Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que – Holly Hill, SC

Name: Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que
Address: 1427 Eutaw Rd, Holly Hill, SC 29059
Order: Barbecue sandwich with hash and rice and banana puddin’ (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Holy crap, you guys. I mean, holy crap. Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que has been on my list for a few years now, considering how I tend to get to Charleston a couple times a year and Holly Hill is not super out of the way if you are willing to take the scenic route off I-26 just east of Columbia around Orangeburg. Based on my visit, its a detour well worth taking.

Sweatman’s has been around since 1977 and according to Grant’s story over at Marie, Let’s Eat! in 2016, the current owners Mark and Lynn Behr bought the restaurant from their friends and original owners Bub and Margie Sweatman in 2011. Thankfully, it appears they have continued the practice of cooking whole hogs over coals for 12-14 hours.

As this was going to be a late afternoon snack, I did not opt for the full buffet line, instead ordering a a sandwich with a side of hash and rice. The waitress obviously sensed a weakness for ‘naner pudding in me by suggesting I also get it, but it wasn’t too much of a stretch considering its only $1.50 with tax.

The main building of Sweatman’s appears to have had a larger dining room added onto it at some point over the years, and that thing was like stepping back into the 80’s in the south but in the best way.

I bit into my barbecue sandwich and darnit if it wasn’t a near transcendent bite of barbecue. The wood smoke shone through each bite and was accentuated by the sweet and tangy mustard barbecue sauce. This was different than almost every other midlands South Carolina mustard-based barbecue sandwich I’ve had where the shredded pork is drowning in the sauce. The sauce here still let the wood smoke be the star and was content to act as a supporting actor.

The hash and rice was the co-star, if my forced metaphor hasn’t begun to completely break down yet. I’ve only had one other “200 mile” hash and rice before and that was at True BBQ in West Columbia. This was on par with that. I still don’t have the vocabulary to properly describe hash and rice, but this savory-gravy-over-rice-dish is a must-order at Sweatman’s.

Briefly about that banana pudding – it was quite simply one of the best naner puddings I’ve had ever. I wish I had gotten at least 2 more for the rest of the weekend (slash the rest of my meal). What a capper to the meal.

Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que is absolutely worth the detour but be aware that its only open two days a week on Fridays and Saturdays. So be sure to plan your pilgrimage accordingly.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 5 hogs
Sides – 5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs

For other reviews of Sweatman’s, check out
Marie, Let’s Eat!
Destination BBQ

Sweatman's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Central BBQ – Memphis, TN (Downtown)

Name: Central BBQ
Date: 5/16/19
Address: 147 E Butler Ave, Memphis, TN 38103
Order: Rib combo with brisket, pork, collards, chips (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: I should have listened to Speedy…

Speedy: …a lesson you can never learn often enough…

Monk: Actually, to be more precise, I should have consulted Speedy’s review of the original Central BBQ location to help figure out my order and that specifically I shouldn’t have ordered the brisket. To not bury the lede, I found the rest of the meal a bit underwhelming as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself….

This year for the Memphis in May Barbecue Championship (aka Barbecue Fest), I wanted to actually go to a Memphis barbecue restaurant (or two) outside of the festival. So first things first, as soon as we (our current neighbors and former Memphis residents, Mrs. Monk, and I) landed we headed to Central BBQ’s downtown location for a late lunch before checking into our our AirBnB. And by downtown, this Central BBQ is directly across the street from the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and where the National Civil Rights Museum is currently located.

We waited in a brief line to place an order and then proceeded to the open air patio. It was already a hot day in Memphis, but the indoor dining room was still pretty packed for lunch. Usually a good sign.

I’ll start with the ribs, the meat that Speedy gave 5 hogs in his review and called “without hesitation that these were the best ribs [he’s]  ever had…These are ribs that I’m going to dream about.” So, clearly the highest of praise from a man who knows his way around a rib. I…did not find them to be anywhere near that good. They were the best of the 3 meats I tried, but definitely not among the best ribs I’ve ever had. Not even close, really. I went for the dry rub ribs and while they were tender enough, I found them to be a bit bland, taste-wise.

The pulled pork was a bit dry and a slight notch below the just average ribs. It absolutely needed sauce and I wondered if it could have been from the previous day.

Now, the brisket. Or rather, the thinly sliced, dry roast beef-like meat served instead of brisket. Had I read Speedy’s review, surely I would have heeded his advice: “It was dry and lacked flavor, so just don’t order it, k?” So reader, don’t be like Monk and order the brisket. Listen to your friend Speedy, he’s a cool dude.

The collards were disappointing to Mrs. Monk (the collards aficionado), and I couldn’t agree more. The chips were recommended by our neighbors but I wished we had gone with a more classic barbecue side than a standard house made crunchy chip.

Speedy: In talking to Monk about his experience, I was disappointed to hear it. I myself am still a frequent visitor to Central BBQ, usually focusing on the ribs and wings. I don’t think I’ve had an experience as bad as Monk describes, but I have noticed some variability among visits. I also have concerns that the expansion of the restaurant (now open in four locations, with another opening in Nashville this year) has allowed quality to suffer. That said, its the most common barbecue joint I visit in Memphis (partly due to location, but also because I’ve had good experiences more often than not).

Monk: I was quite disappointed with Central BBQ and unfortunately, this would be the only Memphis joint I got to this weekend. I know Memphis has great barbecue joints and someday I’ll get to more of them (looking at you, Payne’s!).

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Brisket – 1 hog
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

Central BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Buddy’s Bar-B-Que – Belmont, NC

Name: Buddy’s Bar-B-Que
Date: 3/29/19
Address: 5945 Wilkinson Blvd, Belmont, NC 28012
Order: Pulled pork sandwich, hush puppies, and Cheerwine (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Buddy’s Bar-B-Que is an unheralded Monday-to-Friday, breakfast-and-lunch-only barbecue joint off Highway 74 in Belmont. I only stumbled upon it within the past year because my parents moved to Belmont, a small town 12 miles west of Charlotte across the Catawba River, about a year and a half ago. But based on its shack-like, no frills exterior, I had hopes that it could be a hidden gem.

Chances are, if you are going to Buddy’s you are going for takeout. They do have one small table inside but otherwise, the building is pretty much all order counter and kitchen. A small smokehouse sits out back, and promisingly has piles of wood littering the area around the building. Husband and wife co-owners Buddy and Debbie Cunningham also run a catering business when the restaurant isn’t open, and based on the army of mobile smokers in the parking lot, a seemingly successful one at that.

In terms of barbecue, Buddy’s only serves a couple items with the rest being burgers, dogs, breakfast as well as some regional specialties like chuckwagon or country ham. The large chopped pork sandwich comes with a choice of red or white slaw, which I always like to see, plus hush puppies. Buddy’s thankfully carries Cheerwine (as well as Sun Drop) so my decision was a pretty easy one to make. After a few minutes wait, I took my bag out to the parking lot and plopped it on my back trunk.

The sandwich was large and perhaps a bit too big as it fell apart under the weight of the red slaw and pork after a few bites. I ended up having to pick up the fallen chunks from the wrapper with my hands, but I shouldn’t complain too much about too much food. Still, what was left of the the intact sandwich was a pretty darn good one, with the wood smoke shining through in the pork. Next time, I’ll opt for the hopefully more manageable small sandwich and just get a second if I’m extra hungry.

I imagine the wait for my food was largely due to the freshly fried hush puppies, and that’s a wait I’ll gladly do again. They were still warm as I took them out of the bag, and there’s not too much better than a freshly fried, perfectly balanced hush puppy.

So after a little more than a year of trying to make it to Buddy’s Bar-B-Que, I ended up pretty satisfied with the meal I had. If you happen to find yourself in the small mill town of Belmont during the week for lunch, give them a try.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs 

Buddy's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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.