Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom – Durham, NC

: Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom
Date: 2/24/18
Address: 900 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701
Order: 2 meat combo with brisket and smoked jalapeno cheddar sausage with hush puppies, collards, and cole slaw (link to menu)
Price: $16

Monk: Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom opened in September in a space in downtown Durham that formerly housed Alivia’s Durham Bistro for 10 years. The owners of Alivia’s closed that concept and opened Maverick’s with a menu with an “international house of barbecue” bent to it – which in this case means pulling from Memphis and Texas in addition to North Carolina barbecue traditions.  

One thing that was apparently kept from Alivia’s was the outdoor patio which was perfect on an unusually warm February day. That, however, was the last of anything positive when it came to this lunch.

The first strike of the meal was a warm beer (curiously, Maverick’s had a special on non-NC draft beer which I don’t think I’ve seen at a NC restaurant – it’s usually the other way around). My speculation was that it was served in a pint glass that may have come straight out of the dishwasher but regardless, it was still an oversight. You just simply don’t want a warm-ish Shiner on a patio.

The next strike came when the platters of food came out. Mrs Monk and I got a two meat combo of brisket and sausage – for pork I was gong to sample some of it from our friend’s platter. The brisket and sausage both came out cool to the touch. The bark on the brisket was flavorful, but in addition to being cold it was fairly dried out. To me, it seemed liked it was likely leftover from the day before. I don’t know where the sausage came from but it had the texture of a slightly warmed hot dog – albeit with pieces of jalapeno and cheddar in it. The pork was a little better in terms of temperature but was quite greasy – my buddy didn’t finish his rather small portion of it.

Finally, on this day the sides weren’t going to save the meal. While the hush puppies and fried okra (also sampled from our friend’s plate) were freshly fried and actually decent, the collards could have use some more stewing and the mayo-based cole slaw was lukewarm. Temperature in general seems to need more focus at Maverick’s.

A charitable way to look at Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom is that they are still figuring things out. Let’s hope that is the case and that they do figure it out soon. If not, it seems unlikely that they will make it to 10 years like Alivia’s did in the same space before them.

Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Brisket – 2.5 hogs
Sausage – 1 hog
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs


Smokey Joe’s Barbecue – Lexington, NC

: Smokey Joe’s Barbecue
Date: 1/15/18
Address: 1101 S Main St, Lexington, NC 27292
Order: Small chopped tray with hush puppies and a Cheerwine (link to menu)
Price: $9

Monk: Part two of my MLK Day sojourn to Lexington, Smokey Joe’s is right in downtown Lexington off South Main Street in a small brick building with a drive-thru window. This was actually my first time in downtown Lexington since most of the joints I’ve previously gone to were right off interstate 85.

In terms of menu, Smoke Joe’s was almost identical to what I had just seen at Speedy Lohr’s in terms of having not only barbecue but other southern comfort food staples in hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, chuck wagon, fried fish, etc. I’m not sure if this is just the typical menu setup for a classic Lexington joint or just a coincidence but I’ll have to pay more attention the next time I’m at a different spot.

Ordering the small tray allowed me to compare like to like with what I had just eaten at Speedy Lohr’s. The portions were nearly identical – that is, much larger than the “small” designation would indicate. In terms of pork Smokey Joe’s was smokey, tangy, and moist. I was officially two for two on the day.

As for sides, I actually preferred the slaw here since it was more vinegary and less sweet than Speedy Lohr’s. The basket of oblong-shaped hush puppies was less plentiful than the previous spot, which was welcome from me. I should note that, had I actually wanted more hush puppies it would have gladly been refilled by the friendly wait staff. This being my second meal in a matter of an hour span, I was most definitely not looking for more hush puppies.

This particular day was a good day full of really good barbecue (emphasis on “full”). Smokey Joe’s was yet another above average Lexington joint and when I am ultimately able to make a credible Lexington big list, I suspect Smokey Joe’s will be up there just a notch below my favorites.

Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Speedy Lohr’s BBQ – Lexington, NC

: Speedy Lohr’s BBQ
Date: 1/15/18
Address: 3664 NC-8, Lexington, NC 27292
Order: Small chopped tray with hush puppies and a Cheerwine 
Price: $9

Monk: On our way to Cook’s BBQ just after Thanksgiving, we actually passed Speedy Lohr’s BBQ, a barbecue joint with a very similar name to two other joints in the town of Lexington: Speedy’s Barbecue Inc. and Speedy Lohr’s BBQ of Arcadia. While Cook’s was alright, after this trip in hindsight maybe we should have just stopped at Speedy Lohr’s instead of heading another 4 miles south.

Speedy Lohr’s is located in a no frill building off NC Highway 8 south of Lexington, a classic Lexington-style joint that actually caught fire in 2015 and closed. Thirteen months and $200,000 later, it reopened in August 2016 with its barbecue pits now conforming to current code and has been seemingly humming along ever since. Prior to Speedy Lohr’s taking over the building and its pits in June 2013, it was a barbecue restaurant named Whitley’s Barbecue. Owners Randy and Amy are no strangers to the barbecue business though, with Randy’s father previously running a barbecue joint in the area that was a casualty of when the state of North Carolina expanded highway 8.

Knowing that I was likely going to go to one more spot that day, I tried to keep it simple with a small chopped pork tray with hush puppies instead of buns (duh). Little did I know, the small tray is actually quite big and I left a bit more stuffed than I would have liked. Thankfully, what I was stuffed with was really good smoke-kissed chopped pork basted in a traditional Lexington dip. I couldn’t stop eating the pork until it was all finished even though I knew that I was going to pay for it later due to my limited stomach space. But it was just that good.

The basket of fresh, small orb hush puppies was also a rather bountiful and the slaw on the other side of the cardboard tray was maybe a tad heavy on the dip but still good. Each part of the Lexington trinity was hitting on all cylinders that day.

In all honesty, I actually meant to go to Speedy Lohr’s BBQ of Arcadia that day to try and knock out another joint on the NC Historic Barbecue Trail. I’ll get to that some other time but I was very happy with the meal I got at Speedy Lohr’s BBQ. In my preliminary “Speedy” power rankings of Lexington joints with that in the name, Speedy Lohr’s BBQ wins out over Speedy’s Barbecue Inc. simply because they smoke over wood as opposed to electricity (even though we gave Speedy’s 4 hogs back in 2012). Next up I’ll have to try Speedy Lohr’s BBQ of Arcadia to see who takes the belt.

Atmosphere – 3.5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs
Speedy Lohr's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Pedalin’ Pig – Banner Elk, NC

IMG_1547Name: The Pedalin’ Pig
Date: 12/28/17
Address: 4235 Hwy 105 South, Banner Elk, NC 28604
Order: Half pound brisket plate with brunswick stew and BBQ slaw (link to menu)
Price: $14.95

Monk: Usually, I try to close out my year by taking a short trip to a barbecue joint an hour or two away but this year our family took a short, two night trip to the mountains immediately after Christmas. While the mountains wouldn’t be my first choice destination for barbecue, on our way back from the Boone area we passed by The Pedalin’ Pig in Banner Elk (sadly, our first choice Old Hampton Store and Barbeque, a wood-smoked barbecue joint in Linville, was closed until February) as we took a Grandfather Mountain detour on our way back to Charlotte so I was able to get in one last review in 2017. 

A couple days after Christmas, The Pedalin’ Pig was hopping with with folks stopping before or after skiing at  nearby Sugar Mountain on a bitterly cold day. Each of the dining rooms were more or less packed and there was a line out the door. The wait for larger parties went upwards of 45 minutes by the time we left but our party of 4 was able to be seated in less than 5 minutes.

Mrs. Monk ordered the half pound pulled pork plate while I ordered the brisket plate, allowing us to combine our powers into a 2-meat combo plate (which isn’t an option on the menu). According to my handy dandy NC BBQ Map, they use a wood-assisted gasser (my guess would be a Southern Pride) but they were able to get some decent bark on the pork. Mrs. Monk’s half-pound portion had plenty of it mixed in and the meat had a nice smokey taste. The gasser was able to get a somewhat decent bark on my brisket, but the slices were all taken from the flat and as a result were pretty dried out. Still, some decent flavor from those slices of meat.

The bbq slaw was a good rendition of a Lexington-style red slaw while the brunswick stew hit the spot on a cold day. Mrs. Monk’s sides of collards and cheddar grits were equally successful. 

And as loyal readers know, outside of a couple of outliers mountain barbecue is at best considered hit or miss. The Pedalin’ Pig is more on the hit side of the spectrum while not quite essential. 

Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Brisket – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs
Pedalin' Pig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cook’s BBQ – Lexington, NC

IMG_1013 (2)
: Cook’s BBQ
Date: 11/25/17
Address: 366 Valiant Dr, Lexington, NC 27292
Order: Monk: Three meat combo plate (chopped pork, sausage, ribs) with red slaw, hush puppies, fries, and Cheerwine; Speedy: Three meat combo plate (coarse chopped pork, brisket, ribs) with red slaw, hush puppies, tater tots, and Cheerwine (link to menu)
Price: ~$17 each

Speedy: Monk and I were both embarking on a post-Thanksgiving drive from High Point to Charlotte (albeit in different vehicles), so we planned on a noon rendezvous at Cook’s BBQ in Lexington. As I was driving up, I thought that I might be entering a scene from Deliverance, and that possibly Monk was trying to kill me. Good news – he wasn’t, and Cook’s BBQ is real.

Monk: It is a bit of a weird location for a barbecue restaurant but I would never “Deliverance” you, Speedy. Off of 85, you go drive down Highway 8 south of Lexington proper and take a few turns on country roads. Then you drive past a few houses before happening on Cook’s in a dead-end at the end of a residential street.

The restaurant has been around since 1969 (though the current owners took over in 1984) so they must be doing something right, even if I feel it’s hardly ever mentioned along with the other Lexington joints. To add to its bona fides, it was also included along with Lexington Barbecue, Skylight Inn, Allen & Son’s, and other NC barbecue heavy hitters in this 2012 Washington Post primer on NC barbecue ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. I had been wanting to stop in for years, particularly once I realized they were open on Sundays – a rarity for most family-owned barbecue joints.

Speedy: One thing that’s a little different about Cook’s from most Lexington style joints is the variety of meats. In addition to pork, they have brisket, ribs, and sausage. As Monk and I do when we see lots of meat, we ordered it all. I opted to go with coarse chopped pork (for a change of pace), the ribs, and the brisket. Monk had the same order, but subbed sausage instead of brisket. We both had red slaw and some form of fried potatoes (tots or fries).

Monk: The table agreed that the sausage was the best meat that we tasted that day, though I don’t know where Cook’s gets its sausage from or whether its house made (I suspect its not). In any case, it’s good.

Speedy: Agree, and I will order it should I go back. The brisket surprised me. NC brisket is generally plain bad (I’ve sworn it off a time or two myself), but this stuff was decent. Not on par with anything I’ve had in Texas, but it was definitely passable.

Monk: I did read afterwards that its one of only two places in Lexington that even serves brisket, so its definitely an anomaly. The ribs were a bit overcooked and fell apart as soon as I attempted to pick up the rack. Not to mention they were overly slathered in a thick, sweet sauce. I would avoid.

Speedy: I didn’t care for the coarse pork. It was a mistake to order it that way. Monk enjoyed the fine chopped better. The sides were all good – particularly the hush puppies.

Monk: I had higher hopes for Cook’s being a hidden gem that might sneak into my personal best of NC list but perhaps my expectations were too high. While Speedy and I agreed that the meats were mostly above average, I don’t know that either of us will be going out of our way to make a special trip out to Cook’s Barbecue anytime soon, threat of Deliverance or not.

Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Ribs – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs
Cook's Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hill’s Lexington Barbecue – Winston-Salem, NC

: Hill’s Lexington Barbecue
Date: 11/24/17
Address: 4005 Patterson Ave, Winston-Salem, NC 27105
Order: Monk and Speedy: Chopped plate with red slaw, hush puppies, fries, and Cheerwine (link to menu)
Price: $30 (for two)

Monk: When Speedy and I stopped in at Hill’s Lexington Barbecue the day after Thanksgiving, we didn’t know we were stepping into a little bit of controversy – we just wanted to try a new barbecue joint. As should be well-known to longtime readers of the blog, Lexington-style barbecue is the favorite style of the bros (or at least I think that’s still the case for the Texan, Rudy). Well, Hill’s claims to be the first barbecue restaurant to be branded as “Lexington barbecue” and has done so since 1951. According to Jim Early in The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: Manteo to Murphy, “[a]t the time they opened there were a few small side street barbecues in Lexington operated by Stamey, Beck and Swicegood. But none called their barbecue place ‘Lexington Barbecue’.”

Speedy: Let’s first start with how we ended up at Hill’s. We used the excellent Great NC BBQ Map to find a joint that uses only wood coals close to our hometown of High Point that neither of us had ever been to. After a quick 25 minute drive in the Monk-mobile, we were walking into an old-timey joint that looks like it hasn’t much changed since the aforementioned 1951 date.

We quickly ordered and had our food within 3 minutes.

Monk: And we aren’t talking figuratively here, folks. We literally mean we had food within 3 minutes of ordering.

Speedy: The plate looked great – finely chopped pork, red slaw, and crinkle fries. We might as well have been in heaven. Digging in, I was treated to that nice smokey Lexington flavor I love (and miss in Tennessee). The pork was solid, though I think the ratio of ketchup to vinegar in the dip favored the ketchup a little too much. The pork was served with dip, and no extra was needed.

Monk: I agree that the dip was a little too much on the sweet side, but that’s a minor complaint. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have added more of the table side dip to the meat and just sprinkled it with Texas Pete.

Speedy liked the hush puppies more than me – they were a little more on the savory side of the spectrum – but again, not a huge negative. The red slaw was a classic example of a Lexington barbecue slaw and as is the best that can be hoped for, the fries were fries and didn’t ruin the meal.

Speedy: Similar to the meat, I thought the slaw was a little too sweet, but overall, that’s nitpicking the meal. This was definitely a classic Lexington-style meal. And while neither Monk nor I liked it as much as Lexington #1 or Stamey’s we both left Hill’s Lexington Barbecue feeling full and satisfied. I’m not sure what more you can ask for.

Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs
Hill's Lexington Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Improper Pig – Charlote, NC (RE-REVIEW)

Name: The Improper Pig
Date: 11/3/17
Address: 110 S Sharon Amity Rd Charlotte, NC 28211
Order: The Cotswold Platter with pulled pork and smoked andouille with asian slaw and collards (link to menu)
Price: $14.99

Monk: Back in late 2014, Speedy and I checked out The Improper Pig within a few weeks of it opening and found it somewhat promising but that they were perhaps still working out the kinks that come with opening a new restaurant. Fast forward nearly 3 years later, and to paraphrase former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green, they are who we thought they were.

The restaurant interior has changed a bit in the past 3 years. Whereas it used to be dimly lit (which I recall made it hard to take decent photos), the restaurant is now much brighter inside. I also think they have become popular with families with kids, so it would make sense not to have it so dark inside.

I didn’t take a peek into the open kitchen this time around, but I assume The Improper Pig is still using a Southern Pride gasser. Out of it, they are still able to coax some decently smoky meats – pork and andouille sausage this time around for me – but its still not quite there in order to be one of the better barbecue restaurants in Charlotte.

As was the case on our first visit, they still get creative with their sides and many have a slight asian bent. Mrs. Monk and I did try a southern egg roll, but the texture inside was mostly mushy as it is just sweet potato hash and collards inside with a drizzle of hot asian mustard. Certainly not as well executed as the southern egg rolls I’ve tried from The Pit in Raleigh. The asian slaw was more or less a small salad with ginger dressing, though, and I regretted ordering it just a tiny bit. The collards were fine but perhaps overly spicy. While the sides were the best part of the last meal years ago, they didn’t measure up on this visit.

So where does this land us? The restaurant is kid-friendly and I could see myself trying their brisket and ribs next time but I won’t necessarily be in a rush to make it back out. The Improper Pig is still a pretty good concept but yet again the execution isn’t quite there for me.

Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Sausage – 3 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs
The Improper Pig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge – Shelby, NC (solo Monk review)

: Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge
Date: 10/21/17
Address: 2000 E Dixon Blvd, Shelby, NC 28150
Order: Barbecue plate with red slaw, hush puppies, fries, and baked beans, Cheerwine (link to menu)
Price: $11.50

Monk: With all apologies to Speedy (who loves this place just as much, if not more than, me), our last visit and only review of Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge was over 4 years ago and it was time. In late October, my wife and in-laws roped me into going to the Livermush Festival in downtown Shelby with the promise of Red Bridges for lunch beforehand. And boy, did that promise work on me like a charm.

Last time, Speedy and I thought our visit would yield a slam-dunk 5 hog review but found a few nits to pick and rated it just below. I wondered in the review if it was the start of a trend but I am happy to report that it was an indeed an anomaly and everything on this visit was as good as ever. The chopped pork tray didn’t have as coarse a chop as last time and the table dip had the right consistency. Even the fries, a worrying blunder last time around, were as you would expect.

I must spend a few sentences to opine on the glory of the hush puppies. These large oblong goodies come by the basket full and are top 3 hush puppies for me, ever. They have a perfect mix of sweet and savory and combined with the crunch when they are provided fresh out of the fryer, they are a religious experience.

On this Saturday, Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge was doing steady business between seated customers and takeout orders. At times, the waiting for a table left customers spilling out of the small waiting area and out the door as well. I imagine Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge had seen this scene on a regular basis in their 70+ years on highway 74 in Shelby. And why not – a short wait to get a table is a small price to pay to get pretty much the perfect meal.

Atmosphere/ambiance – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 5 hogs
Sides – 5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs
Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Potbelly BBQ (food truck) (mini-review)

: Potbelly BBQ
Date: 10/7/17
Order: Chopped pork sandwich (link to menu)
Price: $5.95

Monk: Each fall, the Anne Springs Close Greenway in nearby Fort Mill hosts a Fall Frolic on weekends in October. Think tractor rides, pumpkin picking, horseback riding, barrel rides, hay jumping, etc.

Potbelly BBQ was one of a few food vendors set up on a misty Saturday morning and since I hadn’t had any breakfast by mid-morning I went for a sandwich but only a sandwich so as not to spoil my appetite for lunch with the rest of the family.

I stepped up to the window right as a fresh butt was being chopped and ordered a chopped sandwich, adding slaw. The pork was nicely smoked (and obviously fresh), but came with a thicker barbecue sauce on top, which wouldn’t have been my preference. Still, a very satisfying sandwich from Potbelly BBQ. Next time I see them around I’ll try their brisket.

Atmosphere – N/A
Pork – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Woodlands Barbecue and Pickin’ Parlor – Blowing Rock, NC

Name: Woodlands Barbecue and Pickin’ Parlor
Date: 9/15/17
Address: 8304 Valley Blvd, Blowing Rock, NC 28605
Order: “The Hog” (pork, beef, ribs, and wings) with red slaw and collards (link to menu)
Price: $19.99

Monk: Let me state for the record that visiting Woodlands Barbecue and Pickin’ Parlor (quite a mouthful, that name) in Blowing Rock was neither the choice of Speedy nor me on our annual guys trip. But of course, when our Yelp Elite friend Dan chose it based on friend’s recommendation, we happily obliged. Though, just how would a combination barbecue and mexican restaurant located in the mountains of NC actually turn out? Turns out: not bad but not great.

Speedy: I had passed Woodlands on my drive in, so was definitely intrigued. And seeing a cheap combo platter on the menu made me very happy. Not as happy as when the waitress asked us what college we went to, but happy nonetheless…

Monk: …doing work at 35, son!

Speedy: For our order, we went with “The Hog” – the smaller of the two combo plates, as we were told the bigger combo (“Pig Out”) was the same plus three more sides. Well, we were there for the meat, so that didn’t seem worth while to us. The hog came with pork, brisket (both chopped), ribs, and wings, so it was basically perfect. We added on red slaw and collards.

Monk: Seriously, what two people need six sides? This was the second time in three weeks that I’ve seen chopped or pulled beef on a menu as opposed to sliced brisket. The common denominator? Western NC mountain barbecue joints. A quick search doesn’t yield much information about this style of barbecue but anecdotally I recall hearing in my travels that this was a popular barbecue meat in the mountains of NC. As for this version of pulled beef…it was actually not bad! The pulled strands of beef were smoky and had a good texture. I’m curious as to what cut of beef this was pulled from, but it was in the running with the pork for the best meat of the meal.

Speedy: The ribs, on the other hand, were a bit of a miss. They were big slabs of spare ribs, and could have been trimmed to the St. Louis cut for a much better presentation. When we ordered, the waitress asked us if we wanted spicy or sweet, telling us spicy meant vinegar. Of course, that’s what we chose, thinking it was in context of the pork. Instead, our ribs had the vinegar sauce on it and it just didn’t work that well. The cook and the tenderness of the ribs were OK, but overall, (start Randy Jackson voice) they just didn’t do it for me, dawg.

Monk: These full wings were weird and required makeshift butcher work on our part to separate the drumette from the flat from the tip. The aforementioned spicy vinegar sauce didn’t work as a wing sauce but the other option was more of a KC Masterpiece-type thick sauce so really there were no good options. I simply did not care for them and would not recommend them as an order. None of the sides rose above standard and are worth mentioning.

Speedy: I actually do want to mention the sides, Monk, because the collards were terrible. Throw some pork or bacon in there, people! Overall, however, it was a mostly pleasant dining experience, despite the fact that we had to deal with an obnoxious Yelper while we were eating (Hi, Dan! Also, thanks for the photos!). Would I recommend as worthy of going out of your way to try? No way, but I’d consider stopping in at Woodlands Barbecue and Pickin’ again should I return back to Blowing Rock.

For more reviews:
Yelp God Daniel B

Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Beef – 2.5 hogs
Ribs – 2 hogs
Wings – 2 hogs
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs
Woodlands Barbeque Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato