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Kings and Sweatmans: BBQ Roadtrip Notes

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I've been traveling up and down the East Coast this summer and had the chance to try two highly regarded institutions: Kings BBQ in Petersburg VA and Sweatman's in Holly Hill SC.

Kings was a pleasant surprise, especially as it's so conveniently located just off the I-95/I-85 juncture, about two hours south of D.C. The cue itself was a bit dry, but the biscuits, puppies, and slaw were fine, and the fried chicken may have been the best I've ever eaten. It was at once absolutely crisp and absolutely juicy. I would call this a worthy destination joint on the basis of the fried chicken alone. We were so stuffed after the fried chicken that we could not even contemplate dessert, which was a shame because the waitress highly recommended the homemade apple pie. The service could not have been more outgoing and friendly.

Sweatman's, which may be the most famous BBQ joint in the South, was a bit of a disappointment. The ribs were served in an appealing mustard-based sauce, but the meat itself was intermittently dry and tough. The chopped cue was completely uninteresting and by our local North Carolina standard fairly sub-par. The meat-gravy and rice, evidently a renowned dish, was unusual and tasty: a nice side. The banana pudding was lame even by the standards of Jello/Nilla confectionary, and I don't much see the appeal of sliced supermarket white bread as an accompaniment, however traditional this may be.

I enjoyed the meal overall, but Sweatman's, as far as I could gauge, is not as special as legend makes it out to be. I would issue a serious warning to cue-lovers contemplating a cross-country pilgrimage to Sweatman's. On the day I visited, at least, it was really not worth more than a 25-mile detour.

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