The day after the 4th Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking, I started back home to Washington. Realizing that I’d only eaten at seven barbecue places during the trip, I decided to stop for lunch at the Hunter Hill Cafe in Rocky Mount.
It’s a fairly new place, and wasn’t on the Our State Magazine’s list of 26 Essential NC Barbecue Places, but it is on the Campaign for Real Barbecue “possibles” list for North Carolina — places that may cook without using any gas or electricity, just wood or charcoal. I was eager to perform a public service and resolve that issue.
I dawdled so that I would arrive well after noon, as I wanted to miss the first after-church rush. (It’s actually best to arrive just before noon on Sundays, but I needed some extra time to digest all I had eaten at the Pig Picking.) I rolled up at 1:00 pm, walked in and found a long line. Pretty soon, there was a long line behind me, as people still were arriving from church in droves at 1:30. Apparently Rocky Mount has a lot of Baptists and AME members: Presbyterian services end no later than 12:02 pm (and some resent those extra two minutes), and the Episcopalians are hot on the Presbyterian heels. Methodists seem not be united on service lengths. Right now, the United Methodists are divided on ‘most everything.
Hunter Hill is a big place, nicely decorated with a North Carolina basketball theme. There is a nice painting of Dean Smith and Roy Williams anchoring a sort of shrine
that includes Seat 8 from one of the Dean Dome makeovers. I feel better when a barbecue place has a local sports theme. A NASCAR theme also is good. It signals community and a sense of place.
Service at Hunter Hill is cafeteria-style. The line kept moving, although the large number of choices does slow things down a bit. You can get barbecue, pork chops, chitlins, fried or barbecued chicken, seafood, you name it — up to 18 main courses on a Friday night. The selection of sides is even more extensive, with 19 available.
Things moved pretty quickly, considering, but the line was so long that it took a while to get through to the end to pay. The manager thrust upon me a big piece of spice cake gratis as an unnecessary apology for the wait. (Some employees hadn’t made it to work.) Along the way, I had ordered a pork plate with greens and green beans. I didn’t want to get caught up in the vegetable choices. The plate came with slaw and hush puppies. I could have had a roll rather than hushpuppies, but why would I want to do that?
I enjoyed everything. The pork had good flavor and there was outside meat in there. It was moist, and you could taste the wood smoke as well as the pork. It was, of course, chopped fine and tossed with vinegar and pepper. Very nice.
The cole slaw, which appeared unbidden, was fresh and unusually rich, as if it contained sour cream. The beans and greens were both good, and some Texas Pete Pepper Vinegar enhanced the flavor. The hushpuppies were good, maybe a little on the large side, but the outside was nice and crunchy.
I confirmed that Hunter Hill cooks with wood by the clever expedient of asking the head guy and by observing the wood pile. Eager as I was to perform a public service, I neglected to ask whether they cook exclusively with wood, without any gas back-up. I could tell you that the food line was pressing and I didn’t want to hold it up, but the truth is that I was distracted by the sudden appearance of the spice cake, and what I really wanted to do was eat some barbecue. Next time.
And there probably will be a next time. Hunter Hill is not far from I-95, and it definitely is a top I-95 food option if you’re driving through. Give it a try.
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