Tucked away in a corner of central North Carolina, Siler City is a half-hour from Greensboro and any interstate highway, which makes Johnson’s Drive-In a destination lunch. Serving up burgers and fries since 1946, Johnson’s is a humble house that sits among chain fast-food joints on Highway 64 that crosscuts town. Inside, you’ll find a dozen counter stools and a handful of four-tops and, most likely, a long line of hungry customers. Open only for lunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the business closes when they run out of burgers—which happened to a patron’s son sitting next to me at the counter. “I knew I was cutting it close when I got here at 1:50 last summer,” he explained to me. “But I live in Florida and haven’t been able to return until today.” Continue reading
American barbecue is highly regional. True, barbecue has exploded across the country over the past decade and, when you venture beyond the traditional barbecue regions of America, the cuisine becomes a gallimaufry of styles. And that’s fine, especially since the regions identified by a particular style continue to hew to their traditions. Sure, it’s possible to find smoked brisket in North Carolina and pulled pork in Texas, but you’re far more likely to enjoy yourself if you sample the chopped whole hog pig in The Tar Heel State and get all greasy with smoked brisket and muscular beef sausage in The Lone Star State. Continue reading
They put tomatoes in the barbecue sauce in western North Carolina, but in the eastern part of the state you’ll find a thin, peppered, vinegar-based sauce. Ideally, the whole hog is cooked with wood or coals, and then hacked up and doused with some of that sauce for trays and sandwiches. Unfortunately, true, wood-cooked pork is becoming ever more rare in the Tar Heel State. Jared Brumbaugh, reporting for Public Radio East of eastern NC, visits three classic eastern Carolina barbecue pits that still do things the old-fashioned way. Continue reading
Pig liver, pig “head parts,” and cornmeal: cook them together into a thick porridge, season it just right, pour it into a loaf pan, and chill until the whole thing solidifies into a loaf. We assume Carolinians wanted to keep the dish to themselves when they called it livermush, a name which somehow manages to out-unappetize its Pennsylvania cousin scrapple. Don’t, however, be led astray by names — when livermush is sliced and fried, and served alongside eggs, or placed in a sandwich, as they do at the annual Liver Mush Festival in Marion, NC, you’ve got yourself a unique and flavorful taste of Americana (provided you appreciate the taste of liver). Continue reading
We’re certainly behind the curve on this news — the great Dixie Barbeque of Johnson City, Tennessee is closed permanently, and has been closed since the first of the year. Alan Howell simply decided to retire. It was no surprise – folks knew that December would be their final shot at his famous pulled pork and filled the place in record numbers all month. Today, there’s a “for sale” sign on the shuttered building. Mark Rutledge, writing for North Carolina’s Daily Reflector, mourns Dixie’s absence from his life: “Barbecue is not my religion, but if it were, Alan Howell . . . would be my preacher.”
Gotta admit, when we first started making regular visits to Tony Luke’s in South Philly in the early ’90s, we never imagined it would ever expand to a second Philadelphia outlet much less become franchised up and down the east coast. The roast pork Italian and Uncle Mike sandwiches had us thoroughly seduced, as did the very scruffy, bare-bones location, alongside a barbed wire encircled “parking area” beneath rumbling Interstate 95 next door. Continue reading
Pete Jones began smoking hogs over wood in Ayden, NC in 1947. The sorcery that combines hogs with the smoke from oak to produce whole-hog barbecue is still practiced today at Skylight Inn BBQ by three of Pete’s descendents, one of whom is his grandson Sam Jones. Today, there’s also chicken and a couple of sides and desserts but whole-hog Carolina barbecue is what it’s all about. When Sam Jones, who runs the pits at Skylight, became interested in expanding his offerings, he wisely chose not to tamper with Skylight’s success. Instead, he opened Sam Jones BBQ ten minutes away in Winterville. Continue reading
About a month ago, we posted the news that Charlotte, NC’s very popular gathering of about 14 food trucks, Food Truck Friday, would have a new home next spring, as their longtime spot was undergoing development. Well, there’s been a change in plans: yes, they still have to move, but they’ve changed their new home. They will open on April 1st at Sycamore Brewing, which organizers note is an ideal site, with plenty of space for the trucks and customers to park, picnic tables, and an expanse of lawn for picnicking. And, of course, there’s all that fresh-brewed beer to go with the food! Continue reading
Today, from 5 until 9 p.m., marks the final Food Truck Friday of the year in Charlotte, NC. What started about four years ago with a few trucks has maxed out at 14 food trucks and a secure place in the hearts and stomachs of Charlotte residents. The food trucks have gathered in a lot at the corner of West Park and South Tryon, in the Historic South End neighborhood, since the beginning, but the property has been sold and development is about to begin, requiring a change of venue. Continue reading
It seems to us that there’s more passion and disagreement over the subject of which barbecue joints reign supreme in the Carolinas than in any other barbecue-rich region of the country. Most everyone agrees on the identity of the major players in, say, Texas Hill Country and Memphis, but opinions range widely in the Tar Heel State. Which makes every media look at North Carolina Q more than a review of the usual suspects. Check out this story covering ten choice BBQ spots in North Carolina and see if you agree.
All you city slickers are probably wondering: what’s a thresher? It’s a piece of farm machinery that separates the kernel of a grain from the stalk. The Southeast Old Threshers’ Reunion claims to be “The Greatest Steam, Gas Engine & Antique Farm Show in the Southeastern U.S.” and we don’t doubt them. The part of the festival that intrigues us the most is the Tractor Ride, at $25/person. See, you drive the tractor! It’s not clear to us if they supply the tractor or you are supposed to bring your own. In any case, the ride comes with a t-shirt and lunch afterwards of BBQ pork or grilled chicken. Continue reading
Combine pig, hickory charcoal, and the High Country of North Carolina and what do you get? A 4th of July to remember, at the 47th Roasting of the Hog in Beech Mountain (the highest town in the United States east of the Rockies). The local fire department claims they’ve perfected their seasonings and charcoal blends over the years, to the point that they may just serve the finest barbecue in the High Country. Dinner (they do turkey as well as pork) is served from 6 until 8 p.m. and includes all the fixin’s, tea and lemonade, and even a Moon Pie for dessert! Continue reading
“[N]o Southern road trip itinerary brings more pleasure than a west-to-east trek across North Carolina.” So says Bill Addison, as he and two cohorts from Eater made that trip, sampling the fare from 26 restaurants, both rural and urban, along the way. They check out the two major regional styles of barbecue, fall for the Tar Heel State’s way with biscuits, and enjoy boiled peanuts elevated by the regions chefs into risottos and ragouts. Want “the best damn mac and cheese in the country”? It can be found as macaroni au gratin, made with cheddar, Jarlsberg, and Grano Padano, at Poole’s Diner of Raleigh. Essential reading for any LAF fan.
This past winter we popped into Frangelli’s Bakery in Philadelphia to try their donnoli — that’s a donut filled with cannoli cream. Alas, they were out, and we returned home with a fine selection of “regular” donuts, which included a dossant (like the trademarked Cronut). Little did we know at the time that their jelly donuts are a force to be reckoned with. Frangelli’s jellies were just named one of America’s top 12 donuts by The Huffington Post (full disclosure: the story’s writers are from Philly). Continue reading
The Waffle House has beckoned to us for years, decades even. We have a general aversion to chains, but a curiosity when it comes to regional chains. We’ve enjoyed Steak-N-Shake, Burgerville, Rubio’s fish tacos… not that we’d make a point of returning to most of them, but they were certainly worth the visit. The reason we’d never entered a Waffle House wasn’t that we actively avoided it but that there was always a better, independent option available, especially given their Southern locations. Continue reading
Can you eat shad at the 45th annual Grifton Shad Festival, one of North Carolina’s longest-running festivals? The answer to that question is not clear to us, and we’ve never attended the festival (though we’d much like to). You see, the Grifton Shad Festival is named in honor of the Hickory Shad, an ocean fish which swims up the local rivers each spring to spawn. Shad are edible, but the one that’s eaten is generally the American Shad. It’s very bony, but that can be dealt with. The Hickory Shad is bonier still, and many folks do not consider it edible. Continue reading
Sometimes the choice is a traditional old-timer, like Price’s Chicken Coop in Charlotte or Parker’s Barbecue in Wilson. Other times, local tradition isn’t part of the equation at all, like when the pick is Youssef 242 in Hickory or Taste of West Africa in Fayetteville. What were talking about is the new feature from the Charleston Food Bloggers, where they have chosen the best restaurant in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Have a look!
Garden & Gun is running a bracket competition between 32 Southern barbecue joints, covering pretty much all the regional traditions in Southern Q. We didn’t do the detailed work to know for sure but it appears that every Southern state is represented in some way, which is as it should be. First round voting is going on now. Our pick for most evenly matched first round battle: Kreuz of Texas vs. Craig’s of Arkansas. Biggest mismatch: Lexington of North Carolina and Chaps Pit Beef of Baltimore. We like pit beef just fine but we don’t see it lasting long among these heavyweights.
Here’s some exciting news for those with a passion for America’s culinary history. Workers renovating a part of Lexington (NC) City Hall were surprised to uncover a series of barbecue pits. Researchers have determined that the pits date to the early 1950s and belonged to Alton Beck, who ran Lexington’s first barbecue restaurant. The city has changed their renovation plans as they intend to preserve and highlight this important piece of city history. Lexington today is known across the country as one of the epicenters of great American barbecue. Read more on the uncovered barbecue pits here.