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Wilber's in Goldsboro vs Skylight Inn inn Ayden

  • erica Nov 5, 2013 01:08 PM
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Two New Yorkers (NYC) making the long drive to Florida next month. Food is playing a big role in determining the route.

We plan to dip into eastern NC expressly for the purpose of sampling the famous BBQ. (Hope to enter the state via Delmarva peninsula). Herein lies the "problem."

We will be in the area on a Monday, so both places are open, according to their websites. Will probably arrive in late morning, after possible stopover in Elizabeth City.

I realize that the answer is to try both, but if forced to select only one, which one should we choose? I have read all of the threads here on the subject, but would like further advice on the pros and cons of both spots.

Many, many thanks!

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  1. I can't wait to read the other responses. On balance, I'd go to Wilbur's. The Skylight Inn always depresses me: it's a bit too much in the no-frills category. I'd much rather go to a restaurant where there might be some energy and bustle in the kitchen and dining room.

    1. P.S.: Despite what they say on their websites, it never hurts to call and make sure they will be open.

      1. I'd definitely do Skylight. The 'q is slightly better, and the building is authentic-rustic. Its about as stereotypical small town, country bbq as you can get. All imo, of course.

        1. I am a Skylight fan, too. There is just something about a place without fancy technology where you can see them chop the Q right in front of your eyes.

          Both are great when they are at the top of their game, but I have had mixed experiences with Wilbur's whereas every time I have been to Skylight the experience has been the same. Plus, in Ayden you can also stop at Bum's to taste their rutabagas and collard greens.

          1. I'm deeply passionate about Pete Jones BBQ (Skylight). The chopped crackling bits really makes it special, adding some texture and fat to the bbq. The vinegar sauce is light and tangy and spot on. The sides are limiting, slaw and fried corn block thing (which you learn to love, after several visits with its crispy crust and texture offsetting the pig). If sides are something you passionately wanting, then Wilburs may be more what you want, but Pete is about the pig, which is what I really look for in a great East NC place.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ForagingFoodie

              Couldn't have said it better myself-Pete Jones all the way, and for the same reasons.

              I would just add that Wilber's isn't really that strong on sides. The Brunswick stew is good, but the potato salad is almost a pureed consistency that's kind of odd. Slaw is fine. I can't say that they have anything else that leaps out at me. Wilber's isn't a place like Blackbeard's or Bum's that has a wide variety of great sides.

              1. re: Naco

                Last time I was at Wilber's I did the Fried Chiken BBQ combo, I have to say I really enjoyed the chicken.

            2. Skylight!

              This is a no frills place with an amazing purity of focus. Their cornbread is a very old style - often odd to visitors.

              Watch this and decide:

              http://www.southernfoodways.org/film/...

              4 Replies
              1. re: meatn3

                Many thanks for the responses so far! Looks like Skylight is the CH favorite! I should add that the pig is the main focus for us...sides are not so important but will always order slaw at least.

                Hope to make it as far as Elizabeth City on the first night,, so that would put us into Ayden about 11am or maybe earlier.

                Will they have the pork ready by then?

                1. re: erica

                  They open at 10:00, and all they have is bbq, slaw, corn bread, and on some days, bbq chicken, so if they're open they have pig ready, unless they've run out late in the day. Since you visiting in December, I'd definitely call and confirm that they will be open, as suggested by PGD upthread.

                  (252) 746-4113

                  1. re: carolinadawg

                    Thanks! Do you mean that the pig served in the morning/before lunch, will be re-heated from the day before? Does that diminish the quality?

                    1. re: erica

                      Not what I mean at all. Never had anything but a great meal there.

              2. All these endorsements for the Skylight Inn are making me want to go back. Let us know where you go and what you think of the place. You might want to bring a small cooler and get two or three pounds to go, to really make it worth your while.

                1. I did the same drive in August and, only being able to squeeze one into our itinerary, chose Wilbur's. It looked like the shortest detour from I-95. The whole hog was great, as we're the hush puppies and banana pudding. Having had Skylight this past summer at the Big Apple BBQ, I don't think you can go wrong either way.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: freshlycured

                    This is so helpful..thanks to all!

                    I've been looking at maps and trying to plan route starting in Elizabeth City, where I hope to overnight the previous night.
                    It looks as if Skylight/Pete Jones is not too far from intersection of routes 11 and 102.

                    From Ayden, do you all think it is better/quicker to get on I-95 via #264 (looks out of the way but Google recommends) OR drive via 102/13/40 or 102/13/70 (Both via Goldsboro!)?

                    (Next overnight stop will be Bluffton, SC for oysters.)

                    1. re: erica

                      I'd take 264. 13 between Greenville and Goldsboro is not a fun drive, and if you get behind a slowpoke (hint: this is likely!) it'll kill any time savings you might have had.

                      And then you have to plow right through Goldsboro.

                      1. re: Naco

                        I agree. You will probably have had enough local color on the drive down from Elizabeth City and be ready to make better time. Just the I-95 bit of the drive will be about 5 hours unless you are heavy on the gas (says one who just drove it today :-) )

                  2. A few years back I did an intensive, one day Eastern-style sampler.Got off I-95 in Wilson to start at Parker's.Not worth it imho. Next going East to Greenville and a stop at B's. Killer sandwich and bbq chicken. Then to Bum's in downtown Ayden.Real good bbq,veggies and fried chicken. Continuing on the loop into the country for a stop at Grady's in Dudley.. Again fine bbq and friendly folks. Last stop in NC was at Wilber's in Goldsboro. Definitely lives up to the fame. Outside of the disappointment at Parker's the rest of the joints were top notch. Recommend them all without hesitation.The whole detour added about 250 miles.I got to Parker's about 9:30 and after picking up the sandwich at Wilber's I returned to I-95 about 4-5PM.Enjoy the trip.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: rockbound

                      WOW! I would love to do that trip....we should have more time on the drive back in early spring!

                      In any rate, it looks like our route will take us via Goldsboro on the drive from Ayden to I-95, and Wilbers is open on Mondays, so.....

                      1. re: erica

                        if you're going to Wilber's AFTER Skylight, then the route would prob. go through the Wilson exit on I-95.Basically you could also hit B's in Greenville and Bum's in Ayden while only adding maybe an hour to the trip. Both places deserve to be on anybody's bbq bucketlist. Just sayin'

                        1. re: rockbound

                          But remember I am driving through the area on a Monday...some of those might be closed...

                          I am not sure what you mean about the Wilson exit; I am originating in Elizabeth City, so does that still apply? Or maybe you mean that I ought to go north from Ayden to 264 and take that west to I-95 via Wilson, as suggested by Naco, above (??)

                          1. re: erica

                            You wouldn't really be going anywhere near Wilson if you wanted to hit both of them; I gave advice based on the statement that you just wanted to go to one.

                            If you were going to do both, you'd want to go to Skylight first, then take 102W from Ayden to 903S/13S to Goldsboro, then 70W from Goldsboro to I-95.

                            1. re: Naco

                              Naco you are correct. I wouldl only have time to go to one, realistically. So shall I follow your advice, above, and take 264 to I-95?

                              I've read many of your posts on the SouthEast in the last year or two....very helpful!! Many thanks.

                              1. re: erica

                                That's what I'd do. It's the easier/less stressful option, and might even be quicker.

                                1. re: Naco

                                  AND: Just noticed that we will be driving right past Bum's, so may have to stop and get some takeout there before or after Skylight.

                                  What would you suggest taking out at Bum's (Monday they have BBQ chicken as a special, so I am guessing that is a good bet)? Which sides? (Looks like collards, which should be in season, are a favorite) Keep in mind I will not be able to reheat as will be staying at a hotel that night. But since quite a few restaurants in Bluffton are closed MOnday nights, I might be just as well off with take-out from Ayden.

                                  1. re: erica

                                    I'm not a huge fan of Bum's, so I'll have to let others chime in. Nothing wrong with the place, but if I'm in Ayden I just like to hit Skylight. Bum's is known for its collards.

                                    1. re: erica

                                      Here's an older post with several discussions of Bum's sides that may prove useful:

                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/366284

                                      1. re: erica

                                        Somewhere earlier in this thread I mentioned the vegetables at Bum's. They have two that are extraordinary.

                                        Their rutabagas (a vegetable I generally dislike) are addictively seasoned in a way that complements the harsh bitterness I find objectionable in many preparations made elsewhere.

                                        But is is their collards that are really special. I am always wary of ordering collards as I do not care for the bitter flavors and tough textures I often encounter. The skill of the chef and the variety of collards used will have a great impact on whether I enjoy the dish.

                                        Ayden has a collards festival each year that celebrates the yellow cabbage collards that are grown in the area. An heirloom variety, Bum's is the place where you can sample their delicious flavor and less stringy texture.

                                        Here is a clip from NPR a few years back that discusses these collards:

                                        http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...

                                        1. re: brentk

                                          That's the first time I have heard of rutabegas described as 'bitter'. Always nice and sweet when we cook them.

                                          No issue, just found it a bit odd.

                        2. +1 for Skylight. tho you say sides aren't important: they are so much better than Wilbur's, and I find it depressing when a BBQ place makes no effort to pay attention to other things on the menu.

                          13 Replies
                          1. re: pheebs

                            Well, its's now been about 5 days since we pulled up at Skylight Inn in Ayden and I still cannot get that pork out of my head. I will attempt to write a brief report covering all of the places we stopped en route from NYC to South Florida, but wanted to get this in writing asap.

                            I never did make it to Wilbur's but the thought that were it not for all the help I received here on CH, I might have missed what will surely remain one of the best eating experiences OF MY LIFE (not really exaggerating here), makes me shudder.

                            We entered the Lincoln Tunnel (after stopping at Sullivan Street Bakery to stock up for the drive), about 8am, and well before dark we halted for the night in Edenton at the Hampton Inn (very pleased with that hotel, BTW). (Stopped for lunch at Great Machipongo Clam Shack in Nassawadox, Va--will discuss in another thread).

                            Pulled up in front of the famous silver Capitol dome in Ayden at 9:50am. Ten minutes before opening time and we were not the first car in the parking lot.

                            We entered, greeted by the sound of two hands chopping the pork, along with an entire sheet of golden skin that was probably the crispiest thing I've ever seen in food form. And here I had given that honor to the pork skin in Guavate, PR. Well, the Skylight Inn's skin is crispier!
                            Stopped for a good few minutes to take in the scene, and the smell.

                            We placed out order with the exceedingly kind and helpful counter person: Two medium plates of BBQ. A few minutes later our order was ready: A paper cup of the bbq, studded with the impossibly crispy and crunchy pork skin.
                            This came with good slaw, and a rectangle of corn bread which we loved! Delicious, not greasy at all as some mentioned. No plates, no trays here. Just GREAT food!
                            Oh, that pork. Added a vinegar sauce (not sure of description of this but it was outstanding)

                            Rather than ramble on, I will say only that my failure to take away a large order for the road will never be repeated. We did have a couple of mouthfuls of leftover meat, for which
                            they gave us a paper bag. We ate this later that night..cold. Still incredibly good.

                            We will take the return drive on April and our route will be taking us through Ayden, that's for certain!

                            Thanks to all for the gracious help on this thread!

                            Just exceptional in every way.

                            http://www.skylightinnbbq.com/

                            By the way, Skylight now offers pie on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; they also had chicken and ribs on that Monday, but these may have been for take-out only.

                            The Collard Shack next door was not open but looked interesting. I wish I had noted the opening times.

                            1. re: erica

                              I grew up on it...but according to my Caribbean wife...

                              ...only one word fully describes the Skylight Inn's barbecue...

                              TRANSCENDENT

                              (I fully agree with her)

                              1. re: JayL

                                So when I first started taking my wife to my childhood home, just outside of Goldsboro, we went to Wilbur's a few times. After being disappointed by so many bbq spots in South Carolina, where we currently reside, she fell in love with the type of barbecue I had grown up on. For years I had described it to her...repeating those stories every time we ate yet another disappointing plate of bbq at an untold number of restaurants.

                                So she had gotten used to Wilbur's, and she really enjoyed it. Well, the time came for her first trip to Ayden. We got in and went through the routine of getting our food. The look in her eyes when she took that first bite. LoL It truly is a memorable moment. She had ordered a "small"...when she finished it up she made me go get back in line and get her a sandwich. LoL

                                That truly was a transcendent moment in her life. She's an addict.

                                1. re: JayL

                                  She may also like Wilber's. It's on US 70 in Goldsboro.

                                  1. re: goodeatsinadive

                                    I think you need to re-read the post you replied to...

                                    1. re: carolinadawg

                                      LoL

                                      1. re: carolinadawg

                                        Oh, I read the post. More than once. There is a difference in where JayL's wife went to and the place I suggested. Just need to look closely for it.

                                        1. re: goodeatsinadive

                                          Huh? He says he and his wife went to Wilber's several times and she really enjoyed it. Are you trying to say there are 2 Wilber's in Goldsboro?

                                          1. re: carolinadawg

                                            goodeatsinadive, it appears you're hinting around a mis-spelling issue? It's fine to let people know when a restaurant name is misspelled, in order to help everyone find the right information. If we're mistaken and you're not trying to point out that it's not spelled Wilbur's, it's spelled Wilber's (http://www.wilbersbarbecue.com/), can we ask you to be a bit more specific with your message? Thanks!

                                            1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                              Good lord.

                                              1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                                Awesome job chowhound team! Now if you can just tell me where your hidden camera is in my house

                                            2. re: goodeatsinadive

                                              Either you're on really good drugs, or we are talking about spelling. It is, in fact, Wilber's (I had to look it up, as I started second guessing myself). One way or the other, Skylight always gets my vote.

                                              1. re: goodeatsinadive

                                                Like the Dawg said...good Lord.

                                                Mr. WilbEr could care less how you spell it as long as you say it right.

                                  2. I once (2004) did a BBQ tour of NC similar to what rockhound mentioned, only mine lasted a week. I stopped at 5 (yes,5) BBQ places in one day, beginning with B's in Greenville late morning, then Bum's and Skylight Inn in Ayden afterward, then onto Kinston and points south. I have to say that Skylight is almost a mecca-like place that any serious fan of NC should visit at least once. Took a few pictures, but the one thing that I remember so vividly is looking into the kitchen and seeing these 2 guys hacking away with cleavers at this huge pile of meat--this place is as pure as it gets--limited menu, and paper plates, etc. But they have been doing it this way forever. This place has been around since the 1830's , even before the Civil War, and I think they're on their 3rd building now. So go there and you probably won't regret it. They also sell produce, etc. so it's not just BBQ. Wilber's is nice, too, with the air base next door, but you can save that for your next visit. The next day in the car I had some of the leftover BBQ from Skylight, still in the paper tray and room temperature--it was still fantastic. Need I say more?

                                    12 Replies
                                    1. re: KyMikey

                                      The thread that goes on and on!! One can never have too much eastern-style BBQ, right?

                                      Anyway, now planning mid-April return drive from SE Florida back to NYC. Route will focus on stopping at Skylight in Ayden.

                                      1st night/2nd night, near Bluffton, SC (this will likely be on Sunday and Monday nights so, disappointingly, many places will be shuttered but will explore Low Country). Would like to work in stop at B&J's in Darien before stop in Bluffton...appears to close at 2pm Sunday so we might make lunch there before heading on to Bluffton. (??)

                                      Then, two days later, a Tuesday, from Bluffton towards Ayden..any great spots likely to be open on a Tuesday?
                                      (McCabes, Sweatman's, R. Scott's all appear to be closed on that day!)

                                      Hope to spend night #3 near Ayden to take advantage, pehaps, of a dinner (Wilbers??) and another morning meal at the Skylight Inn, mecca of all good porky things.

                                      Night 4....Drive from Ayden area (last time stayed in Edenton on the first night out of NYC) to NYC along Delmarva..any options come to mind for good eating? We could make this in one shot, or stop along the route if there is some great eating to be found....seafood?

                                      Many thanks for the help....you all guided me to some incredible food memories..hope to have some good reports after this next trip!!

                                      1. re: erica

                                        For night #3 a stay in Kinston would put you in easy reach of Ayden. Plus you could have dinner at the Chef and the Farmer! The couple who own the place have a newish show on PBS and the food is wonderfully done farm to fork - highlighting the traditions of the area. Not BBQ but imo not to be missed. I would suggest reservations - since the show they seem to be busier than ever.

                                        http://chefandthefarmer.com/

                                        For night #4 I highly suggest a stop in Toppings, Va. if you love oysters.
                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8851...

                                        1. re: meatn3

                                          Excellent tip about the Chef and the Farmer. Any essentials to take note of for dinner?

                                          Any love for Blackbeards near Conetoe? Or any other must-considers en route to Delmarva, keeping in mind that we will pass through that area on Tuesday/Wednesday, give or take a day or two.....(after Sunday/Monday in Low Country SC)

                                          1. re: erica

                                            Blackbeard's is excellent, but is only open Thu-Sat. and Sunday for lunch.

                                            1. re: erica

                                              The menu at the Chef and the Farmer changes frequently. Unfortunately I live too far away to eat there with much frequency.

                                              I've done well with the servers suggestions when I've been undecided. I often decide based on the side dish - they have a good hand with vegetables! I have found their desserts too sweet for my taste but my dining companions loved them - I'm definitely not the norm in that regard.

                                              I love Blackbeard's! If your dates have any flexibility it is well worth a stop. Plus April should still be herring season. While herring is no longer locally harvested the spring run was an important food source in the past. Fried herring is still a spring ritual in that area and Blackbeard's has the best that I've had.

                                              To whet your appetite:
                                              http://www.ncfolk.org/fried-herring-c...

                                              1. re: erica

                                                Article about Blackbeards, worth the stop.

                                                http://www.ourstate.com/blackbeards-b...

                                                1. re: chazzer

                                                  Oh, how I wish I could switch my dates to include Blackbeards! Loved that NCFOLK.org story..it certainly did whet the appetite, not only for bbq, but herring, too...lots of treasures to seek out in that corner of the state!

                                                  Thanks again for all the help.

                                                  Looked map and did some reading...B's in Greenville looks to be open Tuesday-Sat for lunch...to try their chicken, or pork? This in addition to Skylight, of course.......

                                                  Have to more plotting....see how many places we can fit in and give the semblance of a route..

                                                  1. re: erica

                                                    I would take B's (and Jack Cobb's in Farmville) over Blackbeard's (which I love) for straight-up barbecue. Blackbeard's has good barbecue, but it's the much larger menu, soups and vegetables that I get excited about. If you go to B's, make sure to get a barbecue and dark meat chicken combo with slaw. The white meat chicken is dry and should be avoided unless you order your steak well done.

                                                    1. re: veganhater

                                                      Hmm. Barbecue-wise, I'd put B's at the bottom of that particular list. The dark meat w/bbq combo is pretty good, though.

                                                      The OP says that they're going to be in on a Monday though, and B's is closed on Mondays, as are Blackbeard's and Cobb's. That would leave Skylight and Wilber's as the two viable options.

                                                      1. re: Naco

                                                        Tallking now about the return drive in April, we expect to spend Tuesday night in the area and have Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning/early afternoon to eat before heading toward Delmarva peninsula...

                                                        Naco I want to thank you for all the valuable help you have provided here in the past. Much appreciated.

                                            2. re: erica

                                              On Tuesday you might consider a detour to visit Cooper's Country Store in Salters, SC for a BBQ sandwich, BBQ chicken, or pound of BBQ to go. It's not a restaurant but an old fashioned country store that makes its own 'cue. They also have a dedicated country ham room!
                                              http://www.southernfoodways.org/inter...

                                              1. re: Low Country Jon

                                                I would love to visit Cooper's, after reading an article recently and now reading your link......

                                                We will be driving north from Bluffton; have to figure out how I can get there without too much of a detour! Great idea, thanks!

                                          2. And you are driving from Elizabeth City to 95? I'd go to one for breakfast (obviously Ayden/Skylight is going to be what you hit first) and then Wilburs *L*. Okay just kidding, but there are other small places along that path.. Someone mentioned Blackbeards. If you can make B's BBQ then do that and forget Skylight but it is a risk that you won't get there in time. Wilbur's is solid and you can sit down. I wouldn't get too bothered if you can't make one over the other though.

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                              They are on their way back north - Elizabeth City was a stop on their way south this past fall.

                                              :-)

                                              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                We are on our way back north and will expect to pass through the Ayden area on a Wednesday. We expect to eat breakfast there and perhaps continue on perhaps to Bs? Wilburs?

                                                Not sure if we should have dinner the night before at Chef and Farmer, or stick to BBQ (??)

                                                1. re: erica

                                                  Chef and The Farmer

                                                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                    Can you be more specific about the restaurant and the dishes you liked there? Apart from their exemplary use of local fare, would you choose this place over one of the BBQ temples if you lived in NYC?

                                                    1. re: erica

                                                      Exemplary use of local fare is pretty much the entirety of the reason one goes to Chef and the Farmer, so if you're not big on that, no, I wouldn't go.

                                                      Really, it depends on how much barbecue you want to eat and which barbecue place you would be foregoing by eating at Chef and the Farmer.

                                                      1. re: Naco

                                                        Thanks! Don't get me wrong, I love the idea that they use local produce that I probably never taste..it is just so frustrating to have so little time...if you think the food is creative and interesting, that will make it even more difficult!

                                                        All I can say is that I never realized how much great food there is waiting in that not-so large area of the state! The good thing is that it really is not all that horrible a drive from my home base in NYC....so hopefully this will not be the last time I pay a visit.

                                                        1. re: erica

                                                          I've been to Chef and the Farmer a couple of times and agree with the vox populi. I'd go more, but my personal circumstances don't allow for a lot of upscale dining. IIRC I had some sort of broiled fish on top of chorizo and butterbeans that was excellent. Butterbean hummus too.

                                                      2. re: erica

                                                        Yes and I went before they revamped (i.e. before the fire they had). What I had was a bone-in Berkshire (I think) chop. If I lived in NYC and didn't have NC BBQ around and knew that I liked it.. I would go for the BBQ. I'm in the reverse. I go to NYC looking for some fine dining but also for good deli and bakeries that can be hard to find. Also the atmosphere in general.