple BBQ Block Party (talk about pressure). I’d be interested in tasting some of the other menu items as well such as fried catfish or the ribeye sandwich.

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Speedy: The smoked wings were good for what they are, but they themselves are not a reason to visit Rodney Scott’s. They had a nice dry rub and were smoked well, but I could have used a little more sauce. Wing tastes are so variable, and these just weren’t as good as the pork or ribs.

In addition to my ordered sides (hush puppies and fries), I also sampled the collards. The hush puppies were very good, the fries above average, but the collards were amazing. They had chunks of pork in and were seriously some of the best collards I’ve ever had.

To top off this awesome meal, I was able to chat briefly with the man Rodney Scott himself. For most of the time we were there, he was walking around the dining room making sure everyone was having a great meal, which we were. As a double bonus, Darius Rucker came in to eat. Surprisingly, he didn’t recognize me, so we didn’t get to chat, but it’s good to know that Rucker knows both 90s rock and barbecue.

Monk:  Unless Speedy is leaving something out here, I gotta say how surprised I am that he managed to keep his composure and not go all Chris Farley Show on Rucker – “Hey, remember when you were in Hootie and the Blowfish? That was awesome.”

Well done, Speedy.

Speedy: Overall, this was the best barbecue meal I’ve had in Charleston, maybe in SC. Our whole group agreed – we will be back to Rodney Scott’s.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pulled Pork – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Wings – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs