I did not stop for barbecue on the way back from the beach at Pine Knoll Shores.
I guess I should explain. There was a hiccup in my departure — we lost one of the keys and one parking pass for our rental — a problem I resolved easily enough by reconciling myself to the loss of $75. That left me a good half hour in the wrong direction from the Publix in Emerald Isle where I could buy some Conecuh Sausage, the best smoked sausage in the world. It even has a fan club. You can’t buy Conecuh Sausage anywhere near the Washington area except at military PXs, and my military source (see here) is now at Fort Benning. A detour of an hour or much more is a price I am always happy to pay.
The stop for sausage reminded me that I had heard for years about the sausage at Smith’s Red and White in Dortches. Ever eager to get to Parker’s and Wilber’s for consecutive lunches, I’d never stopped there. I decided that it was time.
I walked in, headed back to the meat counter, and stars danced in my eyes.
That is air-dried country sausage. I bought a little over a yard of it and hopped back in the car. I normally would have back-tracked to the Oak Level Cafe, but I thought of the effect of all the food I’d eaten on the three-day trip down and while judging the 2020 World’s Best Shrimpburger Competition — the number of hushpuppies alone is terrible to contemplate — and decided to ease up on eating for a while.
A while turned into a good while, as traffic was slowed by the weekly Saturday I-95 Demolition Derby, and I made do with those 2/$1 packs of peanuts I always buy in gas stations when I make stops that don’t actually involve purchasing gasoline, and a fountain Coke. I’ve had worse lunches, and home and family beckoned.
The next day I cooked a chicken on the grill and threw on a foot or two of the sausage. It was a revelation. As I say it was country sausage, breakfast-type sausage, but the most complex, most … I hate to say sophisticated — sausage you can imagine. The air drying process adds what aging adds to prime steaks, but moreso. My son-in-law, Michael, an excellent judge of sausage, was blown away by it. The air drying doesn’t make Smith’s sausage tough like those dried sausages you have to gnaw to eat. It has a pretty standard texture, but the flavor … is sure proof of a benevolent Providence.
Smith’s air-dried sausage understandably is a phenomenon. I read that during the holidays — from Thanksgiving to New Year’s — this middle-of-nowhere grocery sells 35,000 pounds of air dried sausage each and every week. Smith’s started as a hog farm and gradually grew from a meat counter to a 20,000-square-foot grocery, and a really nice one at that. Smith’s current meat counter covers the whole back of the store, and reportedly contains 23 different cuts of pork. When it comes to meat, Smith’s is Wegman’s on crack.
I think about all the times I drove by the Dortches exit without stopping and I want to cry. Why didn’t I listen?
I’m sure Nancy won’t agree to move to Dortches, and I wouldn’t leave Liza and Michael and Ella and Lily for the world, not even for the sausage and 23 cuts of pork. But I will contrive to drive down to Dortches for more sausage.
Next time you drive through North Carolina on I-95, leave room in the car for a few pounds of sausage, and do the same on the way home. I will.
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