Parker’s has come up a good bit in this blog, usually in terms of its rivalry with Bill’s Barbecue, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually reviewed it. I had a sad occasion to go there recently. My Aunt Ann Griffin passed on far too soon, and Liza and I went to Wilson for the funeral.
Aunt Ann was the matriarch of the Wilson Griffins, all of whom now seem to have scattered to larger cities. She was a wonderful person, unfailingly gracious, quick to help others, a hands-on contributor to what seems like every organization in Wilson, not least her church, St. Timothy’s Episcopal. Aunt Ann also was whip-smart, a constant reader, a Ruby Life Master bridge player. And she was a great cook and a good mother with some truly fine children and grandchildren. The passing of Barbara Bush made me think again of Aunt Ann, and of how one leads a good life. Aunt Ann now is with her late husband, Dr. Tom Griffin, Dear’s younger brother, and that is comforting to contemplate. It was a moving funeral in a crowded church, with each of her children doing a reading or the eulogy, and sons-in-law and grandchildren honorary pall bearers.
Well, the award-winning Virginia State Unexplained Backup Authority, headquartered in Fredericksburg, was working the northbound lanes, and Liza and I got to Wilson in good time, comfortably before the 2:00 service. Actually, we got to Parker’s by design just before the noon rush, which is the best time to get to just about any barbecue place.
Parker’s is a big place on US 301. You can’t miss the long, low white building and the perpetually crowded parking lot.
It’s a comfortable place, with old-fashioned wood panelling in each of three large rooms, and an alert, eager-to-please wait staff.
The first thing they ask is whether you need a menu, and most people don’t. I always say, “yes,” so I can state at it and agonize some over whether to get all barbecue or a combination of barbecue and fried chicken. This time I ended up getting the large pork dinner with green beans and Brunswick Stew, and a Dr. Pepper. Slaw and corn sticks and/or hushpuppies come with everything. Ask for all corn sticks.
Liza got a large pork plate and sweet tea.
Liza was really, really embarrassed by the amount of pork they served her, not to mention the amount of sweet tea. When it came, the pork covered the entire surface of a dinner plate. She quickly grabbed a couple of corn sticks and shoved some pork over in a desperate effort to make it look like less pork before I could take a picture. For the record, Liza did not drink all of that tea, and she most certainly did not eat all of that pork. Off the record, none of it went to waste.
I really like the pork at Parker’s. It isn’t world class: they cook over gas. They cook it slowly and well, however, and it has that good rich pork taste, cut by an excellent vinegar and pepper sauce.
Possibly without exception, North Carolina-style sauces offered outside of North Carolina (and some in-state) have far too much water and not enough pepper. The result is a sauce that wets the meat and actually suppresses the flavor. Parker’s sauce is just right. The tang of the vinegar and the bite of the pepper at Parker’s give a wonderful counterpoint to the richness of the pork.
The green beans are excellent. They are why I always order a dinner. As I’ve written, I’m not a great fan of Brunswick Stew, but it’s either that or boiled potatoes. The sauce perks it up a bit. Frankly, Parker’s could use a couple of extra sides. Some greens or macaroni and cheese would be nice. I like their slaw, a bit sweet but crisp and tangy with mustard. And I love their corn sticks … oh, their corn sticks, their corn sticks. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ambrosia on Mount Olympus weren’t actually corn sticks, and Prometheus gave the gift of fire as an adjunct to the greater gift of the corn sticks recipe.
In addition to good food, Parker’s has the feel of home. It has been around since 1946, and the waiters continue to wear those paper garrison hats that were popular around then. They do a large business with fast service and a pretty quick turnover, but it still feels warm and relaxing. The only bustle is either waiters getting the food to you while it’s piping hot, or clearing a table to make room for the next customers. When you finish eating, you really don’t want to leave, but you’re too embarrassed to ask for a second dinner, especially if you know that there’ll be home-made pimiento cheese and chicken salad and cookies and more after the funeral.
So we left and had plenty of time to visit Wilson’s wonderful Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, which is worth a detour off I95 too Wilson even if you aren’t going to eat at Parker’s or Flo’s or the Beefmastor.
And whatever your political views, you have to appreciate the ability of people in Wilson to express their own views with a directness and lack of posturing utterly unknown in Washington.
I really like Wilson. Like so much of America away from the major cities, Wilson’s economy has been hit hard in recent years, especially by the virtual end of tobacco farming. Once bustling warehouses stand empty. But both formal and informal connective institutions are strong there. You see families together in Wilson so much more than you do here in DC. And a new factory is coming to town.
Funerals are important, and Aunt Ann’s was good, filled with family and friends, a remembrance of a life beautifully lived in a warm and close community. And it was good to see cousins I don’t see nearly often enough, and that Liza has been able to see even less than I. I need to do better.
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