Exploring New Subscription Boxes

Once you get past Chinese & Mexican the number of international restaurants is pretty slim in the immediate area. As I love my global goodies I decided to have some delivered to scratch that itch. I’ve done Universal Yums in the past which brought snacks from other countries to my door so this time I opted for Try Treats and Eat2Explore. The one I’m going to talk about now is Eat2Explore. Something different this time is trying out a video unboxing. We’ll see how this goes.

I’m clearly not ready to convert this to a video blog but it was something different. So was this whole experience. This box would be really great if you had kids and wanted to get them introduced to foods from other cultures and learning about other places. The two info cards are quick hits of information about the country, food & origins, social studies, math & art. Plus a QR code to take you to more online information. Kind of cool.

The next thing about this box is that it’s about making the dishes rather than dropping a ready made meal on your doorstep. If you enjoy cooking then this could be for you. I also appreciated the fact that each recipe was provided with both with a good version and a vegetarian option (I know my carnivore is showing). I do think it’s a nice touch for those who swing that way. The recipes are fairly straight forward and ingredients included in the box are highlighted in the finished dishes. The included shopping list is quite a nice touch too. That also explained the kitchen gadget I thought was a spoon holder was actually a lid prop to keep the lid open a crack so you can avoid boil overs.

The meals were all tasty and I wound up using them as meal prep for the week to save time and have a tasty homemade meal several more times. The first one I made was jerk chicken thighs with Caribbean rice and coleslaw.

The spicy peppers were evident in the jerk paste but not overly hot. The sweetness of the pineapple I think helped tamp it down. The coconut milk powder I said in the video was for the coconut shrimp was really for this rice recipe. I loved this rice. I did go off book and use some brown jasmine rice rather than white but that in no way detracted from my enjoyment. The slaw was a little juicy but had a nice flavor that went well with the rest of the meal. I looked forward to the left overs. Next up was the curry chicken stew.

Another relatively simple dish that had a ton of great flavor and the left overs were better than the first meal after cooking. I used chick breast in this one and stuck to my brown rice over the white. This was a fairly sweet curry stew and very aromatic. It was also very filling with both rice and potatoes in addition to the chicken. If you’re trying to cut carbs this is not the meal you are looking for. I like curry a lot so this was probably my favorite of the 3 recipes overall. Having said that the next one was an excellent contender.

It doesn’t look like much with only 4 jumbo shrimp but wow these were nice and the meal was sufficient to fill me up. I’ve had coconut shrimp before and they were ok. These were better than any I’ve had before. It wasn’t anything super special other than they had bigger flakes of coconut and they were baked rather than fried. The sauce was like a homemade yum yum sauce and the riced cauliflower with mixed vegetables was not bad at all. I did use the left over egg from the dredging of the shrimp in the cauliflower and vegetables like a stir fry. The shrimp was the single biggest surprise for me and was simple enough I’ll give them another go. They also reheated well in the oven.

I signed up for a few months so we’ll see what it brings. This one certainly was worthwhile.

Istanbul Was the Shish

This is part 2 of a culinary weekend in Cary that started with the Pimento Cheese Festival.

After we spent some time catching up dinner time rolled around and we decided to try a place that had been on my sister’s radar but she’d never been. Istanbul Restaurant & Cafe is pretty convenient so if she liked it she’d have a new option in her dining portfolio.

When we got there it was not that promising as there was only one other car. People started rolling in though just about the time we got our menus and placed the drink order. The folks running the place, if not from Turkey, were definitely from the Mediterranean area. My sister ordered the chicken shish plate while I ordered the mixed grill because I love variety.

Warm bread and olive oil to dip it in came out first and some tzatziki we ordered as an appetizer. Both very delicious. It really got going when the entrees rolled out.

The mixed grill came with adana kabob, chicken kabob and kofta meatballs for the meats. There was also rice, vegetables, a small wedge of bread and a sauce to dip in. Honestly it was all well spiced and grilled just right. The chicken was my favorite which surprised me since I generally love the beef lamb mix of the adana and kofta. If I’d been going back to my house I’d probably have taken half of this home but instead I unwisely powered through and earned some midnight heartburn. I don’t regret it too much though, it was too good to leave. Judging by her reaction I think Lynn found a good lunch place too.

In addition to the food the folks working there were very friendly and willing to answer questions and made sure we were enjoying the meal. Highly recommend them if you’re in the Cary area.

I’m an early riser as is most of my family so we decided to grab breakfast before I left. After mulling over the slim choices of open places at that time of the morning we decided on Biscuitville. It’s a cool little place where they are constantly making biscuits (shocker) but doing it at a station right out front by the counter. It’s surrounded by plexiglass to keep the cooties at bay but you can see the biscuits getting made by hand.

As I was perusing the menu my sister pointed out the limited time only Spam biscuits and that did it for me. I love me some fried Spam.

I got it with egg and cheese so it would be a balanced meal and carry me through the journey home to Seneca. It was tasty. After 3 good dining experiences and visiting with my sister and brother-in-law and catching a glimpse of my nephew I felt like I won the weekend. That was two in a row since I spent the prior one with friends and visiting my other sister and her family.

Here Be Cheesemongers

Last weekend was a fun food filled frolic for the old culinary passport. Ok, there was no frolicking, I might have gotten caught up in the alliteration. Anyway, I drove up to visit my sister Lynn and family. Plans had been made to go to the Pimento Cheese Festival in Cary, NC. We’d been a few years before and it seemed like a good reason to hang out. The day was nice, not too hot and no rain so good June weather.

They had one street blocked off, food trucks lining the way, a kids area set up and a beer garden just past that off to one side. I guess you could drop off the kids and hit the booze. At the end of the street they had a decent band playing some 80’s & 90’s tunes.

Now the thing was every truck had to have at least one dish that featured pimento cheese, because, you know it’s right there in the name, Pimento Cheese Festival. Some had to be pretty creative to earn their spot. Like this one.

Most kept it simple and just threw some pimento cheese on fries or sandwich or whatever they normally served but that wouldn’t do for me so we walked the entire length looking for interesting and I settled on the Big Mama wrap.

There was a lot going on here. All the components were ok and I wanted to love it but I only liked it. I think part of my issue was the fact that although it was a wrap it wasn’t something you could eat with your hands because of the pimento cheese topping it. Sitting on church steps trying to cut that with cheap plastic cutlery was a less than a stellar experience. I did appreciate their creativity though.

After that mild disappointment I figured I’d try, try again so to the ice cream cart we went. Surely not, you say, but yes they had it.

And I got it.

My sister took the saner option and got Pina Colada ice cream. Not me boy. It was the pimento cheese ice cream sandwich all the way. Yes it was as weird as it sounds. The sugar cookies that it was sandwiched between were sweet and chewy while the ice cream was sort of sweet and cheesy and a bit salty. Talk about cognitive dissonance. My brain kept rebelling at the sight of what should be a wholly sweet treat that kept hitting the tongue with savory blasts. I’m glad I tried it but I’ll be just as glad to never try it again.

After this we walked to see the beer garden offerings. To get there we had to pass through the children’s area where they had giant red solo cups and big white balls and it looked like they were teaching the kids to play beer pong. With that disturbing visual in mind nothing was striking my fancy among the purveyors of beer until we hit the Vicious Fishes tent and I saw the Here Be Dragons IPA.

The geeky name pulled me in but the tropical aroma and taste had me really enjoying this hazy IPA. Multiple hop varieties gave it, to me, a hint of mangos and tropical fruit that made it an enjoyable way to finish up the the early afternoon listening to Spare Change and hanging out with my sister.

Quite a good afternoon. This was such a food filled weekend I’ll cover the Turkish restaurant and breakfast next week.

I Gambled On Italian

Last Saturday I drove up to Cherokee, NC with plans to lose a few dollars in the Harrah’s slot machines as a tribute to my father. He enjoyed the slots quite a bit and Friday was his birthday.

I got there early and spent a few hours donating money to the Native Americans and generally having a good time playing various games. After a few hours of blinking lights, spinning wheels, and tossing the dice I got peckish and figured I’d see what the food scene was like here.

It was more potential than reality. Several of the spots located just off the casino floor are only open late or early depending on your point of view. The Gordon Ramsey food court or whatever it was called has a burger place and a pizza place that were open and had long lines. They have several other places that are being prepped but not open. It’s new and they haven’t had the grand opening yet so I’ll give them a break and not judge too harshly. I opted to go on down to the next spot which was Brio Italian Grille.

The hostess let me know that there was a 45 minute wait for the main dining area but I could get a place at the bar sooner and the bartender would seat me. Based on the number of open seats in the main dining area they were dealing with a limited staffing situation. So I walked over to the staging area for bar seating. This is where I had the worst experience of the day. The bar was pretty much full and the bartender actively avoided making eye contact with me or anyone waiting to be seated. Honestly not being acknowledged at all was starting to tick me off and that was building the more I waited. Fortunately I had my phone to distract me and a spot came open before I got really mad. When the spot came open she was all sunshine and smiles.

I selected the portobello stuffed ravioli in a brown butter sauce.

The bread came first and oddly did not come with olive oil but the provided a lot of butter. I sampled it but didn’t want to overdo the carbs. The ravioli was very tasty. The grape tomatoes were sweet and acidic. The crimini mushrooms in the sauce added nice texture. The cheese was not parmesan but another, milder semi-hard cheese. The portobello stuffing was flavorful and hearty. My gamble paid off with a very nice lunch in spite of the rocky start.

I’ll be going back to Harrah’s Casino to try out some new craps strategies and maybe give Gordon Ramsey’s food court another shot.

I Went Viking

A couple of weekends ago I decided to check out the Lavonia, GA Renaissance Festival. It is a 1 day affair in a local park. The theme was Vikings so it was technically outside the Renaissance period but why quibble with a nice day out.

I was hoping to grab some festival food while I was out but the pickings were slim and nothing grabbed me. However I did check out the sites.

I bought some blueberry blossom honey that was very thick and rich and may wind up in a mead. I also checked out the reenactors giving demos and talking about the period, around 1066, that was the focus. Plus the wolf was cool.

If you’re wondering why this is in the blog and not just on FB, I’m getting there. After I left, unfed, I was inspired to go viking (the verb not the noun) but with less looting and pillaging. Mainly it was exploring. I jumped off on an unfamiliar exit heading down a road I knew would eventually get to familiar territory. Like this post. Well I spotted the Spotted Pig BBQ restaurant and decided to delve into the discovery.

It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere and there was only one other car there so I wasn’t sure what I was going to wind up with but in I went. They have a nice large dining area and a decent sized outside seating area from what I could see. I was seated quickly by one of the several staff members huddled at one end of the bar. The menu had reasonably standard fair along with some flair like the BBQ egg roll. I kept it traditional and got the rib plate with mac & cheese and coleslaw.

As you can see the ribs come pre-sliced with 4 ribs as a serving nicely presented. There was also a mini cornbread muffin on the side that I saved for dessert. I have to say these were the best ribs I’ve had locally. The smokey flavor along with the dry rub and tender meat that resisted just a bit made for a delicious satisfying bite every time. I did try the sauces that were at the table just to see what they might add.

They weren’t bad, the spicy was moderately hot, the sweet was just that. I’m not a big fan of mustard based sauces but this was a good example of what one should be. The mustard was definitely the star with a hint of sweet and a touch of heat. In the end I ate the last two ribs sauceless because I thought they were fine as is.

The coleslaw I really enjoyed. All the ingredients tasted fresh and had a crispness that gave a nice crunch as it was eaten. The mac and cheese was also nice in that it felt more like homemade than a lot you find. The cheese wasn’t a cheese sauce and you got a little more in one bite than you might in another. I like that personally. The mini muffin was pretty sweet and had some kind of additional ingredient that made me save it for dessert.

I was happy with the meal and service overall and will go back however, I won’t be getting another $7 draft beer. That was a bit of a shocker since I didn’t check out the pricing first. It was a nice coffee lager but that just felt too steep to me.

After lunch I continued my exploration and found a farmer’s market / yard sale that was closing down. I did acquire some well priced tomato plants to add to my garden after some fierce haggling (ok they thrust them at me and named a price I couldn’t walk away from).

I think I did that Swedish / Danish part of my DNA proud out there exploring new areas, destroying that rib plate and coming back with fresh acquisitions.

All the B’s

Saturday wasn’t a day for international food specifically but the base of both experiences is global in scope. I mean grilled meat and fermented beverages, what culture doesn’t have that? BTW this is going to be a longer than usual entry.

BBQ Barn

My first decision was to visit a meadery, Southern Origin Meadery, located in Canon, Georgia. Well that presented the opportunity to find a restaurant between here and there. After some searching I decided on BBQ Barn in Lavonia. It looked interesting and rustic sitting in the middle of town.

It was kind of weird, there was one window that served drive through and walk up. I’d thought about eating at one of the picnic tables but there was a line of cars and I didn’t want to go stand behind the last car and breath exhaust as the line moved. There was a walk up couple at the head of the line and whatever they ordered took forever. Once they were gone the line moved nicely. The young lady working the window was all smiley and moved with rapidity and determination. I admire that in a person getting my food. Since I was going to be car dining I selected the BBQ sandwich platter. This came with stew, coleslaw and chips.

Their sandwich is chopped pork, with lots of sauce well distributed. I got the “hot” sauce and to be fair it did have a noticeable pepper heat but it was not what I’d call hot. It was fine. The sauce was a little sweeter than I prefer, on the up side though the meat had a decent smokiness to it. The stew was tastier dish in spite of the consistency being not appealing. It too was sweet but the acid from the tomatoes helped cut that. The consistency issue was that it looked like they took the solids and threw them in a food processor until they were kind of mealy and then chunked it into the liquid. The end result was a bit mushy with particles of corn scattered throughout. I’m not going to be explicit about what it reminded me of but feel free to use your imagination. In my opinion it would have been better served over rice. The coleslaw was nondescript, so I won’t bother descripting it. From here I barreled on towards the Blue Haven Bee Company.

Blue Haven Bee Company / Southern Origin Meadery

But James, we thought you were going to the meadery. I did. The two share space in what I found out used to be a sewing factory. Jeans being a big part of the output. Apparently the Bee Company came first selling personal care products and honey from bees the owners kept. Well if you add some yeast and water to honey you can get alcohol. I guess with a supply of honey, plenty of room and some imagination the meadery was born.

Let me tell you, you are not finding this place just passing by because unless you’re going there you won’t be on the road it’s on. They have a large parking area and a covered outdoor seating area that looked nice. Inside there is a bar/counter area where a nice lady was doing the pouring. There is also a sitting area / show room for the products they sell and an alcove with the bottled meads and some cheeses and snacks.

I’d already scoped them out online and knew I was going to try a flight, which was 6 small pours selected from their menu of meads. A quick aside for those that know I make my own and wonder why I’m travelling 30 minutes and paying someone to try stuff I have probably 50 bottles of at home. I wanted to expand my sample size of other peoples product so I don’t get cellar palate. Besides it’s fun too. OK back to the meadery.

They have the meads categorized as Dry, Semi-Sweet, and Sweet. I’d already figured out I was going to try 2 of each and take home a bottle of whatever I enjoyed the most. The mead-tender suggested starting dry and moving to sweet which matched what I was thinking so we were already on the same page. I figured I start at the most basic level and go for the Culler, a traditional made with cotton blossom honey.

Side trip number 2. A group of 5 ladies were at the place when I got there. They were apparently having a day out with plans to enjoy themselves and they were. Turns out they were from the Anderson, SC area and drilling down a little more one was practically a neighbor (Hi Beth). They were going to hit another winery and more fun stuff. I was invited to join them and if I hadn’t had my day pretty well planned out I am quite sure it would have been a hoot judging by the short time I did share space with them.

Back to the bee juice. My next selection was a blend of a muscadine wine with the traditional mead. I don’t have a refined palate and subtle notes are lost on me so I prefer flavor and scent punches as a rule. This didn’t punch but the muscadine aroma and taste tapped hard enough to make me say “I see you”. Very enjoyable. Next I jumped to the semi-sweet and tried a cyser, which is a mead made with apples and a hibiscus mead. Both very enjoyable and the color on the hibiscus was a vibrant pink/red shade.

The sweets tend to be my, well, sweet spot. Here I was torn between the Cherry Berry and Black Currant because I knew I was going to finish with the Peach. I mean I was in Georgia so what else could I do. The ladies unanimously voted for the Cherry Berry and that was where I was leaning but the mead mistress said the Black Currant was their best seller and she thought I really should try it if I was having to choose between the two. I went with the pro suggestion, no offense ladies.

Look at that beautiful color. The smell was nice too, berryish with a whiff of honey. It was a delight to drink as well. The black currant flavor was bold and the tupelo honey it’s backsweetened with is literally a sweet addition. I did finish with the peach, after a palate cleansing glass of water and a change of glasses.

Aside number 3. The flight here isn’t like most places I’ve been where they bring you x number of small glasses with whatever your choices were on a tray or paddle. Nope, here it was a full sized wine glass with an eyeball pour of a good tasting of the mead of choice. Moving from dry to sweet it didn’t seem to matter and I drained the glasses pretty well so the only time the glass was switched was between the black currant and the peach because of the intensity of the black currant.

The peach was really nice too. The fragrance of the peaches was very much in evidence and the taste was prominent but the sweet honey flavor road along in the aftertaste. They also use some local peaches in the making so that’s kind of cool.

I’m really glad I took the time to drive out and try some new meads and will go back to try the others I didn’t hit this time. Maybe they’ll have the watermelon I heard they’re working on.

Oh yeah I did bring a bottle of the winner.

It’s Dal Good

So it’s Good Friday and I have the day off so I decided to find a place that would be blog worthy. I figured I’d also visit downtown Greenville, SC since I’ve only been through Greenville on I-85. With that criteria I did a little Googling and found Aryana Afghan Cuisine.

Forty five minutes later I was pulling into the little parking lot behind the restaurant. They have an interesting model. You can order one of 3 types of plates; regular, vegetarian or vegan. They have a constantly changing group of foods that they pick from to make your plate based on the selection. Once you order and pay at the register podium you grab a seat and they fix your plate from a buffet style station and bring it to your table.

One thing that was weird to me is that they have Coke products but not diet Coke or Coke Zero. That being the case I opted for their hot cardamom green tea to go with my “regular” plate. I’m actually kind of glad they didn’t have the soda because the tea was nice.

The regular plate comes with veggies, rice and two meat dishes. Also on the side some flat bread and chutney. I’ll say right now forgot about the chutney and have no idea what that tasted like. What I do know is the plate I got was great because there were got two things I had to ask about since I’d never had them.

It took me a second to separate the chicken from the dal visually since they are both orange. The chicken has the pepper and onion sitting on top. I really liked this meal. From right to left; a meat pie, flat bread, basmati rice, chicken pieces, dal, and borani banjan.

The meat pie was simply lightly spiced ground meat in a pastry shell, nice but nothing special. The rice was light, fragrant, and a great accompaniment to the spicier dishes. In this case I don’t mean hot spicy but laden with spices. The chicken was tender and had the flavor of tandoori chicken or it may have been just grilled kabob chicken with similar spices. Either way it was very tasty.

Now the two I’d not had before. The borani banjan is a stewed eggplant dish with yogurt and mint. I really enjoyed the flavor of this and could have handled a double size portion easily. My favorite of the whole plate though was the dal. When the plate was first presented I thought it must be some kind of carrot or yam mash then I saw what I thought were lentils. I kind of expected it to be sweet but it was earthy and savory with a tiny hint of sweetness. It was so flavorful I could have eaten a bowl of this stuff and been happy. Going forward if I see dal on a menu it’ll be on my plate.

The food is enough to get a nod of recommendation for that day’s selection but the fact that over half the people that came in after I did were known to the lady running the place speaks volumes as well. It wasn’t the cheapest and if you’re a picky eater options are low but if you are an adventurous eater go here.

I mentioned part of the reason I wanted to go to Greenville was to check out the downtown. Good Friday was not the day to try that. Between the people who had to work down there, the people who had the day off and had the same idea I did and some event going on it was way too peopley for me. I will go back another day to walk around and visit Falls Park.

Sushi Burrito?

Is it Japanese? Is it Mexican? Why do I also have Korean chicken as a combo option? These are questions I got to answer this afternoon at Zen Ramen & Sushi Burrito.

I was contemplating driving to Greenville to find something on the ethnic spectrum but got lazy. Instead I chose to visit Zen Ramen & Sushi Burrito as it was on my “I have to see what this is about” list. I’d heard before going that they were quite good so I had high expectations going in.

Their whole menu looked good but I had nothing other than a sushi burrito on my mind. Turns out I had several to choose from.

I felt like I might as well start at the top with the Zen Sushi Burrito and made it a combo with the chicken karaage. I’m going to say right now that I could have brought something home. Really should have but it was good. If you like seeing your food made they have the kitchen behind glass so you can be a food voyeur.

I didn’t bother, I figured they knew what they were doing and just ordered and waited. Let me mention if you are a sake lover they have you covered plus they have some Japanese sodas. It was a bit early for me to hit the sake and the sugary looks of the soda made my diabetes twitch so I wimped out with a diet coke. When the food arrived though I was all about enjoying that.

The burrito had all kinds of sea food; spicy tuna, shrimp, salmon, and crab(ish) salad. It also had cucumber, edamame, and avocado for the green fans and some onion to give it a little kick. All that wrapped in a soy crepe with sesame seeds. A soy crepe, you say? Yes I do. It was relatively thin and didn’t have much taste of its own but it kept the whole thing from being a salad so job well done.

I enjoyed it. All the ingredients tasted fresh and the shrimp, salmon and tuna all got to star in their own bites while the crab salad took the place of rice and was liberally sown around it all. Really a nice dining experience.

The chicken karaage was also pretty good but I’d have been just as well off having the burrito and calling it lunch. Just so it doesn’t seem like I’m slighting it though. The chicken had a light batter with some seasoning. The sauce was the big flavor provider. It tasted like it had some sweet plum jam or something with chili sauce. I thought it should have been hotter based on the description but it was tasty.

Definitely will have to try them for some other dishes. The service was good and the staff was friendly, which always makes a difference. If you’re in Clemson and looking for something different check them out.

Extra Credit:Hogs and Hops and a Healthy Olive

Today was a fine spring like day and after doing a little work on the plant bed this morning I decided to investigate a downtown Seneca area, Ram Cat Alley. It’s a couple of blocks long leading to Main Street and an old train depot. I knew there were a couple of restaurants in the area and I figured I’d make a decision once I got down there and see what struck me. What struck me was Hogs and Hops with it’s outdoor seating on such a wonderful day.

The non-BBQ special of the day was chili and cornbread which I almost bit on but figured here was a chance to add just one extra joint to my BBQ database. The other customers and the owners knew one another and didn’t mind chatting while the work got done. To me that was a good sign if people are coming often enough to get to know one another.

BBQ sandwich plate it was for me. For sides I went with the mac and cheese and Brunswick stew. My sauce selection was unorthodox for a southern BBQ sandwich, peach habanero sauce. Hogs and Hops has, hands down, the most interesting selection of sauces of all the spots locally. They also had a pineapple habanero that I almost went with but the pull of the peach was stronger. Speaking of pineapples there was also pineapple upside-down cake. Oh and a diet coke to wash it down cause I’m watching my figure. I was happy to come off the 11 bucks and change for this meal.

The BBQ was smoky and moist and the sauce added a really nice sweet kick of heat. The Brunswick stew also was a fine tasting example of its genre of stew. It had more vegetables than Cole’s that I raved about in a previous blog but I was just fine with that. The mac and cheese was the best of any I’ve had in the area and better than most I’ve had anywhere. The consistency was good and the cheese was just stringy enough to know you had real cheese in this mixture. Really nice. The cake was a little dry except where the pineapple had added some moisture. That didn’t keep me from knocking it out though. I was very happy with my decision to spend the afternoon dining al fresco.

You may have noticed nowhere did I mention hops other than the name. Well apparently they have some deal with Brews on the Alley, a coffee and craft beer bar and if you want to dine indoors you can just cross the street and dine in there and get your beer on. That explains the hops but what about the Healthy Olive I know you’re wondering. Let me tell you.

It’s a little boutique store with way too many cool olive oils and vinegars plus other gourmet type stuff I didn’t know I needed until I went in. I don’t know how many different varieties she has of each but if you can’t find something that intrigues you, you are dead inside. There are little tasting cups so you check them out before committing to a significant purchase. I tasted 2 and bought 2. A blood orange infused olive oil and an aged cinnamon pear balsamic vinegar. Both amazing. Plus a little applewood smoked sea salt and a fancy Italian dinner, just add boiling water.

I will definitely be visiting again. If I bring the bottles back she knocks $1 off the price and there’s a punch card program too.

It’s been a great day already but on the way home I noticed there were two baby goats in the pasture next door. They were just gamboling all over the place. That just leveled up the day.

And the BBQ Was OK Too

I collected my last Seneca data point on the BBQ front from a relatively new BBQ acquisition spot. I don’t call it a joint because Cole’s Southern BBQ is a food trailer in a semi-permanent spot. They do catering but 3 days a week they park at the same place on Sandifer Blvd. They have plenty of parking and some picnic benches so you can eat on site. You get the food truck experience of ordering at the window and standing around talking to other folks (or not) as you wait for your food.

The day I went was beautiful, blue skies and low 60’s. I didn’t even mind when Random Stranger #2 waiting on his food too decided to start chatting. He did affirm one of my side choices as the best he’d ever had other than his own. That sounded promising.

I did chat with the owner / smoker a bit about his sauces based off the sign below. I knew I’d want a couple for the ribs and wanted to make sure we were cool.

He told me to get what I wanted and that was for the abusers. He said a guy the other day got one sandwich and literally 10 little cups of mustard sauce. Turns out they sell bottles of the sauce and there’s one I’d actually consider, spoilers.

Staying true to the methodology I got 2 plates for 3 meals. I did get him to throw in an extra 3 ribs because the normal platter only comes with 3. I could have been fine with just 3. Let me just tell you right now based on the weight of the plates I was not going to be complaining about skimpy side portions.

With the sandwich I got slaw and Brunswick stew and with the ribs I got baked beans and potato salad. Sauces were Carolina Vinegar, Hickory & Cole’s Southern Sweet Heat.

He was quite generous with the sides as you can see. I just wish they’d all been great, they weren’t. The baked beans were fine, nothing you couldn’t get from a can. Potato salad tasted just like Food Lion deli potato salad, again just fine. The coleslaw continued the just fine trend and seemed like it came straight from a carton. Now the Brunswick stew was very much the best of the lot and was worth the trip. This was the one Random Stranger #2 said was the 2nd best he’d ever had. I have to agree it was pretty dang good. Sweet and smoky tomato based stew with loads of meat and some corn and lima beans thrown in for good measure.

I fixed my sampler plate and proceeded to judge.

I’ve already covered the side so lets talk about the meat. The sandwich had lots of well smoked meat that was probably the most juicy or moist of any sandwich I’ve had during this experiment. In fact it destroyed the bottom bun turning it into a soggy mess on the ride home. That didn’t stop me from eating all the pork with a load of the Carolina vinegar sauce. It was probably the closest to the eastern North Carolina BBQ sauce I grew up knowing was the “right” kind for BBQ pork. On the whole pretty good.

The ribs were quite large and meaty but also the fattiest of any I tried. You could tell visually they were well smoked but there was actually fairly little taste from the smoking. That made a neutral pallet for the sauces if that’s your favorite part. The pork itself was tender but firm so you had to put in a little effort pulling it off the bone. To me that was good. The sauces I tried with the ribs were very different but good in their own way. The Hickory Mild was thick and sweet with a molasses and hickory flavor combo. The Cole’s Southern Sweet Heat seemed like a combination of the vinegar and hickory with a doubling down on the black pepper. To me it was the best of the lot and maybe my favorite of the local sauces I’ve had.

Overall I liked Cole’s and when I crave BBQ and the day is nice this is probably where I’ll head.

Actually after all that I’d say in general Little Pigs is my go to but in certain circumstances I’d recommend Black’s Smokehouse and Cole’s Southern BBQ. I think Black’s has the best tasting ribs and for a beautiful day and a bowl of Brunswick stew burn rubber to Cole’s. As a BBQ place Heavenly Hog is a hard pass for me.