This past Saturday 150 or so of us rode from Palmetto Brewing to COAST Brewing and back with Pint Pedal Charleston to raise money for Movemeber and Testicular and Prostate cancer research. Here are some photos below the fold.
Brewvival 2013 was one to be remembered. We all knew heading into it that it was going to be raining, hard. Seriously. Warnings were broadcast via Twitter, Facebook and other avenues telling everyone that rain gear was going to be a necessity and to plan for seriously messy conditions. That was no exaggeration. There was some fear of lightning and postponement but Jared at CHSwx ensured us we should be in the clear, for lightning at least. I was shooting the festival so I arrived early to get some set up shots of the brewers and workers and check out the layout. When I sloshed up at 10:00 AM there were already 10-20 people waiting in line in a downpour, all of them excited about the day. Tents set up with people making breakfast in the parking lot, vendors still pouring in, literally, and ice being delivered to the brewer’s tents. The closer we got to the Noon starting time, the harder the rain fell. This was going to happen.
In 1979 The Skylight Inn BBQ restaurant in Ayden, NC was named the BBQ capital of the world by National Geographic. So to make it somewhat official, founder and owner Pete Jones had somewhat of a replica of the US Capitol dome built to sit atop his nondescript brick building. Known for it basic menu of eastern style whole hog chopped BBQ, the Skylight Inn has been serving up award winning BBQ to locals, travelers, American Presidents and international guests since 1947 in the sleepy town of Ayden, NC (which is also known as the collards capital of the world). A short 20 min drive south of Greenville, Ayden and the Skylight Inn are off the beaten path for most people, but that doesn’t stop BBQ aficionados, questers and fans from going out of their way to give the pork a try, myself included. In 2003 The James Beard Foundation awarded the Skylight the 2003 American Classics Restaurant award, so this place has been recognized by a lot more than BBQ schlubs like myself.
I made plans to head to the Skylight on the way back from a business trip in Norfolk, VA. The drive was mostly on two lane back country roads with plenty of cotton and soybean fields surrounding old rotting and beat down barns, sheds and houses. It kind of set the stage. Unlike Wilber’s in Goldsboro, the Skylight Inn isn’t on any major through-way that gets a ton of traffic. It sits in a gravel parking lot on the side of South Lee St. outside of the main part of Ayden (which isn’t saying much). You can see the “Capitol” dome with the ever present Old Glory as you come up on it. The sign, a recent addition, says “If it’s not cooked with wood, it’s not BBQ”. Damn straight. As soon as you step in you can hear the rhythmic pounding of BBQ being chopped by some dual cleaver wielding employee. The smell of smoke is prevalent (as it damn well should be) and the starkness of the plain walls tells you this place means BBQ business. There’s no table service. You step up to the counter and place your order then take it to one of the many school cafeteria type tables throughout the three or four large plain rooms. Right behind the counter is an open window into the kitchen and that’s where the man wielding the cleavers is going to town on large hunks of smoked pork, chopping away like a drummer on a snare drum. Bring cash because they don’t accept cards, which fits the place. And like a few other old school BBQ joints I’ve been in recently there is a sign asking you to get off your cell phone when at the counter. And really, if you need a sign to tell you that you’ve got bigger problems.
The menu is small and BBQ focused. They offer chopped pork, chicken, cornbread and a that’s about it. Until recently they only offered bottled drinks but now have a soda machine and iced tea. You can get a sandwich or a small, medium or large “tray”. Tray here means one of those red and white paper trays that I always associate with fries or hush-puppies. You get one filled with chopped pork, the a slice of a super dense skillet cornbread stacked on top of that then another tray full of slaw on top of that with a sheet of wax paper as your table cover. The pork is classic eastern whole hog style with bits of fat and cracklin’ and the occasional piece of gristle mixed in with the medium chopped meat. The smoke is well represented and there’s just a hint of “sauce”. The sauce, so I understand it, is just a mix of vinegar and Texas Pete administered as the meat is chopped. It works. I’m not one to over-sauce anyway but I felt no need to add anything to Skylight’s que. The slaw is a light mayo based fine chopped sweet slaw and it accompanies the pork well. The third part of the “tray’ trinity is a large square of a dense skillet cornbread rumored to be from a 180 year old recipe. A little salty and crisp with a dense center. A bite of the cornbread, que and slaw is pretty damn perfect. Is this the best BBQ in the world? Who knows. There are so many good BBQ places (and bad ones) out there and I hate giving titles to one over another. Is this damn good Eastern Style BBQ. You better believe it. Ayden is not in my normal traveling pattern but I’m sure I’ll make it back.
On my way back from a long week of working in Norfolk, VA I made a detour to go by what is widely considered the premier example of Eastern North Carolina style whole hog BBQ, Wilber’s BBQ. Located on Hwy 70 in Goldsboro, NC Wilber’s just celebrated 50 years of serving BBQ to the masses. The building, and frankly many of the employees, look like I imagine it looked back in the 60’s. The clientele is exactly what you want in a BBQ joint: black, white, brown, rich, poor, young and old.
I ordered my standard first time BBQ visit order, a pulled pork sandwich with slaw hush-puppies and this time fries (which was a mistake). The pork lived up to its reputation, slightly smokey, juicy, tender and dressed with a classic eastern vinegar and pepper sauce, “It’s Spicy Good!. It really might be the best eastern NC BBQ I’ve had. It is no wonder that Wilber’s is often the first place mentioned when someone asks about people’s favorite NC BBQ stops.
The slaw was pretty standard fare and the hush puppies were sweet and light. The fries were completely inedible, but who cares. I don’t go to a BBQ joint for its fries.
If you’re in east NC and have time, or even don’t, head to Goldsboro and stop in Wilber’s for the definitive example of the style. But do it soon, from what I understand when namesake, owner and pitmaster Wilber Shirley passes on his restaurant will have to convert from wood to gas to come into compliance with Goldsboro’s air quality standards (Wilber’s was grandfathered in when the law was passed).
Scott’s BBQ in Hemingway, SC
I had a free Saturday for the first time in a while and the wife was busy so what was I to do? A trip to Scott’s BBQ in Hemingway, SC seemed to be in order. Off I went. Hemingway is about an hour and 45 mins from Charleston on nice back roads so I figured I could double up and do a little shooting there and back. I’ve had Scott’s que once before but had never made the trip to the actual “restaurant” if you can call it that. It’s more of a smokehouse with a to-go counter and a Pepsi machine out front, and it’s just about perfect that way. Their website says they’ve been serving barbeque for forty years since it was founded in 1972 by Ellie and Roosevelt “Rosie” Scott. Their son Rodney now runs the show and describes their ‘cue secret as “we put a whole lot of love into what we do”. Yes they do. Real authentic wood fired pits, the way ‘que was meant to be made. It’s a lot more labor and time intensive, but it pays off. They recently gained some national (international?) fame by having the New York Times run an article about them. That was three years ago. My visit this past weekend confirms that while there has been fame, it doesn’t appear to have gone to anyone’s head. The restaurant / smokehouse doesn’t seem to have lost any of its authentic back roads SC charm, and the cue is still about as good as I’ve ever had.
The inside of the restaurant is essentially a walk up order window and a couple of shelves stocked with loaves of white bread, some snacks and a few other items. But not much. You’re here for barbeque not for a grocery trip. The menu is simple. You can order whole hogs, parts of hogs, turkeys all either uncooked or have them cook it for you. You can get 1/2 pound and pound orders of pulled pork and you can get yourself a whole or half a chicken. You can also get your self a house smoked rib-eye, which really sounds awesome. And outside of extra sauce and some pork skins that’s pretty much it. And that’s how it should be as far as I’m concerned. There’s no need to fuss with a bunch of other items when you do your barbeque like this. Whatever you do, do not talk on your cell phone when you are ordering. There are at least 5 different signs warning you on this. I was even scared to take a photo while in there for fear of some sort of Seinfeld soup-naziesque response forever shutting me out. And bring cash, no debt or credit cards allowed. In fact there’s a big sign preaching on the evil of credit, so fill that wallet with green and bring it.
My fears of cell phone retribution were immediately quashed when I got to the counter and placed my order. Two very nice and helpful ladies took and filled my order, made sure I had everything I needed and sent me on my way with a big smile. The problem here is that I was a good two hours from home. Would I be able to control my picking at the Styrofoam container enough to make it to Charleston with anything left? Aside from a few instances I managed to control myself and the ‘cue made it home mostly unscathed. The BBQ is classic long pulled pork sauced with a Lexington like vinegar, light tomato, pepper and chile flakes combination. All together it’s a perfect mix of a little sweet, just the right amount of smoke and a little heat to finish you off. They cook whole hogs instead of just shoulders but other than that it reminds me of Lexington style, and it’s as good or better than any Lexington style barbeque I’ve had from the source. I ordered a couple pounds and some extra sauce on the side, but that sauce is unneeded. It’s a good thing that it’s a 3-4 hour round trip for me. I could see myself visiting Scott’s way more often than is advisable. I do however advise everyone and anyone who appreciates good ‘cue, a family making things the right way not the fast way, and an interesting trip to head to Hemingway one weekend and check out Scott’s.