Long review of a great new BBQ joint (Chapel Hill, NC)
First of all, while I am a Chowhound I am not (by virtue of only having lived in California and New York) a BBQ hound... but my husband is and I think the meal we had yesterday would qualify as first-rate chow anywhere from coast-to-coast.
(A message from my husband: The Barbecue Joint is Eastern Carolina style and can go head-to-head against Mitchell's and Pete Jones Skylight Inn and beats Allens & Sons hands down)
I'd first heard about the Barbecue Joint from my husband. He was going down to the Chapel Hill area for business and eager to revisit all his favorite BBQ places (he'd lived here for 12 years and lamented the lack of decent Q in New York). But the place he talked about the most when he returned was not Allen & Sons, it was a new place called the Barbecue Joint. He raved about the pulled pork but said--unusually for a BBQ joint--the sides were amazing as well.
I'm a little dubious about his culinary sensibilities so I reserved judgement 'til I could try it for myself. A month later, he had to come back down for a quick weekend and I came with him. We arrived well after midnight so we planned our expedition for lunchtime the next day. We spent the morning judiciously, going to the gym and eating a light breakfast so we could indulge to our hearts content... and we did.
There were 4 in our group: me, my hubbie, a friend from NYC and a local friend who is a non-strict vegetarian--meaning she doesn't pick the bacon out of the veggie dishes but doesn't eat the BBQ. She had a crabcake sandwich and the rest of us had platters of pulled pork with a light vinegary slaw, sweet homemade pickles, and cornbread. We also ordered a slew of slides--in descending order of deliciousness--beer baked beans, chopped brussel sprouts sauteed in the BBQ joint's home-cured bacon, green beans treated to the same delicious condition, fried green tomatoes, cucumbers served with hot chili and lime juice (a countribution, I'm thinking of the Mexican help behind the counter but also the perfect palate clenser between each rich morsel), fried squash, rice and beans, and broccoli in cheese sauce.
If you're thinking that's a lot of food, you're right. We had a booth but had to pull up a table next to us to have room for all our dishes. Fortunately, we were there at 2:30pm on a week day so we could spread out to our leisure. And how was it? A chowhound's dream. The combination of the rich, smoky, tender pork doused with the tangy, vinegary sauce and the fresh crunchy slaw was pure eating heaven. I believe that we were eating for a solid hour, only pausing to say: we're never going to finish all of this--but, except for the bland broccoli and the oversalted rice and beans--ate every single bite and moved onto dessert... but more on that in a bit.
The baked beans, sprouts, and green beans were all cooked with that insanely delicious bacon and the greens were cooked to perfection. Thick, smoky, and perfectly peppered, the bacon is a dream but what rocked my world was that the spouts and beans weren't overcooked and soggy. They were toothsome yet tender in a way I didn't know vegetables in the south could be. Similarly, you could actually taste the tomato tang underneath the crackling cornmeal crust of the fried green tomatoes--it wasn't just another breaded greasebomb. And, as I said earlier, the chili & lime-juice drenched cukes refreshed my palate between all the other salty, beautifully fatty dishes.
With so many fantastic sides, the fried squash was ok but nothing special while the broccoli--which I must confess I didn't even nibble--looked tough and the rice and beans were so salty that our vegetarian commented more than once that she was tempted to exchange her ice tea for beer.
(A message from my husband, the ice-tea drinker: it was perfectly sweetened. Not over-loaded with sugar the way most Q joints serve it.)
Now, I'd better head on to dessert. My favorite kind of dessert is fruit pie but since it's March, there's not a lot of fresh fruit out there but there were some very tasty treats on the menu. We ordered, again in order of deliciousness: Shaker lemon pie, pecan pie, Key lime pie, and bannana pudding with peanut butter. I had never had Shaker lemon pie and was intrigued by the whole chunks--rind and all--of lemon. I sat there trying to figure out how it was made and the best I can determine is that the lemon chunks are somehow pickled in a sugary solution and then baked in a two crust shell. The crust was a little tough by my reckoning but with a filling like that, I was willing to overlook it. The pecan pie crust, however, was all flaky buttery goodness and the pecans--I'm suspecting--were roasted before they were gently laid across the molasses-rich filling. The key lime pie was delicious with a very crumbly graham cracker crust but, again, couldn't compete for my attention against the other two. The bannana-peanut butter pudding wow-ed my husband but I felt like there was something missing. I know it's a cliche but maybe Nilla wafers would've given it the contrasting element it needed.
Now, as you may imagine, when four people tuck into a meal like we just did, it attracts some attention. (Especially because during the time we were waiting for our food to arrive, your truly had her nose pressed up against the refrigerator case where there were vacuum sealed packages of their homemade bacon, andouille sausage, tasso, bratwurst, AND smoked trout and duck confit.) So while were sitting there picking our teeth, Damon--one of the cooks--came over and offered us samples of the trout and their pastrami (they offer it in something on the menu called a Redneck Reuben). I buy smoked trout just about every week in the summer from a stand in the Union Square farmer's market and, let me tell you, this gives them a serious run for the money. The pastrami was lean and smoky and--to my mind--a little more like country ham than pastrami but truly delicious just the same.
BTW--the cost of our meal: 3 platters, a crabcake sandwich, 9 sides, 4 desserts, and 3 ice teas wound up being just on the far side of $50. And we were too stuffed to eat dinner.
We left there just a little bit dazed but happy because we found out that they are going to launch a website where I can order their meats AND because they're going to be up in NYC to cater a wedding in May and, if the timing is right, we'll be able to convince them to cater another little party for us and all our friends who didn't have the good fortune to chow down with us.
So where is this mecca? The Barbecue Joint is on 630 Weaver Dairy Road which I've been told it's out of the way by Chapel Hill standards but it was just a 20 minute car-ride from our friend's apartment in Carborough and for a true chowhound like me, that's the blink-of-an eye.
We love the barbeque joint! One evening, just sitting there enjoying our wonderful meal, my husband said "isn't that the guy on Food TV". I looked, said no way, looked again, and it was Anthony Bourdain! You know, the guy that wrote Kitchen Confidential and Cooks Tour books, had the Cooks Tour show on for about a year (now showing late nights) and former chef at Les Halles in New York City. He was standing about 4 feet from where I was sitting, so I started talking with him and he sat down for about 10 minutes and talked with us about his show and books. And, of course, we all know that Rachel Ray filmed "Forty Dollars a Day" at the Barbecue Joint back several months ago.
I am the 'cue-hound hubbie in question. I have eaten at over twenty barbecue restaurants in NC, and more than once have driven several hours to visit a famous spot . Very, very few of the jernts I've sampled come even close to the deliciousity of the Barebcue Joint in Chapel Hill. If you worship the pig, then go, go, go!