The New York Times Travel Section is usually insufferable when it ventures into down-scale cuisines or real/small-town areas (Look at those people! Aren’t they cute! But those people are scary!) Recently, however, they have published two nice articles, both dealing with barbecue.
Both are love stories. The first involves a 3,000 mile prenuptial journey by a couple who live in New York. It’s a mixed marriage. He’s from New York City. She’s from Virginia and grew up in North Carolina. And they both love smoked meats. He (the author) isn’t exactly clear what he means by barbecue and smoked meats, and they seem to be more interested in the sauces than the meat. They like a choice of barbecue sauces. He puts down on paper, right there for the whole world to read, that “the selection of the house sauces, we would find, was the best sign of good barbecue.”
That, of course, is arrant nonsense. The meat is the thing, as Shakespeare once wrote, and most of the really good places only have one sauce. But they are young (just shy of 30) and in love, and young people in love are entitled to talk and write nonsense, as, indeed, are older people in love. He writes, “Some couples have their song; Countryside’s Western Carolina is our sauce. We fell in love to that sauce. Barbecue fans will understand.” I understand that Countryside does not cook with wood. Amor vincit omnia, indeed.
And they apparently spend more time billing and cooing than doing basic barbecue research. Or perhaps the need to stay with friends and family constrained their choices. They have five stops between NYC and North Carolina and, after some pit-cooked pork at Lexington Number 1, they return to gas-cooked. One place (Beam Me Up BBQ in Lexington, VA) cannot distinguish between a ham and a pork butt. The average person may not know that a pork butt is cut from the pig’s shoulder — the other end of the pig from the ham — but the average person doesn’t sell barbecue to an unsuspecting public.
But the pair’s enthusiasm, like their love, conquers all. The trip was a nice idea, especially if they visited a lot of family before the wedding, and every reader will wish them well. It’s a nice article.
As a bonus of sorts, they provide a guide telling the reader what to order at each of the places they stopped. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/10/30/travel/13-essential-barbecue-bbq-stops.html. The reader, seeing their enthusiasm for ribs covered with “large sugar granules” with take the advice with a large granule of salt.
The second article is a love story of a different kind. The writer, a Boston area suburbanite who went to graduate school in Greensboro, NC, takes a 592-mile day trip from her current home in the Borough of Queens to darkest Eastern North Carolina in search of a barbecue sandwich.* And not just any barbecue sandwich: a sandwich at the Skylight Inn in tiny Ayden, North Carolina. The Skylight Inn is indeed worth a full day trip from just about anywhere.
Like the other article, this piece shows a lack of research: She should have ordered a tray rather than a sandwich. The sandwich is certainly good, but the tray gives you meat, slaw (which I agree should not go on the sandwich itself), and cornbread. And if you’re just going to have a sandwich, why not go over to B’s for some chicken, or give Bum’s a try, or swing by Jack Cobb and Sons to compare a “clean” sandwich (with no skin — just meat) with Skylight’s? Ultimately, the author leaves too much unsaid. You wonder if the love is true, or just a one-day stand, a hookup not for true love, but for the fleeting gratification of an article.
*The author can’t escape the Times’ signature condescension and insularity. She describes the drive from Raleigh (“Not a lovely drive by most standards”) as “flat, largely featureless, the vegetable fields and grazing acres dotted now and then by a factory or a forbidding convenience store with men in front swigging Gatorade or more numbing beverages,” but then she likes to go to exotic places “where you have to work a little harder to find the dignity and allure.”
- Peanuts are not vegetables. Cotton is not a vegetable. Tobacco is not a vegetable.
- Forbidding convenience stores? Really? And she can’t tell Cheerwine from Gatorade? And you don’t swig Gatorade. You gulp it.
Apparently, the storied dignity and allure of the convenience stores and factories of Queens can be hard to match. Compare my trip to Grady’s through similar country. https://johntannersbbqblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/gradys-outside-dudley-nc/.