During my year in North Carolina, I decided to educate my Yankee taste buds on the state barbecue and road food. I know this is somewhat following the footsteps of other NC trips on these boards, but I thought my little adventure might be of some interest. I'll post over the next couple of days, as I have kind of a lot of pictures, ranging from Lexington, The Triangle, Eastern NC, and a little Road Trip.
Lexington and points west. The first town anyone mentions to me when discussing the NC barbecue subject. My first stop here – the Visitor Information Center in downtown Lexington, where they have a *very* handy map of the area with all of the barbecue restaurants highlighted on it. Lexington is a maze of criss-crossing twisty highways – I recommend the map highly. It’s hard to get a picture of it, but here’s the map. Note the list of 21 barbecue restaurants at the bottom.
My three selections in Lexington were: Smokey Joe’s, Smiley’s, and Backcountry Barbecue.
My first sample of North Carolina barbecue pork, ever. Chopped Sandwich with fries and a drink for $3.99. My question is how in the hell the fast food establishments like McD’s do business in this town… If I lived here and get a delicious sandwich plate like this for $3.99, McD’s would never see my face. Ever. (They don’t see it much now, but really.)
The Chopped Sandwich has the barbecue slaw right on the sandwich, which I really like. The barbecue slaw is mixed with the same flavors of the barbecue sauce (or “dip” if I learned my terms correctly) as the chopped pork, but the crunchy texture of the slaw is perfect with the pork. The fries were nothing to write home about, but they were freshly cooked and hot.
Exterior of Smokey Joe’s. This was the only place where I forgot to ask if they were wood or gas. It being prime-time lunch hour, I didn’t want to wander in the way of the drive-thru looking for piles of wood.
Genuine wood-smoked. Chopped Plate with slaw and hush puppies. Their “dip” is a little sweeter (but not overly sweet), and the slaw was more peppery/vinegary. The two balanced each other out quite well, so I ate the slaw and pork together on every forkful. I didn’t mean to eat the whole plate but I did anyway. The pork had more crispy/smoky bits of skin chopped in it, which I liked as well. The little bits are called “browns”, I think?
Smiley’s from the outside:
When I was taking pictures of the exterior, the cook came out wondering what I was doing (I should have asked first… rude of me). He was nice enough to bring me inside and show me the smoker ovens – unfortunately they had finished smoking pork for the day but the smokers were impressive nonetheless. The fireboxes for the smokers were outside and they had huge stacks of wood getting ready for the next day.
My favorite among the Lexington-style establishments I tried. Wood-smoked as well. I tried the Coarse Chopped Sandwich and found that’s the style I like the best, rather than the finer chop of the first two places. Their “dip” is a little zippier and more tomatoey than that of the other places I tried. I liked it so much that I got a pound of the coarse chopped to take home with me. The only con of Backcountry Barbecue in my eyes was the lack of counter seating - I like to sit at the counter and chat with the waitstaff.
I had the sandwich with a side of banana pudding. Look at that pork spilling out of the sandwich! I was stuffed to the brim by the time I even arrived at Backcountry Barbecue, but I ate the whole thing anyway, and took the banana pudding home with me to eat later.
Backcountry Barbecue is further away from town than the others (and in Linwood, not Lexington) but fairly easy to get to from I-85. I’d tell you it’s across from a furniture plant and next to a gas station, but that wouldn’t really distinguish the destination very much.
Other things to do in Lexington while you’re waiting for the pig to digest (the people at the Visitor Center are very friendly and will sit & chat with you about your interests)…
Downtown has a nice Main Street with painted pigs in a lot of the store windows (similar to the painted cows that were on display in downtown Chicago). My favorite: the “Pig Cadillac”:
Downtown also has the Candy Factory, which has a great selection of novelty candies. Here’s my selection (which got a little warm in the NC July heat):
Clockwise from top: a mixed bag of wrapped candies, malted milk balls, butterscotch bars (think Mounds bars covered in butterscotch instead of chocolate), and zagnuts. Zagnuts are crispy little candies of joy that I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered until now – like the inside of a Butterfinger (no chocolate coating) but flakier and with a more peanutty/coconutty taste. I was also tickled by the wrapped Squirrel Nut Zipper candies, which I had heretofore thought were only a retro/swing band.
Last, there’s also a fairly new winery outside of town (Childress) that made for a nice respite from the heat. The wine wasn’t memorable enough for me to want to buy it and figure out a way to protect it from the heat while I was eating barbecue, but good enough to be a refreshing barbecue interlude. I think Childress was a stock car driver – the bottles are decorated with the checkered flag. Am I displaying NASCAR ignorance, or what?
Next stop: The Triangle.
Edited by viva, 27 April 2008 - 06:52 PM.