BBQ Bonus

I was travelling to the eastern part of North Carolina for a family gathering and decided to go a bit out of my way to try a restaurant that is on just about any Best BBQ in NC or Southeast list you care to check out.

Skylight Inn BBQ is not exactly on the beaten path unless you’re from Ayden, NC but it’s worth trodding the unbeaten for.

I got there early for dinner, about 4:30, and there were a half dozen cars in the lost and people walking out with bags of to go food. The main area has seating with dining rooms off to the side and is shaped like a half hexagon or an isosceles trapezoid if you prefer. Going with the half hexagon analogy the bisecting line was the ordering counter. They keep it pretty simple with 3 tray sizes a sandwich and barbecued chicken plus just a few sides. I got a medium tray and drink for less than 10 bucks.

Well it wasn’t fancy but it was delicious and honestly it was some of the best BBQ I’ve eaten. The coleslaw was just cabbage slaw and was really too sweet in my opinion but I can see it going nicely on a BBQ sandwich with the slightly tangy sauce. The cornbread can only be described as a slab. It was dense and heavy but much better than I was expecting. In contrast to the slaw it was not nearly as sweet as a lot of cornbread you get at restaurants. Now the BBQ. As you can see it is pretty well chopped but you occasionally get chunks of solid meat. The smoked flavor is easy to taste but not overpowering and there are also crispy bits of skin mixed in like little prizes as you eat. I ate most of it without adding any of the sauce found on the table but I did try that as well. It was ok, not as thick as a lot of store bought sauces but similar enough that I don’t think it really added much to the meat.

So if you find yourself in the neighborhood or want to go wandering definitely give them a try.

Nice Doggy

You’re probably saying to yourself “I hope he’s eating hot dogs and not hound dogs,” and I can understand why you might not be certain.

Well let me assure you no dogs were done in to further this blog. Puppies however were consumed. Hush puppies that is.

I’m traveling to a family reunion and lunch time rolled around just as I was getting into Kinston, NC where there’s a BBQ place called King’s and it reminded me they have an item worth blogging about.

First a bit about King’s. It’s been around longer than I have so you know it’s old and it has a loyal clientele built on years of serving good Eastern NC style pork BBQ and since that’s where my people are from that has always been “real” BBQ to me. The outside looks like a step up from a warehouse so pretty isn’t going to pull you in. Over the years they’ve expanded and the inside is nice but still definitely a BBQ joint. They have a buffet dining area and one for a la carte dining which also has an oyster bar. I was seated in the latter and soon had my dish of choice in front of me.

This, my friends, is a Pig in a Puppy. Just about the ultimate barbecue sandwich. It is a generous helping of pork topped with coleslaw (optional) served in a giant hush puppy instead of a roll or bread. I don’t know who had the idea but it was genius.

Amazingly with a puppy that big they manage to cook it just right so it’s not doughy inside or really overcooked outside. It is a little crumbly but that’s why they bring you a fork too. I said it was about ultimate, if I’d had some of the Pucker Butt Voodoo something or other hot sauce I have at hot to lightly sprinkle on it that would have pushed it over the edge.

In case the sandwich didn’t melt your heart they give you a basket of puppies too.

How cute are they? They were good but a little sweeter than I prefer. If they dropped the added sugar and maybe added some onion powder it would be better in my opinion.

If you find yourself in Eastern North Carolina around meal time and Kinston anywhere near your route give King’s a try.

Side note, this is the first blog entry I’ve done entirely on the phone so fat fingers are going to be my excuse for any errors, factual or otherwise.








Rock the Grill

BBQ Cook-off

The week found me heading back downtown in Rock Hill for the Rock the Grill event.  Now that fall is here and the temperatures are less hellish the second festival / outdoor event season has arrived as well.  This one had all the makings for a great afternoon; classic car show, live music, kids area, wood carving display, a theoretical moonshine tasting, food trucks and the star of the show a KCBS cooking competition with public tasting.  I mean seriously that’s a great day.

I went early for a couple of reasons.  First I was afraid this might be popular enough the tasting tickets would run out and also there was a football game on at 3:30 I had to be home for.  They had this in the same area where the Food Truck Fridays are but they closed off a few more streets so I got to come in along one of the car show areas and there were some nice ones.

I knew the public tasting was $10 but I wasn’t sure how it was going to work until I got there.  Turns out they give you 10 tickets and two tokens and I also later learned the BBQ butt samples were 1 ticket each and the ribs were 2 tickets and the tokens were for you to vote for your two favorites.  Now you could certainly purchase more bundles at $10 a shot but I figured this would do me and I was right.  Now that I had the important part down I headed for what you may have noticed I called a theoretical moonshine tasting.  The tasting was supposed to be held at the historic White Home.

I got there and didn’t see any activity which I’ll grant I hadn’t expected a lot since it was 11:00 am.  Now I know some of you may be saying “Moonshine before noon, is he a lush?”  No, my thought was to give that a try early so by the time I needed to leave and drive home all traces of the moonshine would be gone.  So I head into the house that is a museum to focused on a prominent family in the area.  I was greeted by a really nice lady who apologized that the moonshiners hadn’t shown up yet even though she didn’t have anything to do with the event.  Since I was there I decided to pop for the $5 and tour the house which is a really great old house with displays and infographics in each room.  After killing about an hour there and still no sign of the shine I headed over to the beer tent since it was noon and getting warmer.

I wouldn’t otherwise mention the beer tent visit because I just got a Windy Hill Gala Peach cider and I’ve mentioned them before but while I was there I did get a good laugh.  As I’m getting my cider a guy comes around the tent with a container of pickles (they had a specialty dill pickle dealer on site) offering to share.  One lady at the beer tent waved them away with a shiver but another said “Oh, I love dill pickles I’ll take one”.  She grabbed one and was just crunching down on it as the guy says “Yeah, they’re the spicy horseradish ones”.  Her face was priceless. Four out of five people there had a little chuckle as she gamely finished the pickle slice.  I still had an hour or so to kill before the tasting started and that sounded like some time to spend enjoying the live music.

Based on the two acts I heard; the Maggie Valley Band, and The Drovers Old Time Medicine Show, they could have called it Country the Grill although neither would classify themselves as country I’m sure.  In fact according to their respective websites they are dark Appalachian & moonshine fueled bluegrass.  Anyway they were talented even if there weren’t a dozen people watching either one while I was there.  The bubble guy was busy though.

At last the time had come and the tasting was starting.  As I mentioned earlier you were sold tickets and tokens and each contestant was given a number and a table where their entries were served but you had no idea which belonged to a particular team.  There were 27 entries although I don’t think they all got their meat delivered on time as there were some empty spots.  As a taster you went up to one of the tables that struck your fancy and exchanged one ticket for a sample of butt and / or 2 tickets for ribs.  The teams were required to cook chicken and brisket as well but that was not part of the public tasting.  I guess those were judged by the KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society for anyone wondering) judges.  As it happens I am a butt guy and got just one token rib.  In any case there were plenty of ribs and butts and not a vegetable in sight.

It was interesting as the table volunteers varied in how full they fill the sample cup.  I’ll admit when I first saw the little sample I was thinking “That’s all?” but when you pile 8 of them and a rib on a plate I got my money’s worth.  For the most part the little cups provided two or three bites of each, enough to give you a good idea of the flavor and the texture.  One contestant though did chop theirs a bit coarse and you can see the one at the top of the plate has a huge hunk of meat in the cup.

Also depending on the volunteer you might get to pick the rib you wanted or they’d just reach in and grab one at random.  For my one rib I happened to get a young lady who let you pick so I got a nice meaty one.  None of the meat was heavily sauced but most did have some type of sauce or rub.  Those ranged from sweet to savory and some had a mild spiciness.  My two favorites were one that had no sauce but a great smokey flavor that permeated the meat throughout and not just on the surface and another that was a bit like a Carolina vinegar but not quite as tangy and with some other flavor I couldn’t quite identify but it was very good.  Those two got my votes but I was happy with all the entries.

Now lest you think this was a carnivore only event at least two of the food trucks had vegan options as well as normal food.

In closing I also want to mention this is held to benefit Miracle Park Rock Hill which is really cool and worth a click on the link.

Overall I’d say this was a successful culinary outing and I can’t wait to see what next year brings.








Beach Week pt 2

More Surf City Cuisine

This week we continue with the restaurants visited during family vacation week and since it covers five places it’s longer that normal.  The first was breakfast at Batson’s Galley with my nephew.  I selected this place because they have country links sausage which are harder to find than they should be.

The place looks to have been around for awhile and has the appearance of a typical diner when you go in except it has a huge beach mural on one wall and a copy of the 10 commandments hanging behind the register.  We got seated as soon as we walked in and drinks provided in a jiffy.  I went with a simple breakfast seen in the picture and my nephew went for the chocolate chip pancakes.  They were definitely on beach time and it took longer than I thought it should have based on the number of customers and the lack of complexity in our orders.  Fortunately the food made up for the wait.  The eggs were scrambled firm and not overcooked.  The sausage was mildly spicy with a good amount of sage.  The potatoes were a surprise hit, lightly crisp outside, evenly distributed seasoning generously applied made them a great accompaniment to the sausage and eggs.  Per my nephew the chocolate chip pancakes were outstanding and the chocolate chip quantity and distribution were spot on.

Next up was lunch at Daddy Mac’s Beach Grille with my sister, brother-in-law and niece.  Daddy Mac’s is a second floor restaurant so you’re climbing stairs or waiting on an elevator that is slower than taking the stairs from what we observed since we took the stairs and beat the elevator.  They have a nice ocean view from inside as well as seating outside on a deck.  We decided to sit inside as it was a bit warm even with the breeze.

I got their shrimp and grits which were different from any of the myriad of others I’ve had over the years.  As a side note shrimp and grits is one of those dishes that no two places or people seem to make the same and has more variation from place to place than just about any dish I’ve seen.  As long as it has the two titular ingredients anything else is fair game and these folks threw me a curve ball with theirs.

 

When the server placed the bowl in front of me my first thought was, “These are some thin ass grits and what’s with the toast in the middle.”  Turns out that wasn’t toast but a grit cake fried or toasted brown with a plentiful helping of shrimp and mushrooms in a savory gravy that was delicious if unexpected.  I had a Mother Earth Brewing Endless River Kolsch style ale to wash it down.  It was light and paired well with the meal.  The other’s enjoyed their meals as well see below for the bonus pics.  This was another place on beach time when it came to time between ordering and receiving food.

The following day saw a trip to Surf City BBQ which had great reviews from the nieces & future nephew-in-law.  This was one of the rare spots that wasn’t within easy walking distance but still very close to the house so a sister & two brothers-in-law jumped in the car and off we went.  The restaurant is in a little strip center and doesn’t look that much like a good BBQ place from the outside but inside the atmosphere is BBQ joint.  I got a combo plate with pulled pork and chicken.

One thing to mention is they bring a basket of hush puppies to keep you going until the food arrives and are quality hush puppies.  The chicken was tender and tasty but no thrill ride.  The pulled pork was eastern NC style vinegar & pepper lightly sauced with more at hand on the table if you needed more.  Very enjoyable.  The fried cornbread square was different but good.  The Brunswick stew was good but Georgia hash is better and the green beans were cooked to perfection, tender but not mushy, with just the right amount of salt.  There was a lot of food and no room for the banana pudding the server was pushing hard.

Last breakfast outing was not the best.  I was walking to Spudee’s when I passed Beach Bunny Subs and Grill and saw they were serving breakfast and since I hadn’t been there I figured I might as well.  I should have kept walking.  Not that the food was bad but no busier than they were it took way too long to get my food.  I got seated right away but it took a while before the server came over to get my order for coffee.  When that got to me I decided to try the Tidal Wave Scrambler.

Then started the epic wait for my breakfast.  I don’t know what they were doing besides cooking back there but they must have been squeezing the eggs out of the chickens and milling the wheat for the gravy flour.  Anyway I finally got my scrambler which I’ll tell you about since you can’t see much beyond the gravy.  Two eggs, sausage, onions, peppers, hashbrowns, corned beef hash, cheese, stray tomato, smothered in sausage gravy.  That sounds like a ton of food and it was plenty but the hashbrowns weren’t well represented and in spite of the overly long wait the onions and peppers were essentially raw.  This was the worst experience of the week and I couldn’t recommend them at all.

On a happier note lunch was a family event to a restaurant recommended by the owner of the house we rented.  The Riverview Cafe in Snead’s Ferry has been around for a bunch of years and is locally known for their fresh seafood and pies.  They have a changing roster of specials each day as well as the menu to order from.  Just about everyone ordered something from the specials board.  I got the tilapia, shrimp & deviled crab and a Dogfish SeaQuench Ale.

 

The ale came first and it was quite the experience.  It is a combination of styles but the prevailing flavors are the lime and sea salt.  It’s light and refreshing and a great summer beer to enjoy with your seafood.  We also got a couple of baskets of hush puppies here to keep us from getting surly while waiting for the food.  When it came the tilapia was lightly breaded, fried and tasty.  The deviled crab was on par with those you’d get at a chain.  The shrimp though was the star of the trio.  It had a light batter that you could see the orange stripes of the perfectly cooked shrimp through.  The seasoning in the batter was outstanding and made for the best fried shrimp I’ve had in a long time and maybe ever.  The sides of mac & cheese and green limas were both above average.  I traded a shrimp for a scallop from another family member and it was a toss up which was better so suffice to say you couldn’t lose with either.  I was told the ribs were well worth considering too.

We ordered pies to take home for later; a chocolate, a coconut cream, and a lemon.  I don’t have pics because they didn’t travel well and the meringue stuck to the box top on two of them which was ok with me because I find meringue on a pie to be just an obstacle to overcome to get to the good stuff.  All three pies were quality, not as good as mama’s pies but pretty good.

Overall the week’s dining experiences were positive and most were enjoyed with various family members so that just made them a bit better.  Already looking forward to next year.








BBQ Time

American South

Not finding any restaurants representing an untried country and with food trucks on deck for next week I decided to add another variation to the theme and look for restaurants that represented regional American cuisines.  So I might not need a passport to visit their home area (unless SC doesn’t update their drivers licenses then I’ll have to use my passport card) but it’s still from outside the area.  Figured it made sense to start on the home turf with some pork BBQ from a local establishment.

In this case I decided on 521 BBQ in Tega Cay just up the road from me.

There are in a little strip mall and don’t have an outdoor pit or big smoker outback with guys shoveling in coals or anything but I understand they do smoke their own meat.  When you go in there are some tables and the bar up front and then down the left side of the restaurant there is a fair amount of additional seating.  The bar area has a few flat screen TVs showing sports and a nice selection of craft beer.  As a side note it amused me that the bartender had to go look in the back to see if they had any Michelob Ultra when someone asked for it.  Since it was right there in my face that’s how I started my visit, with one of the craft draft beers.  Specifically it was a DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus.  I know that might sound like a questionable name and it didn’t provide salvation but it was tasty.

As you might have noticed this is a darkish beer.  That’s because it is a chocolate peanut butter porter.  When I picked up the beer the foamy tan head gave off a distinctly peanut butter scent and the first sip backed that up with a peanut buttery taste.  I didn’t get much chocolate from it but the slight bitterness expected from a porter was there along with the peanut butter.  It was smooth and delicious but really kind of heavy for the lunch I had planned.

I ordered a combo tray that came with two meats and two sides.  Chopped pork and ribs were the meat selections while baked beans and collards were the sides I settled on.  While I waited on the entrée they provided a complimentary basket of hushpuppies to keep me occupied.

They came with some honey butter spread that I’m sure would have been good but I just ate a couple plain.  They were slightly sweet with just a vague hint of onion.  Not my Granddad’s hushpuppies but acceptable.  It was just a few minutes though and the main attraction was delivered.

If it looks like a lot of food that’s because it was.  I started with a small taste of each of the sides before digging into the meats.  The baked beans were made with a smoky, sweet thick bbq sauce that was the predominate flavor.  They had some bacon and onion as well to balance the sweetness a bit.  The collards looked great and you could see they had added some pork in with them.  I can’t lie, the first bite had an sort of fishy taste that almost made me quit it right there.  I don’t know if it was just some weird combination of the aftertaste of the sweet smoky beans and the savory collards but man the initial reaction was not cool.  I waited a second and tried them again and didn’t get the same taste so I could proceed.  They were ok, texture was good, not mushy like some and the pork was ok but smoked, salted meat would probably have been a better flavor choice.

The ribs on the other hand were great from start to finish.  There were two ribs in each of the pieces and they were generously coated in the sweet, smoky sauce.  They were not fall off the bone ribs but the meat came away from the bone cleanly as you ate them.  The chopped pork was delivered without sauce just the smoked, chopped meat and you had three options of sauces at the table.  The previously mentioned smoky, sweet sauce, plus mustard based and vinegar based sauces made up the choices.  The pork itself had a mild smoke flavor with salt and was edible plain but much better with sauce.  Being from an eastern NC family I loaded mine with the vinegar sauce after segregating a couple of small portions to sample the other two.  It was a bit sweeter than I prefer but not bad.  The mustard sauce was nice and tangy and the other sauce was ok in the beans and good on the ribs and decent on the chopped pork too.

Final verdict for me is the place is solid but nothing exceptional based on what I had.  After the beer I’d say the ribs were probably the next best thing.  If you’re in the area and feel like getting some BBQ you’ll do okay if you stop in.








Pumpkin Head

Pumpkin Carving

This weekend it was neither restaurant nor food truck that had me on the road it was an annual pumpkin carving/decorating event hosted by one of my cousins.  She & her fiancé not only provide a fantastic setting for this gathering but put on a spread some restaurants should be envious of.  The lucky guests need bring only a pumpkin and whatever their adult beverage of choice is.

For me this is an opportunity to see a couple of my oldest friends in the world who happen to be my cousins too.  I saw one of my sisters and took my mother to the event as well so it was a day of family and friends of family.  Did I mention the food yet?   There were two buffet lines, one with BBQ and sides and one with hamburgers and hot dogs that were cooked up fresh and pulled off the grill as people were arriving.

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I snagged a plate of bbq, hash & rice, beans & corn and found a spot in the shade to enjoy my meal.  I had a Hell or High Watermelon beer to go with it.  This was my introduction to the beer and I tried it based on hearing positive reviews on several different podcasts I listen to and honestly I was expected more.  It’s a wheat beer made with watermelon as the name suggests.  It does have a slight hint of watermelon both is smell and aftertaste.  It wasn’t bad and certainly light and perfect for hot days I just didn’t see what all the hype was about.  That disappointment didn’t deter me trying other stuff as there was a table in the vicinity that featured items brought by the guests such as the mummified pepper poppers & pumpkin spice cupcake which somehow found their way to my plate as you can see below.

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After lunch while the gourd gutting, carving and decorating continued I took a stroll around the garden and snagged a shot of the early finishers.  The food was great, the weather cooperated and any weekend you get to spend with family and friends is a win.  Can’t wait until next year!

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