A Day In Pig Heaven
Even though I have taken a half dozen of the trips we now call BBQ Odysseys, I must admit that these excursions have become one of my favorite pastimes. The dictionary defines an odyssey as a "wandering" and, in that sense, we don't qualify because we always plan on which BBQ joints we want to visit. For the benefit of newcomers, "joint" is not a negative. It just seems to describe a place that sells BBQ better than "cafe", "restaurant" or "emporium." To be recognized as a BBQ joint is an accomplishment treasured by BBQ operators and consumers alike.
Three of us departed Richmond at around 6:00 .m. after having a non-pork breakfast at the Waffle House. No pork because I didn't want anything I ate for breakfast to compete with the culinary thrill I was about to enjoy. I have to watch my diet more so than in the past, principally when it comes to sugar and carbo. Our waitress seemed to get a chuckle out of it when I used my own sugar free syrup and, of course, I'm not above making a production out of using the special syrup. Waffles were the last item that I added back to my diet after I learned that I had a blood sugar problem and I still only eat half the waffle. I have my blood sugar problem under control and I want it to stay that way.
But there's nothing about BBQ that creates a health problem for me yet and if Pete Jones at the Skylight BBQ in Ayden can eat BBQ everyday for 40 years, and he says he did, then surely I can occasionally enjoy one of my favorite foods.
We first went to B's in Greenville and we were alarmed initially to see a sign on the door which read "Out of barbecue-will reopen tomorrow." I couldn't believe they had run out at 9:00 in the morning but then it occurred to me that the sign might have been posted the day before. Fortunately I was correct because at 9:00 a.m. they opened the doors and another day began at what I believe to be the best all around BBQ joint in N.C. It may be the best ever but so many of the older places have gone that a comparison is impossible, but believe me, B's is just like it used to be back in the 30's and 40's. The BBQ that my friends ate was thrown on the pit in back of the joint at 11 p.m. the night before. I talked with the gentleman who watched over the cooking process all night long and it was a pleasure to talk with someone who was genuinely proud of what he had produced. No fast food detachment here. The smoke from the BBQ filled the air and added to the atmosphere outside the joint which probably seats no more than 35. It was cold on Wednesday so we had to eat indoors and they had placed a space heater just inside the front door which fitted in perfectly. I love it! The BBQ was sliced from meat that had just been taken off the pit and it was all I could do to resist having a sandwich with my friends. But I had decided before we left Richmond that I was only going to eat once and that was going to be at Doug Saul's in Nashville. I have eaten at B's before and I think you can tell from my comments that I think B's BBQ is first class and is included in Tier 1 of my BBQ preferences. We always tell the people in these joints how far we have traveled to enjoy their BBQ and this seems to pave the way for some very pleasant conversation both with the service people and customers. Most persons express almost disbelief that we have driven over 150 miles just to eat BBQ but then again, these people have probably never lived so far away from good BBQ that they can imagine how much they would miss it if they couldn't can't get it. Without getting into a discussion of the merits of N.C. and Virginia BBQ, let just say that North Carolinians who live in Virginia know what I am talking about. I will give Virginia credit for Smithfield hams but I'm afraid they are going to have to take a back seat to N.C. when it comes to BBQ, be it eastern or western.
We then proceeded to the campus of East Carolina University where, for a brief time in late 1950, I was a student. I was overwhelmed by the changes that have taken place. Going from a university of less than 5,000 in 1950 to one that has close to 20,000 students today is bound to bring about dramatic changes and these changes were in evidence everywhere we went. We visited the football stadium and the basketball arena and both are first class. The basketball arena is relatively small (8,000 plus) but that could change if they continue to beat teams like Houston, Louisville and Marquette which they have defeated this year. The football stadium is impressive and will be even better when they add the upper deck to the press box side as they have done on the home side. They have a nice scoreboard with a jumbotron and the new Strength and Conditioning center is nearing completion. When finished, the S and C center will be the largest facility of it's kind in the country. Of course, somebody somewhere is probably planning or building one at this very moment that will be larger.
We went from Greenville to Ayden and the Skylight BBQ which is nationally famous. You could smell the wood and the BBQ as soon as we opened the door of the van and, in case you have never visited the Skylight, be prepared to stand in line. Not a long wait but they do a brisk business and there is always a line. Again, I didn't eat here but I did get 6 lbs. to go. This is the only place I have ever visited that gives you corn bread and slaw with your purchase of BBQ by the pound. You can imagine what I looked like taking the box out the front door. I must have looked like I was straining because a young lady rose from her seat and held the door open for me. That's another thing I like about BBQ. The people who love BBQ have always been so nice to me. I think there is something of a brotherhood among BBQ lovers and, in this case, sisterhood. The BBQ at Skylight has a little more fat and skin in it than at B's but I know many people who prefer this type of BBQ. I haven't tried my take out yet. All I'm saying is that it is a little different from some of the other places. The slaw is excellent and the corn bread is also tops. I love hush puppies but this rather thin and crusty cornbread was delicious and a nice deviation from the standard fare.
Our last stop was in Nashville, N.C. where a place we had heard so many good things about is located, Doug Saul's BBQ and Seafood Restaurant (joint). It was worth the wait. The BBQ was as good as I have ever tasted and compares favorably with my current favorite, Clyde Coopers in Raleigh. I have stopped trying to rate BBQ's competitively. I now rate them in Tiers and Doug Sauls is a Tier 1 BBQ. In addition, the sides were all good and he had items I didn't sample that also looked good. One of our traveling party is a banana pudding expert and he said the banana pudding at Sauls is as good as it is at Bill's in Wilson. I never thought I would hear him say that because he thinks so highly of Bill's bp, so the bp at Sauls has got to be special.
We then started on our return journey to Richmond and one of my friends chose to drink his Carver's ginger ale I had brought for everyone to sample at a time of their choosing. I will write about Carver's at a later date but suffice it to say that my friend thought it was great. So, he agrees with the Cincinnati Inquirer who listed Carver's as the number 1 ginger ale for taste in the U.S. based on a poll they conducted. It has been produced in Montross, Va since 1921. The David Letterman show knows about Carver's and if you saw DL on January 31st, you know what I mean.
So as the sun sank into the west, our three BBQ cowboys headed back up north with their bellies groaning from the day's activities. Other than savoring a good Carolina victory, I guess these odysseys are about as much pleasure as I get or want. And guess what. After we get back to Richmond, we had probably our best basketball win of the season over Clemson. So I got both pleasures in the same day. I didn't get to see the game though because it wasn't carried by any station in Richmond. Next year will be different and I've still got some BBQ joints to check out.
To commemorate our visit to B's, I have written a little ditty. Please excuse the form, it's the thought that is important.
UNDER THE TREES AT B'S
Nostalgia rules the day At this cinderblock castle, Where good barbecue is served Without airy a hassle.
A throwback to a time That has faded away. Wonder if youngsters Can imagine the day When barbecue like B's Was standard fare, For many a 'po boy In town without a care.
No need to leave With hunger still around, Now it's called "soul food", New names abound. Talking about 'cue Is almost as much fun As scarfing the pig Til the plate is done.
Corporate America wouldn't like B's, Everything done for pleasure there, not for "Cs", Break every rule as long as the goal's not lost. To have the best barbecue At the lowest possible cost.
All hail to the King One letter for a name, Thanks from thousands Is better than fame.
Who will carry on When B's closes for good. Let's hope another B Will appear, As we all know he (she) should.