You might be wondering whether I went to Durham for the World Beer Festival, or if I really went for the barbecue and dropped by the fest on a whim. You'd be close. I won't deny that the barbecue was a strong lure when Julie Bradford asked me to speak at the fest. But the bonus turned out to be when I put the word out at the Friday night brewers' reception that I was looking for the best 'cue in town, please, and not the place you send tourists to. Your place. The Real Deal. Smoke Heaven.
Daniel Bradford, All About Beer publisher, came through, in spades: "You want Allen & Son. It's in Chapel Hill, about a 20 minute drive. We'll figure out how to get you there between sessions." Perfect. It got even perfecter (ha!) when I hit the Web and learned that they opened at 10 AM on Saturdays. Carl and I were parked out front at 10:07. A quick peek around back confirmed that not only was Allen & Son the 'real deal' and used real wood-fired pits, they were hard-core Old School: there wasn't just wood back there, there were big freakin' logs that they were cutting and splitting themselves, presumably to either save some money or get just the billets they wanted. Or both.
We went in, and "Hunting Camp" went through my mind: dead heads on the wall, old furniture and linoleum, and woodsmoke. We dropped anchor beside the two figures you see to the left -- the pig showing a slightly uncomfortable amount of emotion in his little ceramic eyes -- and were greeted by our waitress Jennaraye. I told her we were there the first time, and asked her what we should have. Pulled pork was her suggestion, which got right to the issue: how's your pig? I'm much more a pulled pork/minced pork kinda guy than a rib-lover. Carl got it with fries, I got the tatie salad.
She brought us a basket of hush puppies to start, rough, non-uniform, and dark, both inside and out. They were still hot, and I grabbed one by the sharp, crusty corner, and bit in. Glory. These were the best hush puppies I've ever had. They were moist, heavy, a bit coarse, and sweet with corn; no spices, no onion that I could detect, just delicious cornmeal. I asked her what cornmeal they used -- after I had moaned and shuddered my way through about four of them -- and all I could get from what she was saying was that it was a local brand, House of Ayard? Or something. I'm checking a grocery store on the way out of town this morning; if you know what she's talking about, pass it on.
Then the pig came. Hey, you read the title of the post, right? I can't keep you in suspense, right? It was The Best Damned Barbecue I remember having. It was boldly smoky, smoke-infused, with a hot-pepper vinegar dressing (I know I'm a bad man, but I can't bring myself to call the east Carolina vinegar and pepper thing, delicious though it is, "sauce") and plenty of browned chunks of outside meat and a couple chunks of skin. We just fell on it. My tater salad was good, but not exceptional, the slaw was peppery and okay. Carl's french fries were outstanding, meaty strips of spud, fried down just right.
I could not resist dessert when Jennaraye asked. I got peach cobbler, which was real downhome and good, but I should have resisted her suggestion that I get the homemade vanilla ice cream: it was at least a day old and grainy. Cobbler was quite good though.
If I get near the Triangle again, bet your soul: I'll be at Allen & Son.