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Pathetic Peach Cobbler at Allen & Son

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I ate at Allen & Son the other day. My $11 barbecue plate was adequate, although it seemed expensive for what arrived at the table.

For dessert, I ordered peach cobbler, and what arrived was four burned-black pie crusts, on top of wet fruit. I don't know why I didn't just look at the server and ask him if he was kidding. I have a general idea of what I expect when I see the word "cobbler" and that was not it. I put the burned crusts aside and ate the fruit, but I should have really spoken to someone, anyone. I'm sure the only reason they can get away with this is because no one speaks up.

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  1. Try the pound cake with key lime cream cheese icing instead. Makes me swoon, but so does their 'q, so who knows.

    1. You tried the one dessert out of the 15 or so that he makes that I don't really care for. He's great with pies and cakes.

      As for the bbq only being "adequate," if by "adequate" you mean "top 3 or 4 in the state of North Carolina" (and my personal favorite), then we're on the same wavelength.

      $11 expensive for a BBQ plate? That's about the same price it is for a plate at other venerable wood cookers like Lexington #1 or Bridges' in Shelby. A sandwich, fries and drink at a good fast food joint already runs me $7.50, and they aren't waking up at 2 a.m. every morning to singlehandedly chop the hickory, smoke the pig for the next 9 hours, and bake 15 desserts daily all on his own.

      3 Replies
      1. re: mikeh

        Agree on all points. Food is worth the price, always has been. I worry that there will be no one to replace Mr. Allen.

        1. re: mikeh

          Maybe he should bake fourteen desserts, instead.

          1. re: mikeh

            It may be nitpicking, but I was at Lexington this afternoon and a plate or large tray is $9.50.

          2. Got the cherry cobbler. Maybe they left out the sugar or something. It was by far the worst dessert I've ever ordered anywhere.

            All four people at the table took one small bite and declared it awful. Waitress didn't notice or didn't say anything. Not worth a big deal. Paid bill left. Would never order dessert again there.

            2 Replies
            1. re: CyndiA

              I'm not sure why one would think that the cherry cobbler would be any better than the peach cobbler. Maybe cobbler just isn't the way to go here. Why not order a pie, which is some of the best pie in the state, instead of making the irrational move of banning desserts entirely?

              1. re: mikeh

                I didn't read your post on the cobbler beforehand. The other dessert was the pecan pie warmed up in the microwave. That wasn't so great either. With two dessert "fails," why would I want to pay for another one?

            2. I can't speak for their desserts, but I'm not a fan of their BBQ. I think the sauce is good and I love all the smokey wood flavor, but the meat itself is very dry and some of the pieces have a burnt taste/texture. So many better BBQ restaurants in our state.

              15 Replies
              1. re: SittingOnAMtnTop

                You must have gotten an extremely rare bad batch. Their bbq (in the 50 or so times I've eaten there) is generally some of the moistest I've had in the state. And usually the outside brown is amazing, not burnt in taste or texture, just amazing.

                1. re: mikeh

                  Yeap, I go there for the BBQ, that is what they do. Go pick another nit.

                  1. re: fredb2548

                    I honestly feel like some of you folks have never eaten at some of the great BBQ restaurants in NC (Wilbur's, Bridge's, Parker's, Ken's, B's, Moore's, Lexington etc). . I've tried it quite a few times and have found it inedible, it was that bad. I've never heard anyone mention Allen & Sons in the top 10. Just my 2 cents, to each their own.

                    1. re: SittingOnAMtnTop

                      I have eaten at Lex, Bridges, Skylight, Wilburs and many others, and Allen and Son is definitely in my top 3 or so. To each his own. Just curious, there are 2 Allen and Sons. You are talking about the one between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough? There is another one near Pittsboro that I haven't been to, but have heard it's not as good.

                      1. re: carolinadawg

                        The Pittsboro location is Allen & Son by name only. NOT associated with the original in any way. Their bbq is not very good, consistently greasy with gristle in it. They do prepare bbq chicken on Wednesday evenings that isn't too bad. Probably the best thing on their menu is the hamburgers and / or hush puppies.

                        1. re: goodeatsinadive

                          It was in the original line, but the now deceased Allen sold it. They use gas and not wood.

                      2. re: SittingOnAMtnTop

                        Just Wed I ate at Ken's, Wilber's, Cobb's, & Grady's -n didn't eat much but enough at each place. I've eaten at Skyligh, B's, Parker's (All 3), All the Lexingtonn restaurants, Bridges, Bunn's, Moore's and many, many more -and Allen & Son is in my TOP 5, and has been for years. Ate their last week.

                        So your point in my case is simply wrong - I've eatenin as many NC BBQ Restaurants as anyone, including Bob Garner. It is obvious our tastes aren't the same. I'll continue to eat at and recommend Allen & Son, and will mourn the day Keith Allen stops serving his pig.

                        1. re: fredb2548

                          I too have eaten at MANY BBQ restaurants across the state (like 50+) and I still don't like it. But like I said earlier, to each his own. BBQ is subjective. Glad you like A&S, it's just not for me.

                          1. re: SittingOnAMtnTop

                            I understand your point, tastes differ. What I took exception to was your questioning whether anyone who liked A&S had eaten at BBQ joints you considered superior to A&S.

                            And not trying to throw it on the table to see who's is bigger, but the number of NC BBQ joints I have eaten ate, and written reviews for, is 148.

                            1. re: fredb2548

                              Then you clearly have better taste in BBQ than me ;)

                              Didn't mean to offend anyone, I was just curious if anyone had ventured outside of the triangle to sample any of our state's other offerings because I don't get the A&S hype.

                              ::bows down to Fredb's BBQ superiority::

                              1. re: SittingOnAMtnTop

                                I understand that point , as well. I stopped questioning the differences in taste a long time ago. For example, a number of folks rave about The Pig in Chapel Hill, who's food (almost all of it) I find among the worst I'v encountered in any BBQ joint, not just in the state, but in the South.

                                Anyway, good luck, and eat more pig - and if you have not eaten at Grady's near Goldsboro, or Ken;s in LaGrange, or Jack Cobb's in Farmville (strange hours so call), you should check them out.

                                1. re: fredb2548

                                  I had Ken's for the first time a couple of months ago and really enjoyed it. I liked the prevalence of black pepper in the sauce, which set it apart from other places in that area.

                                  Never tried Grady's or Jack Cobb's, thanks for the recommendation.

                                  Talked to my husband about this and we have actually have tried over 100 restaurants maybe even 150. Years ago we used to keep a running list with our rankings. The thing about 'cue is that it can vary so wildly from meal to meal so honestly it's hard to have a static top 5 or whatever.

                                  We are slightly addicted to BBQ :) In fact, our son's first taste of meat was at Moore's Barbecue in New Bern.

                                  1. re: fredb2548

                                    Fred is correct about Grady's, Ken's (which only has 'que on Wed. and Sat. unless it's changed since our last visit). Never had Jack Cobb's but it's on my bucket list. And, MtnTop, Moore's is one of the better bbq venues I've had in NC.

                                  2. re: SittingOnAMtnTop

                                    Haha, some of us (like myself) don't even live in the Triangle but cherish A&S's 'que. So conclusion - to each their own.

                          2. re: fredb2548

                            It's been a long time since I've been to A&S in Chapel Hill. By the time I've finished Brunswick, hush puppies and Q, I have no room left for dessert.

                      3. Next time, if you really want cobbler, go across the street to Lockhart's - they occasionally have homemade cobbler at the checkout counter (or at least they did when I worked in that part of town and stopped by most days). The closest I've ever had to homemade using the family recipe.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: mpjmph

                          Across the street? From Allen and Son at the corner of Millhouse Road and Highway 86 between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough?

                          1. re: carolinadawg

                            Yes, it's a little convenience store. I used to have friends who lived nearby and would go there for the baked goods. Really good pie by the slice (wrapped & ready to go). Small quantities and sells out early.

                            We were on the road for work and would only be in the Triangle on Sundays and Mondays, so I was never able to try Allen & Sons at that point in time.

                            1. re: carolinadawg

                              Across the street, and railroad tracks but yes. It's on the same side of 86, opposite side of Millhouse.

                          2. Did you point out the issue to anyone at the restaurant?

                            1. I've never liked their cobblers, and whenever I bring guests to Allen and Son the only piece of advice I give them is to avoid the cobblers. carolinadawg is right about the Key lime pound cake: it's delicious, especially with a side scoop of their homemade vanilla ice cream. And one more piece of advice: Never ask them to heat a dessert; they'll heat it in a microwave oven, which means it will have blistering hot spots that will burn your mouth.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: PGDinDurham

                                I also tell my guests to avoid ordering ribs there, because if they're coming from other parts of the country, ribs are the first thing they think of. Once very early on when I had first moved to NC, I allowed a relative of mine whose team had won Memphis in May some 15 or 20 years ago to get the ribs. He spent about 15 minutes excoriating Allen's wife about everything they were doing wrong with ribs. I was so embarrassed, but luckily they continued to let me show my face there.

                                1. re: mikeh

                                  I love Allen & Son, maybe not as much as some here but the bbq has always been very good and a few times it's been the best bbq I've ever had. I haven't been to as many bbq restaurants as others here have but enough to offer a reasoned opinion.

                                  Everyone should be warned against the ribs, the fries and much of the desserts. I've never ordered the ribs (I'm from NC) and haven't ordered the fries since my first visit. Given the seemingly universal dislike of much of those items, I am kinda surprised they have not scaled them back or cut them from the menu altogether as they can detract from the bbq and other items. Seems like scaling back might eliminate a lot of work and negative comments for them and let them focus on the cue, etc. I don't know Keith Allen at all but have tremendous respect and gratitude for him and his wood burning brothers. Given that most wood burners willing to put in the time and sweat to deliver true cue these days generally march to their own drummer, I'm pretty sure he doesn't give a pig's tail what I think about his fries.

                                  1. re: Guilty Gourmand

                                    I ordered the Ribs, Once - they are awful. The FF are among the worst I've ever had - always undercooked, and not seasoned. Like you, I come for the Chopped Pork, and the Hot Dog - it is very, very good. I have never eaten a dessert here.

                                2. re: PGDinDurham

                                  I've heard the ribs aren't good but I always tell anyone I take there to not order the fries. Hands down the worst fries ever.

                                3. I grew up here in rural NC more than 50 years ago. My grandfather taught me how to cook bbq, and at one point or another I've eaten at nearly every bbq restaurant east of Pittsboro. (It was an article of faith growing up that there was no bbq anywhere except in eastern NC, which I now understand to be hyperbole).

                                  Allen & Sons, for me, has always had mediocre sides and desserts. The bbq was acceptable at best, and often was oversmoked and overcooked. The ribs should be a clue. Whenever a pig is cooked properly, people standing around the grill pit want ribs even if they don't want anything else off the pig (worker in a candy factory syndrome).

                                  I tried eating there in the late 80s, in the early 90s, in the late 90s, in the early 2000s. Two of the times I ate there the smoke flavor was so strong it was like they had put liquid smoke or something on the meat.

                                  I was taught that we use dry hickory and maybe some dry white oak because it imparted the least flavor to the meat. We would burn the wood nearby and shovel coals under the grill. Good bbq is not a smoking process, it is a long and slow roasting process.

                                  Most of the people I've known that like it are not originally from here, or don't actually live here, but travel to visit. I don't know why that is, but there are a significant number of people who talk about it loudly and like it, which is fine. I've never understood why and don't even try to eat there anymore; it's just not worth it. I've done pretty well avoiding discussions with people about Allen & Sons in the last 6 years or so, but the complaints listed in this thread illustrate perfectly a number of my feelings about the place, and I wanted to chime in, possibly for the last time.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: fussycouple

                                    So you haven't eaten there in 10 years? And again, you're referring to the location near Hillsborough, not the one near Pittsboro, correct?

                                    1. re: carolinadawg

                                      The one near Pittsboro hasn't counted for a long time.

                                      1. re: fussycouple

                                        Yes, I'm aware it's considered to be not very good. But, you haven't eaten at the other location in 10 years?

                                    2. re: fussycouple

                                      I don't see what "not being from around here" has to do with recognizing what tastes good and what doesn't. It's not like people who like Allen&Son are saying Bullock's or Hog Heaven is any good. It's that they otherwise appreciate top-flight bbq and can distinguish between top-flight and medicore and group Allen&Son together with the former. Meaning it has legitimacy. I don't see how one could say that Allen&Son has an oversmoked flavor and not say the same for Skylight Inn, Grady's or Blackbeard's, all of which have a smoke flavor component just as intense. If you want something where the smoke really hits you in the face, then something like Sgt. White's in Beaufort, SC would be where "oversmoked" might start coming into the conversation.

                                      Of course, if your favorite BBQ is Piedmont-style like Lexington #1 (the smokiest of that genre but where you still really have to search to get that smoked flavor and go heavy of the outside brown for it), then I could see how something else might be comparatively overwhelming.

                                      But all that said, I think this goes to show that each person has to explore and decide for themselves. It took me a whole year after first moving to NC to go to Allen&Son because of some of its detractors on Chowhound, and from my first meal there onwards, I regretted that I had thrown an entire year away when I could've been eating there.

                                      1. re: mikeh

                                        Great, great point. Just because someone is from a certain area of the country, they are not automatically the only ones who can apprecate local food items. You see it all the time on Chowhound, review sites, etc - I'm from ____________ and I know ______________ - this is especially true for folks, fom NYC, Texas, and anywhere in California, but true in this area as wel, obviously..

                                        Taste vary, and always will. Arguing who's taste preferences are the "correct" ones, is as useless as arguing politics or religion. I find it better just to eat what I like, tell folks why, and they can take it from there or not - but telling me I'm wrong is just silly - I still like it regardless of what you say.

                                        1. re: fredb2548

                                          fredb2548, you are my new hero on Chowhound.

                                          I think I'm pretty good with words, but I could not improve on your above statements about taste and locality. Thank you for proving that internet discourse isn't necessarily a lost cause. I hope other folks around here will read your words and take them to heart.

                                          1. re: a61morris

                                            "...which is fine....".

                                            It's easy to latch on to a comment out of context and develop what you think I'm saying, but the truth is that my comment above is a speculation, not a judgment. I've noticed that there are pizza places and pastrami places in NY that locals like more than visiting folks (and vice-versa), for one example, and this is true in a lot of places for a lot of people. My *theory* is that the BBQ that A&S makes has a more generic appeal than to just (or even instead of) some of the older locals who grew up here - I once had a fellow from Fuquay tell me "I only eat pork, I don't eat beef because I don't like to eat anything that gets bigger in my mouth as I chew it..." This is not an attitude I've heard expressed anywhere but in eastern NC. And we're not all the same, we're not all alike - diversity is what makes life worth living.

                                            Also, some places are considered to be "authentic" and some not; to a particular style or seasoning or methodology of cooking. This is why we have Eastern NC BBQ, Memphis BBQ, Kansas City BBQ, etc. Differences do matter, and if something tastes like Northern Indian curry chicken it's not the same as if it's Jamaican jerk curry chicken - even though they're not far apart in flavor profile a lot of the time.

                                            I happen to love General Tso's chicken, but you won't find me arguing that it's a great representation of Cantonese cooking, because it is about as American as most pizzas we eat. Nonetheless I can go to a cantonese restaurant and not give it a bad review because it offers said dish.

                                            I also eat what I like, tell folks why (or why not), and they can take it from there - or not. I saw several comments herein on A&S that I have found to be correct, and I supported them.

                                            I don't know why criticizing A&S is treated with such hostility on these boards over the years, but it has been. Other restaurants are criticized and no one says boo. It really makes me wonder. Some of my comments above about my background and where I'm from are because in the past when I've criticized A&S in much much older threads, I was jumped on by people who said, "well, you must not know much about BBQ then, if you don't like A&S." My point was that I have as good a background into local BBQ as anyone. If in the last 30 years, local BBQ has gotten smokier, that was not the case in the 30 years prior, it is a more recent trend. Most of my favorite BBQ places don't exist anymore, and there are fewer and fewer places that sell what I think of as "authentic" eastern NC BBQ.

                                            It is an interesting question whether if you gave the old style stuff and the new stuff to 100 people who had never had either - which would they like more? Certainly the good new stuff has a more complex flavor provide, heavier smoke, etc. The old stuff is relatively more bland, and takes on more character due to whatever sauce you're basting on it or shaking on it after it's chopped. How you chop it matters too, but that's a topic for another conversation.

                                            I haven't posted on chowhound for quite some time prior to this. Don't intend to again in the near future. Signing off....

                                            1. re: fussycouple

                                              No, I agree with fussycouple. There are restaurants and other institutions, A&S included, that are so passionately defended that any disagreement is attacked often quite personally.

                                              I remember once this happened to me concerning farmers' markets, but luckily the person who responded in this manner hasn't posted for quite some time and may not in the near future.