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

Linkdown: 8/21/23 – The Elliott Moss is Back Edition


Monk: Elliott Moss’ post-Buxton Hall Barbecue plans have been announced. While he had been busy with opening his latest concepts – the breakfast and lunch comfort food spot Regina’s in West Asheville as well as the sandwich shop Little Louie’s – for the past 13 months, he has seemingly left both less than six weeks after they opened.

With his newfound free time, it seems as if Moss wants to continue his barbecue journey. Enter, Moss & Moore.

According to Moss & Moore’s first Instagram post, the first chance to experience their barbecue will be on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend with their friends The Hound.

Moss & Moore will also be hitting the road throughout the southeast this fall as well:

  • September 29-October 1 in St. Simon’s Island, GA for Fire Box Soul
  • October 22 in Atlanta with Oyster South
  • October 28 in Dallas with Cattle Ack BBQ
  • November 11 at Holy Smokes Barbecue Festival in Charleston

Moss is also exploring his family history on the Moss & Moore Instagram page through a set of reels, which is well worth checking out. Glad to see Elliott Moss back in the barbecue game.

Native News

The Tar Heel Traveler’s latest is with Raleigh man Carter Claiborne, who is on a mission to eat barbecue in all 100 NC counties

Firehawk Brewpub with a primer on the unique way they do ribs

Sam Jones BBQ’s next BBQ & Bourbon dinner will be September 12th in Raleigh

Non-Native News

The story from Daniel Vaughn’s jaunt through South Carolina and Georgia a few weeks back

Congrats to Courtney’s BBQ, which opened their doors 24 years ago this week

Little Miss BBQ will not be expanding after all

Eater checks in on the rapidly developing Houston barbecue scene

Philly Bite Magazine with a brief primer on Virginia-style barbecue

Congrats to Columbus B. Hill, the first Coloradan inducted into the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame

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

Legitimate Eastern North Carolina Barbecue in Portland? Maine?

Name: Wilson County Barbecue
Date: 6/3/23
Address: 82 Hanover St Suite 8, Portland, ME 04101
Order: Two barbecue plates, one full rack of ribs plate, order of wings, pork belly burnt ends with collards, beans, mac and cheese, slaw, hush puppies, order of biscuits, fries (link)
Pricing: $$

Rudy: It’s been a while since all three Barbecue Bros had been together and been able to do a review together. But more importantly, it had been so long since I have had decent barbecue. Since moving to western Michigan, the opportunities are limited to say the least. So of course the place that we needed to go to try true authentic North Carolina barbecue was…Maine?

Monk: Despite its Maine locale, Wilson County Barbecue does have some barbecue bonafides. It’s been loved by both John Shelton Reed and friend of the blog John Tanner and has been certified as a True Cue joint meaning it smokes over wood with no gas or electric assistance, as evidenced by the sticker in the front door. Owner/operator Spencer Brantley’s family originally hails from Wilson County, NC (hence the name) and they’ve even got a “Grady’s passed-down sauce” dressing their whole hog barbecue (from the legendary Grady’s Barbecue joint in Dudley). 

And did I mention that they smoke whole hogs over direct heat in a pig cooker from BQ Grills from Elm City, NC? Throw in the “Hot Biscuits Now” fluorescent sign apparently created by the same guy who does the Krispy Kreme “Hot N Now” signs for good measure, and these North Carolina boys definitely had to check this place out during our most recent annual trip for sure.

Speedy: At Wilson County Barbecue, you order at the counter and are given a number which is called when the food is ready. Our large group was fairly unorganized, so approached the counter without knowing our order – apparently a big no-no. We were asked to go sit at a table and figure out our order and come back despite being the only customers who had yet to order. The staff was polite, but it felt a little like a Seinfeld episode (no whole hog for you!). Anyway, after organizing ourselves, we put in an order to include whole hog, ribs, pork belly burnt ends, and sides, along with some wings. We walked to the counter to grab our food and were ready to dig in. 

Rudy: The whole hog was the best option of all the foods we had, in my opinion. Again, because it had been some time since I had enjoyed good pulled pork, I had to confirm with others that I wasn’t hyping it up more than it deserved. The thing that I loved about it was that it was true eastern North Carolina whole hog. It had the vinegar sauce mixed in, which gave it a great tangy flavor that didn’t overwhelm the meat, and allowed the smoke flavor to come through. After everyone took a sampling, I made sure I finished off the leftovers.

Monk: As Rudy and Speedy are well aware, the camera eats first and while I was taking snaps of the food I thought to myself just how unphotogenic pork can be. Luckily, looks don’t really matter all that much when the whole hog is as authentically eastern NC as it is here.

Speedy: Agree with everything said above. The whole hog was the star of the show. The ribs had good flavor but were a bit over cooked, as the meat slid totally off the bone and was a little mushy for me. Several in our party (aka those WITHOUT barbecue blogs) love the “fall off the bone ribs” so everyone’s mileage may vary. Still, seasoning and sauce was on point, so props to Wilson County on the flavor.

Rudy: I liked the flavor of the ribs and agreed with the overcooked part, but my other complaint was the amount of sauce on them. I think it is a personal preference, so I wouldn’t dock them too many points, but sometimes I feel like the sauce is overcompensating a bit for the cook. The part of the meal that I liked the most (other than the pork) was the pork belly burnt ends. Great flavor and very tender, the fat was rendered perfectly. There weren’t many to go around to our big group, so the one that I got, I really enjoyed.

Speedy: The pork belly burnt ends were very good. Saucy, tender, and with just the right amount of bark. Besides the whole hog, this was probably my favorite part of the meal.

Monk: Carbs-wise, the hush puppies and biscuits were a highlight, both fresh and on point from a texture perspective. I found the beans, mac and cheese, and slaw to be standard and the collards in need of a little more vinegar. Nothing egregious, but the bread options were my favorite part of the meal. 

Rudy: I know that several people in our group didn’t care for the sides and thought they were bland, but the bite of greens that I had were good. Maybe they weren’t consistent for people that had more than the one bite that I had, but I didn’t mind it. If a barbecue restaurant is going to be lacking in anything, I am ok with them lacking on sides as opposed to meat.

Before we left, Monk introduced himself to the manager. It was more of a “nice to meet you” instead of a “do you know who I am?” but either way, he offered to let our group try a couple of the desserts for free.  Even though we were given them for free, I will not let that impact my review. I cannot be bribed with free food (although I welcome any restaurant to try)! We had both the key lime pie and the banana pudding. The key lime pie was really good and had a great graham cracker crust. I was looking forward to the banana pudding most and was slightly disappointed. The flavor was great but the pudding had not fully set and was soupy.  I think it could have been as good as the key lime pie, if not better, but the pudding was too runny for me.

Monk: Shout out to Dickie for the desserts and to reiterate, while they were good and we appreciated the gesture they did not affect our review or ratings. 

It’s always a big occasion when all three Barbecue Bros founding members are in the same place for a barbecue review. Thankfully, in Portland, Maine of all places, Wilson County Barbecue’s whole hog lived up to the hype. That barbecue would comfortably sit in the upper tiers of any eastern NC whole hog rankings and I’m glad we were able to visit shortly after the 11th anniversary of this blog.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Pork (whole hog) – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Pork Belly Burnt Ends – 4 hogs
Wings – 3 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs