I wound up my 2019 North Carolina Barbecue Tour at Sam Jones Barbecue, having made a considerable dent in the 26 Essential NC Barbecue Places. I thought about driving home after my good meal at the Hunter Hill Cafe in Rocky Mount, but the idea of getting on I-95 on a beach weekend Sunday is enough to balk stouter hearts than mine. Instead, I turned east and drove over to Pitt County to spend the night in Greenville and eat dinner at Sam Jones Barbecue.
You know who Sam Jones is. He’s one of the Pitt County Jones boys, the scion of the legendary Skylight Inn, the leading apostle of wood-cooked whole hog barbecue, the Aaron Franklin of pork. Sam Jones makes great barbecue, and he’s also a thoroughly admirable person. He’s a member of the Ayden Volunteer Fire Department, AND he has survived an encounter with Florida Man with his dignity intact. Top that.
Winterville is just south of Greenville and just north of Ayden, the epicenter of wood-cooked Eastern North Carolina Barbecue. Ayden is home to both the outstanding Skylight Inn and Bum’s Restaurant, home of the best Eastern North Carolina style barbecue on earth, among other delights .
I chose Sam Jones rather than Bum’s or the Skylight in the first instance because it was Sunday and both of those were closed. And had they not been closed, there’s no law that you can only eat at just one barbecue place in Pitt County at a given mealtime, as regular readers will recall. I might well have eaten at one or both of the others, but I still would have eaten at Sam Jones, as well. You see, lingering in my mind for the nearly two years has been an article reporting that Sam Jones sells pork skins with pimiento cheese.
I was immediately skeptical of the combination. I am a big fan of pimiento cheese, and while I don’t make a point of asking for pork skins, I have waxed rhapsodic about the pork skins at Pop Pop’s in Myrtle Beach. Whether the two foods go together well is another matter. Rather than spending my life agonizing over the issue, I decided to find out, and ordered the pork rinds with pimiento cheese appetizer.
I should have added something to that picture — a fork or a quarter or a Ford F150 — to give you a better idea of scale. The pan was a good 10 inches across. This is an appetizer to share with a group of friends. The pimiento cheese was good, with just a little too much mayonnaise. People always add too much mayonnaise. The pork skins, while not up to Pop Pop’s exalted standards, were pretty good; however, they were dusted with far too much barbecue rub. All of the different flavors were fighting against each other. It was a far cry from the loving marriage of flavors you get when you put a dab of pimiento cheese on a plain corn chip.
I also ordered a barbecue tray, which comes with one side (I chose collards). The tray itself is finely chopped pork barbecue and that dense Pitt County cornbread, made with corn meal and little if any wheat flour.
The pork, as always, was delicious, better, indeed than at my last visit. Then they had included bits of fried pork skins mixed in with the meat. It didn’t really work. This time, the meat included chopped skin, just as at the Skylight Inn. This is excellent barbecue. The collards were pretty good, slightly marred by a hint of sugar, but the cornbread was very good, and just right for crumbling in the pot likker, a la FDR.
I washed it all down with a huge glass of ice water and a cold Pitt Street Code of Conduct Hazy IPA. Both were delicious, especially the Hazy IPA; indeed, it was easily good enough to merit a place at next year’s Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking.
You should try Sam Jones. Actually, you should just go to Greenville for a visit. There’s so much outstanding wood cooked barbecue in Pitt County that you really don’t have an excuse not to spend a long weekend there, enough time for at least five meals (in addition to breakfast). Indeed, every high school senior should seriously consider going to college at East Carolina University in Greenville. Parents, you want to think about where you’re going to eat (and how much you’re going to have to pay for it) when you visit your kids at college. In addition to Sam Jones, the Skylight Inn, and Bum’s, there’s B’s in Greenville and Jack Cobb up in Farmville, not to mention a bunch of craft breweries, all close at hand right there in Pitt County. You’ll keep going back even after your young scholar graduates.
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