Sweet Lew’s, Charlotte, North Carolina

After delicious meals at Lexington Barbecue #1 and Noble Smoke, I looked about for another barbecue place for lunch on Friday.  I naturally consulted the experts at  Barbecue Bros.  As I mentioned in the Noble Smoke review, the Bros rated Jon G’s, a food truck that’s usually in the next county, ahead of both Noble Smoke and Sweet Lew’s.  I called and found that they would be at a ticketed event, Hops and Hogs, in Huntersville.  To me that meant a drive-up I-77 (and back amid possibly over-Hopped drivers), a drive I knew from Liza’s years at Davidson would be jammed, and that we probably would have to stand in line for food and for a portable toilet.  I didn’t want to put Nancy through that, and I really didn’t want to put myself through that.

So I picked up Nancy at the airport, and we headed to Sweet Lew’s.  We were met there by cousins Murray Johnston and Don Hutchins, whose wives, Ann Thomas and Laurie, were occupied with a bridesmaids luncheon.   You know Murray as a formidable brisket cook and father of Murray IV, Founder of the St. Anselm’s Abbey Barbecue Club and current senior at West Point, and our Senior Roving Barbecue Correspondent Griffin Johnston, who just started at Hillsdale College.  Don is one of my Auburn relatives, a magnificent cooker of steaks, and grandfather to two grandchildren who are almost as cute as Ella and Lily (and that’s saying a lot).  After a successful career in food management, Don retired and founded and coaches the South Charlotte Panthers, an elite high school baseball team that develops and showcases players who often earn college scholarships, and sometime play professionally.

Enough about us.  Sweet Lew’s was featured in Garden and Gun’s cover story on Best New Barbecue Joints (published before Noble Smoke opened).  Garden and Gun recommended the pork, ribs, chicken, boiled peanuts, and pork skins.

We arrived, walked across a good-sized outdoor deck that would have been a nice place to eat had it not been 97 degrees out, and entered a smallish space with some fine art.

lews sign

You order at the counter where the sides are displayed before you, and everything is explained by some very friendly folks.

lews counter

I was crushed that the boiled peanuts were nowhere in sight, but comforted myself with a pork plate with collards, macaroni and cheese, and a big old piece of cornbread.

lews tray

My notes are scanty, as I was enjoying the company and the food too much for taking a lot of pictures or notes.  I don’t get to see Murray, who lives in the DC area, as often as I’d like, and I hardly ever get to see Don.

I think we all got pork except for Nancy, who ordered smoked chicken, slaw,

lews slaw

and banana pudding.

lews banana

Sweet Lew’s doesn’t have many tables, but a friendly diner beckoned us over to share his.  He was enjoying some brisket, and really, really enjoying some of the squash casserole.  Don also had ordered some, and praised it highly.  Squash casserole is a staple of meat and threes, and a rare Southern vegetable dish that isn’t cooked with meat — just butter and sour cream and cheese and mayonnaise.

We all agreed that the pork was very good. Lew Donald knows how to cook pork.  It came without sauce, but there were several sauces available, including a good vinegar-pepper sauce, and a nice white sauce.   The pork arrived moist and tender, and had a nice smoke  flavor.  And as you can see there was a good admixture of outside meat.

I enjoyed Nancy’s smoked chicken.  It had a good smoke flavor, and the dark meat especially was juicy and delicious.

The collards were good, made with some pork and onions, and the macaroni and cheese was quite good.  And the home-made pickles were far better than the usually insipid home-made pickles you get in the new barbecue places.  Their slaw is unusual.  It’s advertised as a red slaw, but it isn’t red.  The cabbage is crunchy, finely cut and mixed with what may have been green peppers and green onions, but tasted like sort of like parsley, and with vinegar and just a touch of ketchup and pepper.   As I say it’s unusual but has a pleasant flavor.  I liked it.  The cornbread was a mistake.  It was dry and clearly had not been cooked in cast iron coated with bacon grease.  Why bother?  Hushpuppies would be better, and corn sticks would be a real gift to the Piedmont.  That’s easy for me to say.  Nothing is too difficult for the man who doesn’t have to do it.

Nancy really liked the banana pudding, but no one else tried it.  The big surprise was the pork skins.  (That’s the two-toned paper bag on the table in the picture above.)

lews skins.jpg

They look different, don’t they?  Pork skins normally are simply skin and fat cut up and fried.  At Sweet Lew’s, the skin over the fat cap apparently is removed from the pork shoulders after cooking, chopped, and then fried or otherwise super-heated.  They tasted less like standard pork skins than … not really pork burnt ends, but in that general direction.

You definitely should try Sweet Lew’s.   It’s a very pleasant place.  Go and get some pork — or try the ribs and let me know what you think — with some squash casserole and macaroni and cheese, and boiled peanuts if they have them.  And definitely try the pork skins.

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