BBQ South Atlantic
Scroll through the South Atlantic states, or click a new region on the map.
Q Tips, a new section lists unsolicited BBQ restaurant recommendations that showed up in my email. Congratulations to my wife Connie for coming up with the name. Q Tips.
GA Pig (December 2008)
Route 17 & I-95
Exit 29 (Jekyll Island exit)
“Like something out of Deliverance…” according to my sister-in-law Nancy, “with a fire burning out back and two hound-dogs running around loose.” Inside, the place is “filled with Elvis photos and an overwhelming smell of smoke. ‘Hundreds’ of sauces… Family-style seating… The local cops eat there…” Nancy and her husband Scott stopped into the GA Pig almost by accident on their drive from Vermont to Florida for their three-month snow-free stint, and it’s clear that years of eating BBQ on my back porch has paid off.
To see what the GA Pig actually looks like, go to this site. Nancy said she was reluctant to even go in at first.
They split a two-meat plate – chopped pork and ribs. The pork “… was amazing. Smoky but not too much so. So good…” The ribs were “…chewy, smoky, tasty.” “Nothing over-sauced.”
Overall rating – “Outstanding, if only for the ambiance.” (I have to qualify this by noting that it takes a lot to earn a rating of Outstanding. On the other hand, you have to trust your people in the field. So, outstanding it is…) Thanks to Nancy and Scott Edson for putting their hides on the line in the interest of pure research…
Sam’s BBQ-1 (April 2010)
4944 Lower Roswell Rd.
A storefront operation in a small strip mall in a northern suburb of Atlanta. Inside, the place is pretty spartan, with a dozen tables and chairs and a great selection of posters from past BBQ festivals. You order at the counter and they bring the food out. Fairly standard.
Sam’s has an excellent selection of BBQ, with standards like pulled pork, brisket, sausage, baby back ribs, and chicken, along with two unusual ones – pork shanks and beef short ribs (which I associate more with Korean food). They also had a range of sides, including mac and cheese, cole slaw, collard greens, green beans, fried okra (this being the South), Brunswick stew, and, in a unique touch, tater tots.
I got a two-meat platter – a half-slab of ribs and pulled pork, with cole slaw and mac and cheese. The ribs were excellent, with a mildly spicy, slightly crunchy crust and a moist interior with no fat that came off the bone with a slight pull. The pulled pork was excellent, chunky and moist with no mushiness. The cole slaw was excellent, as was the mac and cheese; the latter was even salty enough for me. Sam’s had three sauces, a mild one, a “hot” one that was still fairly mild, and a vinegar-based sauce that was actually sweet, which either makes it the oddest vinegar-based sauce I’ve ever had or just means it was mis-labelled. All three were excellent.
Overall rating – Excellent overall. A place that just did everything right, and offered tater tots as an appetizer.
(Thanks to Chip Jones, who apparently knows me well enough to suggest a place that has tater tots as an appetizer, and his wife BJ, for this recommendation and for treating me.)
J.R.’s Log House
6601 Peachtree Industrial Blvd.
Norcross , GA 30092
Big, old-fashioned-style place (a good sign) with blackboard specials. Tried a 2-meat platter – sliced brisket and chicken. The brisket very good but only mildly smoky, with the smoke ring less than 1/8″ deep. The chicken was very good, moist and with a lot of tangy sauce. The macaroni and cheese was thick and cheesy but needed more salt. (This is a common problem with the macaroni and cheese in BBQ joints, but may also be my problem since my mother tended to bury everything in salt.)
The Brunswick stew was very good, with pureed tomatoes rather than chunked tomatoes. They only offered one sauce but it was excellent – tangy, a little sweet, and crunchy with small bits of onion.
Overall rating – Excellent.
10360 Alpharetta Highway
Roswell , GA
Ate here in 1997 so the place may not even exist anymore. But the pulled pork and sauce were excellent. Be aware that they close at 2:30 on Sunday.
Overall rating – Excellent.
Bubbalou’s Bodacious BBQ
1049 East Altamonte Dr. (Hwy 436)
Altamonte Springs , FL
Pass shopping center and RR tracks, on left. Watch for low sign with 3 dancing pigs.
I got ribs and sliced pork. They use pork ribs rather than baby backs, but they’re tastier, meatier and less fatty than Kellers’. The pork was good but a little dry. Hot, mild, and sweet sauces were very good – the sweet was the best. The macaroni and cheese had a very good consistency but needed salt. Good garlic bread. The waitress called me “hon”, then earned extra points by calling me “sweetie” on her next swing around the room.
Overall rating – Very good.
Keller’s Real Smoked Bar-B-Q
280 South S.R. 434, St. 1047
Altamonte Springs , FL 32714
See review for Keller’s in Lake Mary.
BBQ Ray’s Way
(Just outside Bradenton)
3436 Us Highway 301 N
Ellenton, FL 34222
Great BBQ, with a good story. Ray had a license to sell bbq from a stand, but he put his stand in his back yard. The neighborhood wasn’t zoned commercial, so they shut him down, even though many of his customers were municipal employees.
It took him a few months to re-open, in a small strip mall on 301. He still uses the same smoker out back of the restaurant. You can pick up the smell blocks away. Hickory smoke and pork fat. Mmmm.
I had the standard pulled pork and baked beans. Tried my first bite with no sauce or bread. Very tender, good smoky flavor, more clumpy than stringy … and did I mention that it was tender. The charred edges were perfectly done also, not tough and thick, just crispy thin and crunchy. I usually like a tangy red sauce, ala Big John’s Alabama BBQ in Tampa. I I tried Ray’s red sauce and it was just okay. Then I tried the self-proclaimed best mustard-based sauce around. The first bite with that sauce didn’t seem like anything special, but by the third bite I was pouring extra mustard sauce on every bite. There is just something about Ray’s homemade sauce that is incredibly addictive.
The baked beans were also good, nice balance of bean and brown sugar and molasses. Tangy and sweet but not spicy.
My dining partner had the beef and I tried it. I am not a fan of beef BBQ in general, but it was every bit as tender and flavorful as the pork. I have not found many BBQ places that do both pork and beef to such a high standard, and equally well.
I can’t give Ray an excellent on only one visit, but a solid very good / great. Going back 5/3, to do some field research and check for consistent quality / service.
There is an equally glowing review here:
Ray vaulted straight into my top 5 or 6:
1. Big John’s Alabama BBQ Tampa
2. Greenbreir Restaurant, 27028 Old Hwy 20 at Greenbrier Rd, Madison AL [Fried Okra! Hushpuppies!!!] — careful, there is a Greenbrier BBQ on new hwy 20 … not the same!
3. Big Bob Gibson’s, Decatur, AL and Gibson’s, Huntsville, AL
4. BBQ Ray’s Way, Bradenton, FL
5. Clark’s Outpost, Tioga, TX
6. The Commissary, Germantown, TN
Thanks to Victor Chapel, who seems to run in some major-league BBQ territory, for this review. Nice work.
Keller’s Real Smoked Bar-B-Q
3893 Lake Emma Rd.
Lake Mary , FL 32746
In Lake Mary Center, behind Chili’s, at corner of Lake Mary Blvd. and Lake Emma Rd., just past traffic light for Primera Blvd. (Another store in Altamonte Springs, in the WalMart Shopping Plaza at the corner of S.R. 434 and 436.)
I had the pork, beef, and rib combo. Overall, the meats were bland. The beef was fatty. The ribs were pork ribs rather than baby backs and somewhat fatty.
The hot sauce was very hot. The medium sauce was excellent and added a lot of flavor to the meats. The cowhide-look plastic tablecloths added a nice tacky touch. The waitress called me “dear” – not as good as “hon” but close.
Overall rating – Good, largely on the strength of the medium sauce and how it added flavor to the meats. Basically, you could view the meat as a vehicle for the sauce.
3151 US HWY 98 South
Lakeland , FL 33803
Happy Jack’s is in an industrial section of a still relatively rural (but rapidly urbanizing) area of Florida between Tampa and Orlando . It’s a place where you expect people to know good barbecue and likely make a good ‘cue themselves as the standard against which all others are judged. A bad barbecue joint wouldn’t have much chance and could never have the lived-in look of Happy Jack’s.
The building looks like an old former service station. What limited seating is available are picnic tables out front in the dilapidated parking lot next to the big barrel smoker and the sizable woodpile. All of which were promising signs, although I’d heard some mixed reviews of the place.
The menu is a pretty straightforward affair, offering dinners, sandwiches, and family servings of ribs, chopped pork, brisket, and chicken. I ordered a rib and pork combo with green beans and potato salad on the side. They also offered baked beans, cole slaw, and corn cobbet [sic]. The generous dinners were also served with rolls. I also got the sweet tea (jumbo sized only, but comes in non-sweet regular for those without the southern sweet tooth) and a slice of red velvet cake with the optimistic anticipation that I’d have room for dessert (I didn’t).
The ribs were almost too tender. I actually bit through a softened bone (yuk!). The meat, however, was flavorful and moist, so not overdone despite the obviously long time in the smoker. The chopped pork was tasty, although a little dry in bites. The beans were well-flavored with pork, but a bit overcooked. The potato salad was a mustardy version that paired nicely with the barbecue.
I tried all three tomato-based sauces: sweet, mild, and hot. All complemented the smoky flavor of the meat well. As a fan of hot sauces, I was surprised to find the sweet sauce my favorite. It started with a taste of molasses and finished with a clean vinegar kick to give a pleasantly sweet-sour experience. The hot was underwhelming for any true fan of heat.
Overall rating – Good to Very Good. If the meat texture had been a little more consistent and the green beans a little less done, it would be an unequivocal Very Good.
Thanks to Karen Bachmann, one of my southern BBQ mainstays, for this review.
Hot Rod’s Country BBQ
18430 Livingston Ave
Lutz , FL 33559
The silliest, weirdest, and most memorable BBQ joint I’ve found… Also one of the best. The only place I’ve found with “grilled bat” and fried Spam as menu options…
Hot Rod’s is 20 miles north of Tampa , and just before a traffic light if you’re going north on Livingston . That’s an important landmark. Without it, it’s easy to miss the place because Hot Rod’s looks less like a restaurant than a large shack built out of stuff scavenged off the side of the road. The overall impression is silly schlock but authentic silly schlock, rather than silly schlock put together by a restaurant designer.
Eight of us went, so we gave the menu a good workout. The first selection, with some nervousness, was the grilled bat. This apparently used to be a real fruit bat until the health department stepped in, at which point they switched to quail but kept the bat theme. We ordered one on a bed of cornbread pudding. The “bat” was covered in a nice, sweet sauce, but doesn’t have much meat. Think of it as a small, slightly moister (“slimy” according to one person) chicken. It may be an acquired taste. Mild but good cornbread pudding. (Note that this isn’t pudding in the usual sense, but more like grits.)
The second appetizer was an entire can of Spam – “redneck prime rib” – sliced, fried, and laid out on a plate with the can as a centerpiece. If you like Spam, as I do, it was great and I gave it high marks. If not – if you think about what you may be eating, for example – it’s best left alone.
For the main part of the meal, I’ll sum it all up rather than go through each order. Ribs – outstanding, slightly crunchy on the outside and just short of falling off the bone on the inside. No fat whatsoever on mine or Mike’s, although Connie wasn’t happy about some globs of fat on hers that she had to pick off. Pulled pork – outstanding, not mushy at all and with a slightly sweet sauce. Chicken – very good but too mild without the skin. Cornbread pudding – good, slightly sweet, but didn’t really stand out on its own. Cole slaw – very good, finely chopped and sweet. The green beans were apparently explosive. The baked beans were between very good and excellent, firm and with chunks of pulled pork mixed in. Sweet potato – unusual for a BBQ place and outstanding, half a huge sweet potato done up with orange juice, brown sugar, molasses – we think – and who-knows-what else. (It reminded me of a sweet potato that I bought off a yam cart in Pensacola , FL in 1973 and that I still remember fondly. It was that good and so was Rod’s.)
There were three sauces – mild (used as a base on the ribs), sweet, and hot. The mild was good but very mild. The sweet sauce wasn’t very sweet until I swirled a layer of honey, I think, that had settled to the bottom of the container. Then it was excellent. The Cajun (hot) sauce was excellent, with enough bite to make it hot but without anesthetizing your tongue.
The dessert was excellent but not quite what we expected – peach cobbler with ice cream that was more of a cobbler cake with peaches on top.
On the dark side, a few people thought the inside smelled musty, as if it had been flooded recently (Florida, land of hurricanes…) and never quite dried out. We sat outside so the smell wasn’t a problem while we ate, but it was noticeable enough to be a downcheck from several people. Several people also saw a cat run by the table, something to be aware of if you don’t like animals running through your seating area.
Overall rating – Outstanding, with the weirdness plus the quality of most of the food, plus the Spam and the “bat”, offsetting the mildness of the chicken and the musty smell.
Thanks to George Smith of SoftComputer in Clearwater for recommending the place (and ironically not being able to make it). Thanks also to Jennifer Morse of MadCap Software Sales for sending me to do a Flare course at SoftComputer and starting all this. Finally, thanks to Nancy and Scott Edson for being willing to try eating in a place that looked like this, Mark Lewis and Karen Bachmann, who’ll happily try anything called “BBQ”, Mike and Anne Mauro, who battled Tampa traffic to get there and loved it enough to want to go back, and Connie, just for being Connie. A good and congenial group to go out for BBQ with.
565 West Fairbanks Ave.
Winter Park, FL
West Fairbanks is off I-4 a few miles north of Orlando, and O’Boys is on the left side of the street just past a Y intersection about a mile east of I-4. From outside, the place looks more like a sports bar than a BBQ joint. That impression holds on the inside, with several dozen tables and booths, a large bar, several wide-screen TVs, and a local radio host (I think) running a trivia contest. In other words, not quite a “real” BBQ joint. However, to paraphrase from one of my dinner companions, we weren’t in the South. We were in Orlando. So…
The place has a big menu, ranging from BBQ appetizer standards like rib nibblers and Brunswick stew to bar standards like Buffalo wings and nachos. Add a variety of BBQ and non-BBQ sandwiches, salads, tuna melts, etc, sides including fries, sweet potato fries, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and southern staples like collard greens and black-eyed peas. And, oh yeah, BBQ – sliced beef, pork, and turkey, ribs, chicken, and, oddly, fried shrimp and flounder. (I can’t imagine not finding something to eat here…)
I got a two-meat combo – ribs and sliced beef – with the cole slaw and macaroni and cheese. The ribs were very good – meaty (more like country-style ribs) with a good char and good flavor, nicely chewy, but a little fatty. The sliced beef was good but a little dry. Both the cole slaw and the macaroni and cheese were excellent, and the macaroni and cheese was one of those rare cases where it was salty enough for me. The sauces – hot, mild, and sweet – were excellent. And the hot sauce was hot enough to taste the heat but not hot enough to anesthetize your tongue. (I highly recommend the sauces just by themselves.)
Overall rating – Very good, based on the taste of the meats, the sides, and the sauces but held back by the mild fattiness of the ribs, and the dryness of the beef.
Thanks to Joan Nelson, Beth Chandler, David Coverston, Mary B, and Woody from First Data for recommending the place, with a tip of the hat to Woody, Mary, and David for their trivia skills, Joan for abandoning vegetarianism in favor of ordering the all-you-can-eat rib special, and Beth for treating me.
Hickory Smoke House Bar-B-Que
6769 U.S. 19 N
Pinellas Park , FL 33781
On the main road on the north side of St. Petersburg . A comfortably dark, old-fashioned looking place. I got the combo platter – ribs, chicken, pork, beef. They use pork ribs instead of baby backs so they’re less meaty and fattier but tasted good. Tangy sauce but with little aftertaste. The pulled pork was good with good texture. The beef was okay but chopped like the pork and even tasted similar. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was reaching for chopped beef or chopped pork. Chicken was good but all dark meat. Corn on the cob was good but a little mushy. Fries okay.
Overall rating – Good.
BBQ Rib Ranch
2545 S. French Ave.
Sanford, FL 32773
- French is a local main drag about 5 miles east of I-4. The restaurant is on the left side of S. French, about 300 yards south of 46A. At first glance, the place looked not only closed but condemned. It was only by accident that I noticed a small neon sign that said Open, so I pulled in (thinking that the place already looked promising).
The building is a faded reddish-brown, with a faded reddish-brown sign with no neon at all and a battered metal chimney rising out of a smoker in the back of the building. The inside is paneled in quasi-knotty pine, with 4 x 8 sheets of plywood, painted the same reddish-brown, serving as the ceiling. Cartoons and old maps of Florida on the wall… The more I looked, the more points the place gained just in atmosphere.
The menu offered too many things to pick from, so I got the sampler combo – ribs, beef, pork, and a quarter chicken (a breast and a drumstick), with cole slaw and mac-and-cheese on the side.
Overall assessment – Ribs were outstanding, crunchy and spicy on the outside and moist and tender inside. They used regular pork ribs and left on the tip bones that get trimmed off in a St. Louis cut, but there was almost no fat. Chicken was excellent, again spicy and crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. The beef and pork were both very good, chopped into large chunks but a little dry and needing BBQ sauce to juice them up. The cole slaw was excellent, as was the mac-and-cheese. The latter was even salty enough for me, and made me think that if my mother had ever run a BBQ joint, this was how she would have turned out macaroni and cheese.
There were two sauce, sweet and hot. Both were excellent, although I preferred the sweet for no reason that I can name.
Overall rating – Excellent, held back only by the dryness of the pork and beef.
Thanks to Karen Ozolnieks of SunGard HTE in Lake Mary for recommending this place.
Fat Boys’ Bar-B-Q
2912 13TH St
St Cloud, FL 34769-5902
Follow 192 E out of Kissimmee and watch for the restaurant on the left about half a mile past Brown Chapell Rd. on the left. Big place, with plastered walls set off by dark wood beams. Nice but a bit upscale for a BBQ place.
Went with Connie, her sister and brother-in-law Nancy and Scott, their son Dave, and his wife Ana. Everyone got various samplers, except for Ana who, somehow, remains a vegetarian in this crowd. Ana got onion rings – big, thick, hot, and fresh – which largely disappeared after one pass around the table.
The waitress or the kitchen got the orders mixed up – bad sign – but brought extra ribs to atone – good sign.
Overall assessment – Ribs were excellent, moist and tender with good flavor although not that much smoke. Sliced beef was excellent, tender. Chicken was very tender but a little bland. Sauce helped. Sliced pork was disappointing, tasty but fatty. Fries were okay. Ana’s corn on the cob was okay but had the usual steam table mushiness.
Offered three sauces in squeeze bottles – hot, sweet, and honey mustard. Dave, Connie, and I tested all three and preferred the sweet. The honey mustard was good but Connie thought it had a bitter aftertaste.
Overall rating – Very good to excellent, held back largely by the fattiness of the pork and the non-descript fries.
Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q
4475 13TH St
St Cloud, FL 34769
A southern chain, with restaurants across the south and plastered across Florida and Georgia. The St. Cloud one is on the right on Rt. 192 east of Kissimmee (Orlando area). Big place, big dining room, with a big salad bar. As with Fat Boy’s, Sonny’s is nice but a bit upscale for a BBQ place. On the other hand, it doesn’t have the cutesy “fish shack” look of Famous Dave’s.
Went with Connie and her sister and brother-in-law Nancy and Scott. Got the Feast for Four – pork, beef, chicken, and ribs, plus sweet potatoes, green beans, and cole slaw, plus corn bread, plus a side of fried squash for Nancy. The ribs were excellent, moist and tender with good flavor but not that much smoke. The beef and pork were thin sliced and a bit dry, with good but very mild flavor. The chicken was excellent, juicy rather than dry as it so often is. The corn bread and cole slaw were excellent, as were the sweet potatoes which came with cinnamon butter. Even the green beans and squash were good, and I can’t stand either one.
Offered five sauces in squeeze bottles – sweet, mildly hot, hot with chipotle, mild, and mustard. I liked all five, but the vote was for the sweet. Connie didn’t like the chipotle flavor and thought that all the sauces except the sweet were a little gritty.
Overall rating – Very good to excellent, held back largely by the mildness of the pork and beef and Connie’s thumbs down on four of the sauces.
13980 W. Hillsborough Ave.
Tampa, FL, 33635
I think I’ve mentioned the ribs at Cuban Breezes before. Because of some unusual quirks–most notably, the intermittent availability–I’ve hesitated to write a review. I just had them again tonight, though, and decided that they are worthy of your esteemed consideration and well worth trying. Note that Cuban Breezes isn’t a BBQ place and, therefore, doesn’t offer their ribs regularly.
Their ribs are marinated in mojo, that delectable blood orange concoction that tenderizes and flavors Cuban roast pork. The result is moist, flavorful meat that is pull-off-the-bone tender. The ribs are served as a short slab, not in full or half slabs (again, not a BBQ joint). They are served with a hot, sweet guava barbecue sauce that has a nice bite and a sweet-tart note from the fruit. The waiter mentioned a “regular” barbecue sauce, but I haven’t tried it yet.
The ribs come with two Cuban sides, the same as all the other entrees. I had moros – black beans and rice cooked with olive oil, garlic, and bacon (what’s not to love!) – and tostones – smashed and fried plantains flavored with garlic. Other beans and rice variations, the more familiar maduros (lightly fried sweet plantains), mixed vegetables, and a green salad are the other selections. The meal also comes with Cuban bread.
If you want to finish off the light burn from the sauce with something sweet, deserts include a decent flan and a good chocolate lava cake, among others. Their beer menu includes a notable selection of local and Mexican beers. They also have Cuban coffees and sodas. (Ironbeer is the only Cuban soda I’ve had–I should fix that.)
If you are in the vicinity of the Pinellas-Hillsborough county line sometime, check them out. While they may not always have ribs, their regular Cuban fare is quite good (try the lechon asado or picadillo) and is served by a friendly staff. Their full regluar menu is available on their website: http://www.cubanbreezes.com/
Thanks to Karen Bachmann, Floridian BBQ fanatic extraordinaire.
5703 W. Waters Ave.
Tampa, FL 33634
A snap to reach from the airport area – just get on Veteran’s Expressway north, get off at exit 6A, go to the light at the end of the exit ramp, and Jazzy’s will be almost directly in front of you across the street. (It’s easy to miss. I went half a mile up and down the street before realizing that it had been right in front of me. Sigh…)
Jazzy’s is built in a defunct restaurant and has an odd mix of “building-that-used-to-be-a-restaurant” features and traditional BBQ joint features like an unpaved parking lot filled with everything from Harleys to Cadillac SUVs. In the back, there’s a large, trailerable BBQ smoker and a huge pile of logs. A great start… The inside is pretty spartan, with Jazzy’s slogans painted on the walls, an iced tea dispenser against one wall on a folding table, an open counter, and a double-decked grill behind it with a mix of ribs, chicken, and sausage going full tilt. The place smelled great. And I took it as a good sign that there were fifteen people in line in front of me.
I got a two-way combo platter – pork ribs and sausage. The ribs were done to a turn – meat almost falling off the bone. However, they were very lightly smoked and were charred in a few spots. The sausage was very good – coarsely ground but with an unusually thick casing. I got cole slaw as a side, which was a standard good cole slaw. They only serve mac and cheese on Fridays, unfortunately.
Overall rating – Very good. Less charing on the ribs would have bumped the place up to excellent.
Thanks to Mark Lewis (who described Jazzy’s as “…should be right up your “dirt” alley.”) for recommending this place.
201E. Pratt St .
Baltimore , MD
In the Inner Harbor , facing the Pride of Baltimore Baltimore Clipper. Went with charter members of the STC’s BBQ SIG – Karen Bachmann, Julie Bommarito, Nicky Bleiel, and Ed Marshall – at the end of the 2004 STC annual conference. Ribs were good – meaty and tender with a good, mildly spicy sauce. Pulled pork was “a little mushy” according to Karen.
Checked oilcloth table clothes was a nice touch. No extra sauce on the table gets points off. Basically a good barbecue place in a very touristy area but still good for all that.
Overall rating – Good to very good.
1584 Rockville Pike
Rockville , MD 20852
New Orleans Creole cuisine rather than BBQ. I ordered jambalaya, which isn’t Creole but was on the menu anyway.
Overall rating – Very good.
Bessinger’s (August 2011)
1602 Savannah Highway
Bessinger’s looks like a large log cabin, with the inside done up in booths and tables in knotty pine. So it’s off to a good start from the appearance side.
I was in South Carolina, so I got chopped pork with two sides – cole slaw and mac and cheese (and one onion ring the size of a beer coaster, a hunk of corn bread, and pickle slices on the side). The pork was excellent – chunks and threads with good bark, mildly sweet on its own without any sauce, and with no mushiness. The mac and cheese needed more salt, as usual, but was nice and thick and cheesy. The cole slaw was good – standard. The corn bread was excellent. The onion ring tasted very good but was mainly breading. The portions were huge.
The tomato BBQ sauce was excellent – a little sweet with a moderate kick from the pepper. The mustard sauce was excellent – mustardy but without the huge vinegar kick that I find in a lot of mustard sauces.
Overall rating – Excellent, based on the pork, the mac and cheese, and the sauces. (This was my first trip to South Carolina and Bessinger’s was my first BBQ in South Carolina, so I consider this a good start.)
Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ (August 2011)
1205 Ashley River Rd.
Home Team is in a converted gas station on a busy main drag (Ashley River Rd., aka Rt. 61). It also has a tiny sign and an odd-shaped parking lot, so you have to watch for the place carefully. Inside, there’s a family dining area at one end and a bar/sports bar dining area with several large screen TVs at the other. The place uses somewhat battered tin trays in place of the usual plastic.
I was in South Carolina, so I got chopped pork with two sides – red rice and mac and cheese, the latter at the express recommendation of Candy, one of my BBQ consultants. (I was actually there to teach a MadCap Flare class, but the class spent a lot of time making sure I got a good set of restaurant recommendations. I did a lot of eating on this trip.) The pork was excellent – chunks and threads with good bark, mildly sweet on its own without any sauce, and with almost no mushiness. The mac and cheese was excellent – still not salty enough but made with Gouda. A little more salt and I would have rated it as outstanding. The red rice, which I’d never even heard of it until this trip, was outstanding – rice cooked in tomato sauce(?) with onions, chunks of sausage, etc. Loved it. The only disappointment was the corn bread, which had a powdery texture. But since cornbread is usually an afterthought, I didn’t count this too highly.
The sweet sauce was excellent and just a little tangy. The hot sauce was mildly hot – just enough to add some bite but nothing like the molten lava that I’ve had in Arizona. And the mustard sauce was excellent – mustardy but without the huge vinegar kick that I find in a lot of mustard sauces.
Overall rating – Excellent, based on the quality of the pork, the mac and cheese, the rice, and the sauces.
Thanks to my BBQ consultants for the recommendation, and to Candy in particular for mentioning that Home Team used Gouda for the mac and cheese – enough to put Home Team on the must-visit list.
West Ashley Crab Shack (August 2011)
1901 Ashley River Rd.
Part of a local chain, the Crab Shack is in a small strip mall just off Ashley River Rd., aka Rt. 61 – on the other side of Rittenberg from Home Team BBQ. It comes up fast and is hard to spot, but it’s right next to a Walgreens.
I went expressly to try Low Country cuisine, shrimp and grits in particular. Many places in Charleston do Low Country food and my BBQ consultants had a lot of suggestions; I picked the Crab Shack because it was convenient to my client’s site.
Northerners have a low opinion of grits, but they basically seem like just a coarse version of cream of wheat and don’t have that much flavor on their own. They’re really a vehicle for other things. At the Crab Shack, those things consisted of a dozen shrimp, onions, chunks of bacon, cheddar cheese, and tasso (ham) gravy. It has to be as unhealthy as it sounds, and it was outstanding. I don’t know what my face looked like, but my waitress seemed to be getting a tremendous kick out of it. I couldn’t eat it more than once a year, but it would be worth the wait.
Overall rating – Excellent, period.
Thanks to my BBQ consulting team for the recommendation. The consensus was that this wasn’t the best Low Country restaurant option but that it would be a good start and they were right.
Allen and Son Barbecue
6203 Millhouse Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
There are two locations, one in Pittsboro and one in Chapel Hill. I went to the one in Chapel Hill. It’s in a homey-looking building with a sign that’s so ramshackle that it has to be deliberate. (See http://www.urbanspoon.com/rph/25/290035/142756/research-triangle-allen-son-allen-son-photo.) Across the street from a railroad track, with a gravel parking lot and a rusting trailer next to the building the day I went. If I had to envision a southern BBQ place, this is it. Between the location, the menu, stuffed animals mounted on the walls, a 1960s-modern style starburst clock with forks and spoons in place of the starbursts, and BBQ sauce to-go sold in Mason jars at the counter, what’s not to like…
The menu simply listed “Bar-B-Que” as the generic choice. It did list pork ribs, chicken, and fish further down, but pulled pork – “Bar-B-Que” – is clearly the mainstay, along with baked beans, fries, potato salad, and Carolina-style sides like hushpuppies and fried okra. I got the Bar-B-Que Plate – B-B-Q, slaw, and hushpuppies. Loved it. The pulled pork was tender, the slaw was sweet, and the hushpuppies were just good plain or with BBQ sauce. The sauce was Carolina-style vinegar sauce – tart but not as explosive as some I’ve had. Add a slab of peanut butter pie and some sweet iced tea, all for lunch, and it was a wonder my client and I got anything done the rest of the day.
Overall rating – Outstanding, based on the food and the atmosphere. As one obviously Jewish reviewer said about this pork paradise, “At least the salt was kosher”.
Thanks to Anita and Tyler, the kind folks at UNC-CH, who debated where to take me for BBQ and decided that this was the spot. Good choice.
3330 Quebec Dr
Durham , NC
A very popular place with a line at the door, including many families which seems like a good sign.
Carolina style rather than Texas style. No ribs or brisket on the menu but heavy on fried chicken, pulled pork, and southern BBQ style side dishes like okra, as I recall, along with the usual cole slaw, etc. Went with a group and got the family-style order – basically non-stop bowls and platters of fried chicken, pulled pork, cole slaw, beans, etc. Excellent beans, very good pulled pork with a mix of shreds and chunks. Waitress had a bleached beehive hairdo and clearly took no guff from anyone – extra points.
Overall rating – Excellent.
(Thanks to Sarah O’Keefe of Scriptorium Publishing Services for this recommendation.)
2514 University Dr .
Durham , NC 27707
A fairly large and modern looking place with lots of glass and indoor and outdoor seating areas. Extensive selection and a staff that seemed perfectly happy to give out samples. Almost made a meal out of the samples before deciding that we’d better order something.
Had ribs and pulled pork, with cole slaw and hush puppies. Excellent ribs, meaty and well cooked with just enough bite to be interesting but not overpowering. Pulled pork was also excellent, not mushy at all and with a mix of shreds and large chunks. Either we got some fresh out of the smoker or else they’ve figured out a way to avoid mushiness. (A lot of other places could take a lesson from whatever the Q Shack does to prevent mushy pulled pork – highly recommended.) Cole slaw good, hush puppies excellent. Also had fried pies (apple) for desert. Messy and excellent.
Sauce was a good, vinegar-based sauce. However, the pork was good enough by itself that the sauce barely registered.
Overall rating – Between Excellent and Outstanding.
(Thanks to Ann-Marie, Hank, and Lian (my little crème brulee buddy) Grissino for this recommendation.)
Q Shack (February 2010)
Main Circle at North Hills
Raleigh , NC
Very different from the first Q Shack that I tried in Durham in 2004, this outlet is in a large entertainment complex called North Hills about 1/4 mile off the highway and is actually built into a block of shops near the movie theater. The place was cleaner and more upscale than the earlier, apparently still existing place, but kept the selection and “here, try a sample” attitude. And, again, you could almost make a meal out of the samples.
Had a three-meat plate of ribs, pork, and brisket, with mac and cheese and cole slaw. Excellent ribs, meaty and tender but not quite falling off the bone. The pulled pork and brisket also had a good consistency. The mac and cheese was almost salty enough, and the cole slaw was very good. What I found most interesting, however, was a distinctive difference in the rubs and sauce, which were far milder than I remember from the other outlet and other local BBQ places. My sense is that the spice and bite were toned down to appeal to an audience that wasn’t as familiar with BBQ and wanted a milder introduction. Still good, just discernably different.
Overall rating – Very good, with the down-check from the other outlet being due to the mildness of the meat and sauces.
(Thanks to Ann-Marie, Hank, and Lian (who seems to be a lot older than last time) Grissino for this recommendation and for treating me.)
Davis Family Barbecue
10208 Chapel Hill Rd.
Morrisville , NC
Directions from the airport – Follow Airport Blvd south/west , cross over Rt. 40, and go about a mile until Airport Blvd ends at Chapel Hill Rd. Left on Chapel Hill Rd. Go about a mile, watch for Morrisville Station (strip mall) on right. Restaurant is about 100 yards further ahead on the left.
Definitely not a chain. Looked more like what I expect a southern BBQ restaurant to be. Located in a small brick and cinder block building, with a drive-up window, next to a car wash. Picnic-table style booths inside, with plastic covered menus and a pass-through ordering and serving window.
Excellent pulled pork with a mix of shreds and chunks. Almost no mushiness. Chicken tasted great but was a thigh so not much meat. Only sauce is a generic vinegar-mustard sauce in an unlabelled squeeze bottle – sort of a “take-it-or-leave-it” sauce. Hush puppies good but a little bland.
Cook called me “buddy”. Not as good as a “hon” from a waitress but still enough to earn points.
Overall rating – Very Good.
2751 Capital Boulevard
Raleigh , NC 27604
In a non-descript white building that looks like a large one-story frame house. The seating brought back memories of the kitchen set in my parents’ house in the early 1960s. Our waitress fit the “tough-but-with-a-heart-of-gold” stereotype that seems so prevalent in southern BBQ places. Went with Cevin Moran of RemoteSite Training and her friend Alex, also from Boston, and the waitress gave Alex and I some mild ribbing, in a great southern accent, about having to come so far to get decent food. Speaking of which…
This was my first North Carolina buffet, and it was awesome – hush puppies, chopped pork, smothered (in brown gravy) pork chops, smothered hamburg steaks, fried trout, fried chicken, lima beans, collard greens, potatoes, chicken and dumplings, and a bunch of other things that escape me now. There was also a salad table, although Cevin was the only person I saw go near it. The desert table looked great, but I never got to it after being stuffed to the gills. (The takeout menu also includes things like fried okra, fried squash, corn sticks, flounder, black-eyed peas, etc., that sometimes make it onto the buffet.)
The chopped pork was excellent – shreds and chunks with very little mushiness and a tart, thin, vinegar-based sauce. The fried chicken was very tasty and, unlike most of these places, was either a breast or one of the meatiest thighs I’ve ever had. The chicken and dumplings was excellent, with enough chicken fat that a cardiologist could set up shop next to the cash register. I thought the hush puppies were good but a little rubbery. (I seem to be in sync with a lot of local reviewers, who said much worse things about the hush puppies.)
Cevin ordered fried chicken livers off the menu, and got a platter that she got about halfway through before giving up and taking them home.
The place was also very cheap – under $10 for the buffet.
Overall rating – Excellent, as long as you go once a year and take the rest of the time to recover.
(Thanks to Cevin Moran of RemoteSite Training for this recommendation.)
Old Time Barbecue
6309 Hillsborough St .
Raleigh , NC 27606
Definitely an old-time looking place, with a counter, five or six tables, and a lot of bric-a-brac all over the walls. Waitress was young and didn’t call me “hon” but had a great southern accent of some sort that made up for it.
Had pulled pork, fried chicken (this is North Carolina ), cole slaw, hush puppies. Pulled pork tasted great but had the usual mushiness that seems endemic to pulled pork that’s spent the day on a steam table. Fried chicken was very tasty, but was a thigh so didn’t have that much meat. (Don’t these places ever serve breasts?!) Very good hush puppies, standard cole slaw. Offered a moderately zingy vinegar style sauce. Cheap (combo was $7.95) and fast (plates showed up less than 10 minutes after we ordered).
Overall rating – Very good.
(Thanks to Cevin Moran of RemoteSite Training for this recommendation.)
Beach Bully Barbecue
Norfolk International Airport
Norfolk , VA
Serve beef brisket, chicken, and North Carolina barbecue (pulled pork) in a pig sandwich (pulled pork topped with cole slaw on a hamburger bun – and it has to be a cheap, white hamburger bun, no sesame seeds, whole wheat, or any other haute cuisine additions).
Late in the day when I got there and they were out of cole slaw, so I just had the pork. A bit mushy after spending the day on a steam table. Fairly mild but good with a good mix of shreds and chunks. The sweet sauce (“Mahogany”) was too bland. The vinegar sauce was better, with a good tang. The macaroni and cheese was good but needed more salt, which wasn’t available!?
Overall rating – Good. (I think it would be hard to get above a Good rating in an airport food court. On the other hand, a BBQ place was a pleasant change from the usual airport food so, as long as I didn’t get ptomaine, it was worth it.)
10201 Midlothian Turnpike or 7009 West Broad St .
Richmond , VA
804-323-6112 or 804-755-4450
Contributed by Karen Bachmann – December 2004.
A chain with merit and even some character to its food (I’ll forgive the stylized fish-shack decor). I went to a location in Richmond, VA , and had a two-meat combo of hot links sausage and chopped pork. The waitress said they made their own sausage, which was good, but not as hot as the menu hype suggested. They had five sauces on the table. The mustard-based sauce (which they claimed was of Georgia origin) was very tasty, and the fiery option, Devil’s Spit, had good flavor with its burn.
I did not have room to try the ribs as well. Florida is one of the handful of states where they don’t have a location, so I won’t have a chance soon. On their website (www.famousdaves.com/), I see that they are about to open a location in Saugus , MA . If this is even remotely near you, check it out if you haven’t already been here.
Overall rating – Very good.
Neil’s note – This has to be one of the largest chains in the country, with 105 restaurants listed as of January 2005 and ten more listed as opening soon.