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Jun 30, 2009 07:59 AM

Righteous Indigestion

After two tours in Afghanistan, my brother is leaving the service and coming home (safely!). Its time to celebrate. He is being discharged from central California and we are driving back home to Baltimore together.

We have ~5 days to drive cross country and find the delicious. We are not looking for fine dining. Instead we plan on feasting on BBQ, Creole, Cajun, Southern food; no place that even remotely has a dress code.

We've done our preliminary research, which you can find here:

Here's where you come in. Are we driving by something that we absolutely MUST stop for? Alternatively, there are some towns where there seems to be too many options for just two, albeit hungry, fellas looking for food. Can you help us determine the best of the available options in your town?

Thanks in advance. Its been a long, tough tour and I hope to welcome him back in style.

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  1. I'd recommend a stop at Allen and Son BBQ near Chapel Hill, NC. Exit 266 off I-40, go north about 1 mile or so. Outstanding NC style bbq.

    1. AWESOME! Glad to hear you brother is coming home safely... and that you're going to have several days to catch up, driving across this great country for which he has sacrificed so much.

      Great to see you're coming through Charlotte. I would definitely strike BBQ King from your list. A dive, old-fashioned drive-in in a decidedly seedy part of town. I have two recommendations for you: The Penguin and Mac's Speed Shop (South Blvd location).

      The Penguin is a funky burger joint/bar, with great comfort food (ever had fried dill pickles?). Mac's Speed Shop is some of the most awesome BBQ you can find in the Charlotte area.

      Both places can have a wait for seating at peak times (generally not long) which is a testament to the quality of the food. Great vibe and people watching at both places, too. You can read reviews of both places (and others) at:

      5 Replies
      1. re: DigitalVelvet

        The Penguin would be worth checking out..perfect vibe for this type of trip.

        I do hope the OP will avoid Mac's Speed Shop...where to even begin? The 'q is not very good, even for Charlotte. The restaurant itself is a corporate conceit, basically part of a chain of concept restaurants.

        I haven't been to BBQ King, although I keep meaning to get over there. Its a cool, old drive-in, and the neighborhood is not "decidedly seedy". It may well be a dive, but its a real dive, not a faux dive like Mac's. Nothing wrong with being a dive!

        1. re: bbqdawg

          I enthusiastically dispute your characterization of Mac's... as do a buttload of reviewers and notable chefs. Consistently excellend pulled pork (eastern NC style)and usually excellent beef brisket.

          I don't know where you get the corporate idea... it is, I believe, a Charlotte based enterprise that has just "busted out" to a second Mac's location. I seem to recall the founder started with another restaurant, but that certainly doesn't constitute an evil empire.

          But just to offer alternatives, Outlaw BBQ in Matthews is great, but basically take-out only. McKoy's Smokehouse, off I-77 at Woodlawn, also has excellent 'cue (and other stuff), but I recently had a disaster of a lunch experience (with four coworkers I dragged there).

          Again, I refer you to as a resource for real reviews by real people. It seems possible that someone with the handle "bbqdawg" might not be completely objective on the subject.

          1. re: DigitalVelvet

            I'm not at all swayed by a "buttload" (whatever that is) of opinions. I trust my taste buds. And Mac' s is not excellent. Oh, its also not eastern NC might want to do some research about what constitutes eastern style 'q.

            There are 3 locations of Mac's, and the owner also owns Las Ramblas and Bonterra, a fine dining restaurant at which the "chef" at Mac's worked for 5 and one-half years. But my real issue is that Mac's has a Disney-esqe feel to it. Its a concept, not a real place.

            In regard to Yelp, I've never found it to be a worthwhile source of good information, but if you like it, then feel free to follow the "real reviews" there. I'll stick to Chowhound,

            As far as my objectivity, what "subject" are you referring to?

            I haven't tried Outlaw or McKoy's. I really never get out to Matthews, but I'll try to check out McKoys sometime. Old Hickory on N. Tryon has the best 'q I've had in Charlotte, but I haven't been everywhere. In general, Charlotte doesn't have very good bbq, imo.

            1. re: bbqdawg

              Just say "no" to Mac's Speed Shop and, instead, head north on I-77 to Cleveland NC. Keaton's Barbecue has THE BEST "dipped chicken" anywhere. It's so damned good it'll make you wanna slap yo mama. It's crispy, sticky, spicy goodness. An institution in that area, it's out a country road, smack dab in the middle of cornfields and farms (It's really not far from the interstate though).

              The Splendid Table and Roadfood did a few specials about it. Pick up a couple of bottles of their sauce to take home too.

              I'm thrilled that your brother is coming home safely and I think it's amazing that you all are making this road trip together! When my nephew returns from Afghanistan next spring, I think I'll take him to Keaton's. :)


              1. re: lynnlato

                "Dipped Chicken"? Sounds too good to pass up. I altered the route to hit Cleveland, NC.

                Thanks for all the NC tips! Keep 'em coming!

                Where the AL and GA 'hounds at?

      2. Congratulations to your bro.

        If you hit a third of the Q places you mention on your map, you'll be pretty tired of Q by the end. I'd definitely do one/several in central TX (Lockhart, Austin, heck even pilgrimmage to Cooper's in Llano).

        I live near The Colonnade in ATL and like it a lot, but I'd probably travel up to Greenwoods in Roswell over that on a cross country road trip. And, after even a shabby TX BBQ experience, you will be embarassed to put Fat Matt's "BBQ" in your mouth. The ribs are greasy and gross, and the pulled pork is closer to a sloppy joe.

        If you visit Octane coffee shop in Midtown (also on your map), it's right across from 5 Seasons Westside and Hop City, great places for on- or off-premise cervezas.

        4 Replies
        1. re: ted

          How about that hamburger dive in Atlanta where you have to stand in line to get in and then the little old lady proprietor dishes out verbal abuse while she prepares your hamburger? I've never been but I found the reviews (mostly wildly enthusiastic) to be fascinating.

          Found it: Ann's Snack Bar. The Wall Street Journal named it the best hamburger in America.

          Here's some reviews:

          1. re: ted

            Fat Matt's is off, Greenwoods is on. Thanks.

            And you are right, we'll be lucky (?) if we hit 1/3 of the places. Thanks for helping us trim the list.

            What is your opinion on The Varisty?

            1. re: KAZ

              I love the Varsity, but opinions vary, and I'll freely admit my feelings are tainted by nostalgia. (sp?) I don't think you need to do both the Varsity and the Beacon...they are very similar. But I'd say definitely hit one of 'em, because they are unique institutions and a lot of fun. A Varsity t-shirt would make a great souvenir and trip reminder.

              1. re: bbqdawg

                I'd say Varsity is a must hit if you've never been there. Really good dogs, but it's really the atmosphere that will make it so memorable.

          2. Glad to see your brother made it home safely. Love the trip idea.

            When in Alabama you might want to try to cut up to Decatur. Big Bob Gibson's is very famous for their BBQ and invented white BBQ sauce. It's a very local specialty. Not a whole lot of people from outside that area have ever heard of it.
            I know you won't get it at Dreamland but not sure about the other place you're stopping at in Tuscaloosa.

            When we were in Atlanta last summer we ate at a place called Daddy Dz. It's a BBQ joint where only the bugs have a dress code. It's a dive, dive, dive. It was also very good.


            1. RE: Charlotte and BBQ
              Don't do it. Don't have BBQ in Charlotte. Go to a place like The Penguin or Mert's (for lunch). Whatever you do please don't go to Mac's for BBQ. Here's the deal: I like Mac's, i can eat there, and 3 out of 5 times it's good. HOWEVER, their BBQ has nothing to do with NC BBQ. And I hate the idea of people coming through town, eating at Mac's, and thinking the've tried NC Que. It's a disservice to the BBQ shops that are still carrying on a NC tradition. Good NC BBQ is the endeavor of multi-generational family businesses. One of these families is the Bridges. Stop at Alston Bridges in Shelby an hour short of Charlotte:


              Another is run by the Monk family. If you stop at one place to eat BBQ in NC stop here, Lexington BBQ #1:


              These places are the real deal. They have woodpiles in the parking lot and pits "out back".