Tuesday, September 01, 2009

2009 Visit to the Skylight Inn, Ayden, N.C.

This is a a story in reverse chronological order, sort of. No more words here; just click a photo for more info.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Morehead City Experience

Tomorrow the Port of Morehead City will see three ships, and the Manic Americans will eat five lunches.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Carolina Bar-B-Q, Statesville, N.C.

When I first passed through Statesville on the interstate, late on Tuesday night, I could tell that it had enough exits to be a decently sized town. That meant there would be good barbecue.

Sure enough, the NC Barbecue Society website had an entry for Carolina Bar-B-Q there. I stopped in on the 3-hour drive back to Charlotte the next night.

Here's what happened:

My waitress was great. She was from Buffalo and had moved to NC to escape a bad relationship. That's the nice thing about America, I said. You can just keep moving on until you use it all up.

After I'd eaten, I overheard one of a group of working men order a buffalo wing dinner. This was the first time I'd been in a NC joint that combined barbecue and buffalo. I'm still curious about that buffalo. I wonder if the waitress brought it with her.

I hadn't made the connection at the time, and so I didn't ask. Before bringing the check, she sold me on taking dessert to go. I brought a styrofoam cup of fresh cobbler--half cherry and half blackberry--to my hotel room in Charlotte.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

NCBBQ Blogging Comes to an End!

For the first time ever, I've finished blogging about one of my road trips. NCBBQII lasted just four days but inspired a lot of material. Here is a link to the collection of photosets on Flickr. If you want to read more about the trip, just use the tag link below.

I'll post a few shots from NCBBQ Part XI: The Homeward Trek above. After that, it's on to blogging the UP--the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

There really is nothing better than watching three horsemen ride past an abandoned, partially collapsed gas station during a driving thunderstorm.

Well, you could always take pictures of the scene developing.

Yes, folks, it's NCBBQII Part X.

Rob L. and I were drifting about the rural byways of coastal Carolina on a sweltering Sunday afternoon when we happened upon this gem: Latinos Gas Station in Chinquapin, NC. Where is Chinquapin?

Does it matter?

Probably not. What did matter, though, was the the station seemed to be retreating into the earth. The canopy over the pumps had collapsed, tearing the pumps from their moorings and, in fact, tearing one of them apart We ditched the car in the thick grass on the side of the road, and I began shooting from many different angles.

Almost instantly, the sky turned dark and opened up. Gigantic raindrops began pummeling the hot asphalt. Rob pulled the car closer to me, but I just kept shooting. My hair, shoulders, and camera got soaked, and I tried to keep the water off the business end of my lens. But the darkness provided an eerie feeling and I wanted to capture it.

I had just wiped off my lens and gotten back down low to the ground when a cry came from up the road: "Hey! Take a picture of us!" Three soaking wet horsemen emerged almost silently from the woods via a side street, and rode on past the abandoned gas station without ever once looking at the lens.

Yes, it was slightly surreal, but surreal is what these trips are all about.

Rob and I reached the ocean a few hours later, then spent the night in Wilmington as the rain poured down. When we awoke, it was Monday and we had to get home. Our northward route, which we planned to take us back to the Skylight Inn, also took us back through Chinquapin. There, Latinos Gas Station was basking in the sun once again.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Still More NCBBQII! Part 9: Knightdale, a North Carolina Town

Knightdale is one of many rural American towns caught in an identity crisis, and a perfect setting for serious American fiction. Formerly very rural, it's being subsumed into the suburbs of Durham. New money, sprawl, and housing subdivisions are encroaching on working farms. And the farms themselves are no longer staffed by American citizens. Mexican tiendas ("stores" in Spanish) serve as tiny bus terminals for the daily, 2,000-mile bus journeys that migrant workers take back to Mexico. They often pop up in former gas stations or general stores, sometimes right downtown.

So how does BBQ survive in this changing environment? It keeps up with the times. Knightdale Seafood and BBQ, first of all, has more than barbecue on its menu. And, it has moved from its downtown, small-town digs to a brick building out in the sprawlscape on a street called Money Court, next to a gas station and between two strip malls:

It's also open on Sunday, which is how we wound up there after waking up at noon in Chapel Hill and finding it to be damn near 100 degrees outside. We hadn't drank much at the concert the night before, but after eating nothing but smoked pork and vinegar for two days, we felt rather hung over anyway. Nonetheless, we started calling BBQ joints from our hotel to find out who was working on the sabbath. Most restaurants are family-run and closed on Sunday, so one has to be careful.

Knightdale was open, and serious hunger pangs set in on the 20-minute ride over. We found the place easily and were surprised by its Cracker-Barrel-like decor. After observing the huge, church-going family chowing down in their Sunday best, I took a look at the tattered menu...

...and against my better judgment ordered the chicken and pork combo with some type of potatoes and corn. We were back east: vinegar-pepper sauce appeared on the table along with the hushpuppies. The chicken and pork were good, but I could barely eat them. BBQ fatigue had set in after meals at B's (Greenville), Skylight Inn (Ayden), Roland's (Beaufort), Dillard's (Durham), A&M Grill (Mebane) and Lexington Barbecue No. 1 (Lexington).

I just sat there, dipping my hushpuppies in the vinegar sauce, chewing on cornmeal and ignoring my meat.

This would be the final new BBQ joint of the trip. From here, we set out on a sweltering Sunday afternoon land cruise of very rural eastern NC. I will remember some of the images we saw and created for a very long time.

Part X is next!

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Friday, September 05, 2008

TRANSPORTES JUVENTINO ROSAS -- Main Street, Knightdale, N.C.



More blogging on this town and others like it coming soon.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

NCBBQII Pt 7: Lexington Barbecue No. 1

Our hearts race as we pull into the packed parking lot that we have finally found for the second time. The white woodframe restaurant is still open and bustling--no chance of them closing on us this year! I slam my camera against the car door with nervous excitement as I exit the vehicle and stumble to my feet. I'm here; we're there!

Going Home Happy, 2008

Arriving at Lexington Barbecue No. 1 this past May was like meeting a famous artist whose reputation I'd long admired. The highwayside eatery is perhaps the most famous barbecue establisment in North Carolina, the most preeminent purveyor of what is known as Lexington or "Western" style barbecue. While barbecue aficionados will point out that no simple distinction exists between Eastern and Western styles, western cue often uses ketchup or tomatoes in both barbecue and cole slaw. Western cue also tends to use pork shoulders instead of the whole hog. To me the following characteristic is a requirement for all true barbecue: the meat must be smoked over hickory coals.

As the menu states:

This is the True Lexington Style Barbecue, 2008
We use pork shoulders only. They are cooked about nine hours over hickory and oak coals. We salt the meat before cooking but we do not baste. This is the true Lexington Style Barbecue.
People take this stuff seriously. After walking through the very green, 1950s-era counter and checkout area, we're seated at the first table in the wood-paneled dining room. Just across the aisle, a family says grace as they are served their Saturday dinner. Of the two granddaughters present, one receives an order of chicken tenders and the other, the one closest to her grandmother, receives a barbecue platter (chopped pork, fries, red coleslaw). Both children become immediately engrossed by their meals.

The grandmother leans over to the closer granddaughter, and says softly, "I'm really glad that you like barbecue."

Barbecue Family, 2008

And this is what's all about:

Lexington No. 1's Product, 2008

I hope you can find a thousand words within that picture, because there really is no way to describe the food other than to say that the individual elements represent perfection and the whole a delicate synergy achieved over many years of cookery. Can you imagine the subtle smoke flavor and tenderness of pork smoked for nine hours? Does the red hue in the slaw communicate the tang of vinegar and ketchup found there? Does the golden tincture of the crinkle-cut fries convey their crispiness and how they pair perfectly with the slaw, ketchup, or barbecue sauce? And what about the hushpuppies? They're not in the shot, but it doesn't matter: refills are free.

And those hushpuppies soak up the bitter-tasting house sauce perfectly:

Smokehouse Barbeque Sauce, 2008

Rob and I both agreed that our meal here totally delivered. It was everything we had heard it would be, and a sharp contrast from our first experience here. Back in 2006, we were heading east from Greenville, where B's was closed for July 4th. We got a speeding ticket along the way, and had the usual hard time finding Lexington No. 1, which is located near a junction of two rural highways where everything looks exactly the same. When we finally arrived, the parking lot was deserted and our hearts plunged through the car floor when we realized that it too was closed.

But our planning paid off this time. As we exited, we saw all types of local folk getting take-out orders at the lunch counter...

Lunch Counter at Lexington No. 1, 2008

...and the parking lot was still packed. Above the adjoining smokehouse, the half dozen shiny, rusty exhaust pipes, their brick bases covered with seeping wood tar, belched heat into the dwindling daylight as we loaded ourselves into the Taurus and shipped off with only one destination in mind: the night.

Smoker Stacks, Take Three

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Monday, August 25, 2008

A&M Grill, Mebane, N.C. (From NCBBQII Pt VI: The Westward Quest to Lexington)

Nestled away in a tiny mill-town that's slowly being claimed by migrant Hispanic workers, A&M grill is a strange place. On a Saturday afternoon, its dining room was largely devoid of humans but teeming with flies. The barbecue here has a strong smoky flavor that seems strangely unaccentuated by the thick, peppery red sauce slathered on top.

This place was closed during NCBBQI in 2006, so we had to stop back in this past June. As always, click on the thumbnails for larger images.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

From NCBBQII Pt 5: Dillard's Bar-B-Q, Durham, NC

Full set on Flickr.

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From NCBBQII Pt 5: Dillard's Sign, North Side

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From NCBBQII Pt 5: Twin Meals at Dillard's

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From NCBBQII Pt 5: Dillard's Barbecue

Full set on Flickr

That's supposedly South Carolina-style barbecue--it's yellow because of a heavy dosage of either mustard or mustard flour. Dillard's definitely provides service with a smile and a full array of sides. Their unusually spherical hushpuppies taste almost like donut holes.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

NCBBQII Part The Fourth: From Ayden to Beaufort and Back

It was still the first day of our trip, a Friday. We'd had unbelievable experiences driving from DC to B's and then down to Ayden. For the rest of the day, we explored the rural east, discovered a large industrial port complex in Morehead City, got some alright cue at Roland's in nearby Beaufort, then took a dip at Atlantic Beach. The sun was setting fast, so we rolled up the unlit backroads back to Greenville and discovered an unexpectedly vibrant bar scene there. The gin and beer were basically free, so I took full advantage.

Here are the best photos from this leg of the trip. Click a photo and you can see it larger on Flickr.

Guns, Knives & Tits

Barn Trio


Topless Barn

Christian Cream Donuts, New Bern, NC

Worship Him (Store) Near New Bern, NC

Beaufort, NC Fire Dept Ford C-Series Reserve Pumper

Beaufort, NC Fire Dept GMC Brigadier Pumper

Roland's BBQ, Beaufort, NC

Hushpuppies at Roland's BBQ
This is what hushpuppies are supposed to look like--not that crap you get at Redbones.

Roland's House BBQ Sauce, Beaufort, NC

Birds, Atlantic Beach, NC




Rob L at Quality Inn, Greenville

The next morning it was on to the Research Triangle for some South Carolina style 'cue, then on to Lexington for some of Lexington No. 1's famous product.

Stay tuned...

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