CT to Charleston - Trip Report (long)
Left CT for Charleston mid-day on Sunday. I had decided to take the inland route south I95 is not a civilized road to travel, imho. Left I81 at Winchester, VA and wound my way down the back roads to Rt 29 through Charlottesville to Lynchburg. This is a great route, really scenic and not much traffic. The sun was setting over the Blue Ridge as I approached Lynchburg. Just before I hit town, I was hit with an amazing smell that had to be bbq! Couldnt find the source, but later research suggests it must have been The Silver Pig firing up their pits for the following days cue. Not much in the way of chow to be had after 9pm in Lynchburg on a Sunday night.
Set off on Monday morning with Lexington BBQ as my lunchtime destination. Thanks to Bob Ws postings on the place, I had no trouble finding it. My timing was perfect, and I was able to secure a seat at the counter between two regulars. Five minutes later, the line was out the door.
I ordered a sandwich, hushpuppies, and tea from Wayne Monck himself. The bbq was moist and tasty, but not much smokiness to it. I liked the red slaw, a little sweet, quite spicy, and good vinegar edge. The hushpuppies were amazing, delicate, almost fluffy texture with perfectly fried crust; I couldnt stop eating them. The dip (sauce) here is spicy with black pepper and is nicely balanced. Fresh peach cobbler for dessert that was close to perfect and didnt need the generic vanilla ice cream slice served with it. Someone next to me was having smoked/grilled turkey on a salad, which is evidently another specialty of the house. They smoke the turkeys with the pork shoulders, then slice and grill the meat to order. While the food here is delicious, its the overall experience that really elevates the place. Everyone, from the customers to the people working there, seems happy to be there! They take a genuine interest in your experience as well. One gentleman asked my destination, and when I said Charleston, he began scribbling directions and a restaurant recommendation on a napkin for me. Someone on my other side had a breakfast/lunch place he said I had to try. I left with a quart of takeout q they even have styrofoam coolers for you if you dont come prepared! Highly recommended.
Unfortunately, my stay in Charleston did not have many chow highlights, as I was visiting extreme non-hound relatives. However, the recommendations that I had received from the folks at Lexington BBQ were for shrimp & grits at 82 Queen, and breakfast or lunch at Café Café. Instead, I had badly cooked, frozen seafood at a place called Gilligans outside of town, a platter of 50 chicken wings flavored 10 different ways with a bucket of beer at Wild Wings on Market street (kinda gross and over run with college guys), and some stale desserts served by an unpleasant waitress at a place that specializes in desserts also on Market Street. The name escapes me. Oh well the trip was about seeing family. I did get to the Rosebank Farm Market on the road to Kiawah, thanks to another recommendation on this board. Picked up peaches, okra, tomatoes, yukon gold taters, figs, and butter beans, and an added chow bonus. There is a Mexican couple that shows up daily around 10 am and sells food out of the back of their truck. The day I was there, they had beef & bean tostadas, and a delicious chicken mole with rice. I think I spent $5 for the best meal I had in Charleston!
Return trip I decided to brave I95 at least part of the way, because I wanted to try Eastern NC bbq. My first stop was D&H BBQ in Manning, just before noon. I think they must smoke the meat off site, because I saw no sign of cooking meat there. The cue was okay, not great, but they do have some pretty tasty sides yams, collards, mac & cheese. You can drive thru here as well, and it sure beats chain food!
Next stop was Wilburs in Goldsboro. Had another sandwich to go, and picked up a quart of cue, some slaw and their bottled sauce. My cooler was getting pretty full at this point! Delicious cue, with a nice smoky edge, and great pork flavor. Hands down my favorite slaw, the eastern yellow variety, very well balanced sweet to acid, and not chopped too fine. The hushpuppies were like chewy packing peanuts and not worth mentioning. The sauce wasnt particularly complex, but pretty tasty anyway.
My last barbecue stop was Pete Jones Skylight Inn. What a place! You have to go off the beaten path to get here (well, there is a pretty well-beaten path, but it is quite a haul off 95), through the historic district of the small town of Ayden, and then through a much less affluent area. The Inn looks like an old drive in, with a big rotunda on the roof and an American flag. There is a farmstand in the parking lot, and a pen full of turkeys out back next to the enormous wood pile. No shortage of ambiance here. This is no frills, serious barbecue. The two older gentlemen behind the counter are gruff, and theres really no menu to speak of. Its cue sandwich or cue to go. I was there towards dinner time, and all the locals were coming in to get their takeout for the evening. You pay extra for you takeout if you want it in deli containers instead of paper trays. The cue is pretty coarsely chopped from the whole pig, with lots of skin and chewy bits. Great smokiness, probably my favorite of the trip. The sauce is simple, but meat like this doesnt need a lot of additional flavor. The slaw was pretty finely chopped, and a tad on the sweet side. Cornbread was yuk. I fed it to some chickens down the road.
I had planned a final stop in DC at Kaz Sushi Bistro the following day, but the horrors of 95 drove me back inland. There are some great farm stands north of Gettysburg, and I picked up shiro plums, blueberries (that tasted like blueberries), and collards. Needless to say, we had some serious feasting when I got home! Pork barbecue also freezes surprisingly well, if you cant manage to eat 3-4 quarts in a week!
Thanks to all the recs on these boards for helping me enjoy some great spots.
Wendy: thanks for a great report. Just a couple of comments. (Nothing to add about Lexington BBQ, except maybe that their coarse outside (AKA brown) meat might
truly be the apotheosis of barbecue.)
1. The shrimp and grits at 82 Queen are indeed excellent. Glad to see my taste buds jibe with a denizen of Lexington BBQ. However, the McClellanville crabcakes at 82 Queen I found to be just ok. While SC is a big, big source of blue crabs (there's a good chance the crabs you'll crack in Baltimore come from SC), once you've had 'cakes in B'more you're begging for disappointment if you order them elsewhere.
2. D&H BBQ is in Manning, South Carolina. It's a good convenient stop for SC 'cue, including good hash, and a local fave, barbecued turkey.
3. Wilber's is also known for the best banana pudding around.
4. You nailed Jones' Barbecue. It's 'cue for aficionados. Some do find it too chewy. But that miniature Capitol Rotunda is worth the extra miles.
5. Not only does 'cue freeze extremely well, so does slaw! For months! We were frankly amazed.
re: Bob W.
Thanks for you comments, Bob. I had scribbled lots of little notes from various posts before my trip (as I covertly searched the site during free moments at work), but I see that I definitely missed some things, like banana pudding at Wilbur's and hash at D&H. Next time! I also won't miss the shrimp & grits, non-chowhound family members be damned!
Having relatives near Charleston is going to be a great excuse to get in the car try all the barbecue spots en route. Your past posts have given me lots of fodder for future trips. Everyone thinks I'm crazy to to the drive (especially alone), but the dividends are huge, chow-wise.
Have you tried Bum's in Ayden? I noticed it on my way out of town from Skylight, but I was so stuffed by then that I didn't stop.
re: wendy jackson
Hmmm. Bum's is a new one on me. Time to do some more research! I wish those Glovebox guys would put out their NC guide already.
Wilber's nanner puddin' is a special, and not available every day. In fact, it may be a one-day-a-week special. We didn't get to try it either. :>(
Has anyone just gone to the Yahoo yellow pages and pulled up all the barbecue joints around a town in NC? I've tried that for Raleigh and Charlotte and got dozens of names that I've never heard of. There must be some hidden gems in there.