How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Why does Lexington Barbecue #1 make me quote poetry, as it did in my first review, here? For now, let’s just say that if you come across a Best Barbecue list that does not include Lexington #1 just tear it up and throw it straight into the trash. Well, if you’re looking at the Best List on a computer, don’t tear it up and throw it in the trash. Just unsubscribe, block the offending website, and leave a dismissive comment. (No profanity, please.)
Actually the name is simply Lexington Barbecue. I don’t know where the #1 came from. I always add #1 as an honorific, and then there are a bunch of barbecue places in Lexington and more elsewhere that call themselves Lexington Something or Other, so adding #1 adds clarity. A lot of folks in Lexington and beyond, call it Honeymonk or The Monk,
but I’ve found that people up here look at you funny when you say they should eat at Honeymonk’s.
I’ve been to Lexington #1 several times before, and I have loved it each and every time. Has anyone ever eaten there and not loved it? Wayne Monk started the place in 1962, after having studied as a teenager under Wayne Stamey. This is the North Carolina Piedmont, so Lexington #1 cooks pork shoulders over a wood fire with full attention to what they’re doing. The pork is smoky and just full of flavor, chopped fine and lightly tossed with a vinegar and pepper sauce for that nice tang and bite that perfectly balances the richness of the pork. There’s always a nice bit of outside meat to add flavor and texture. And they do it just right each time.
This time, as always, I ordered a large tray: pork, slaw, and hushpuppies.
My close-up of the pork was out of focus and, really, kind of disturbing, and it certainly doesn’t do justice to the wonder that is Lexington #1’s barbecue. Rather than spend another 1,000 words, let’s move on. Aren’t these some great looking hushpuppies?
Warm, crisp on the outside and light on the inside. Lexington #1 knows how to fry food properly, as do so many people in North Carolina.
Lexington #1 serves red slaw, a distinctive Piedmont dish. It’s made, I think, with the local barbecue sauce, or dip, and some ketchup.
It is great slaw, crunchy and tangy. It may be the best slaw in the world. John Rancke brought some to the 4th Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking, and was the star of the show, aside from the pig. I ate as much as I could without having people stare at me.
I mention ketchup delicately, as it raises a sensitive issue. In Eastern North Carolina, the idea of adding ketchup to a barbecue sauce arouses disgust and horror. I see the point, but let’s put things in perspective. Here’s what they have on the table at Lexington #1:
Look at the ingredients: vinegar is first, then spices. The sauce contains more spice by weight than it does ketchup. There may be, what, a tablespoon of ketchup in that bottle? As regular readers know, I am anti-ketchup, except when it comes to horseradish-heavy cocktail sauce. I put mustard on french fries. And Tabasco sauce. But a scant tablespoon in a bottle? I scoff. As the lawyers say, de minimis non curat barbecue. In English, that means, “Gimme a break.” Even the most rabid pure vinegar and pepper zealot will love the barbecue at Lexington #1.
The new-style barbecue places, the ones that cook brisket as well as pork and use high-end meats, get a lot of attention from Garden and Gun and others, and understandably so. Lexington #1 is decidedly Old School. They do what Mr, Monk has been doing since 1962: they cook pork just about perfectly. The facility itself is plain but pleasant. The staff are all friendly, despite the constant swirl of customers. Lexington #1 exudes a sense of place, a sense of continuity and dependability. And the food is sensational.
Get in your car. Hop on a plane — or catch a bus or build a raft — whatever it takes. Go to Lexington Barbecue #1. Get a large tray. You’ll thank me.
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