Some time back, as I was contemplating a future trip to Maine, I saw something about a place called Wilson County Barbecue in Portland, Maine. Or maybe I started thinking about a future trip to Maine after I saw about Wilson County Barbecue.
My first question was, which Wilson County were they evoking? There are three, one each in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. I checked Wilson County Barbecue’s website and found the answer: North Carolina, and Eastern North Carolina at that. Spencer Brantley, the head the operation, is one of the Wilson County Brantleys. North Carolina is full of Brantleys. And I have strong family ties to Wilson.
Wilson County Barbecue is a nice looking place.
I naturally asked my Senior Maine Correspondents, Knapp and Ella Davies Hudson, about it. I did so through a question/comment on one of their Facebook posts that had absolutely nothing at all to do with barbecue — probably one of their amazing photos from Iceland or Outer Mongolia. (They are both outstanding photographers and world travelers. Wander through the Stone Coast Photograhy site.)
Ella responded with what has to be the most detailed yet pithy and useful response to a completely extraneous question in all the sprawling mass of Facebook. I reproduce it here, unedited and in its entirety:
Ella Davies HudsonNoble is a special case, not at all like that restaurant. More like Salvage in set up and tone but less “salvage-esque” in terms of ambiance. Much more “electronic” with big TVs (tuned to sports) and screens that display all the beer. The set up is very casual, not really any servers. You order at the counter and pay (unless you sit at the very long bar) and then there is a pick up area at the open kitchen. Lots of food offerings; plates, sandwiches, appetizers, desserts. We both had the pulled pork plate which comes with 3 big hush puppies (very good) or a biscuit, pork and 2 sides. I had the cheese grits (needed a lot more cheese, very bland) and slaw (good). A good amount of pulled pork and it smelled smokey. It had no sauce and no charred meat from the outside (much to Knapp’s dismay). There were 3 sauces on the table; house, vinegar based and mustard based. The house was bland; the vinegar was too vinegary and bland and the mustard was the best but needed more umphff. Beer is served in 10 and 20 ounce pours and there is a ton of choices. They say the pork is pit smoked, whole hog. Since I didn’t see the pit and we got no charred exterior, it’s hard to say. I thought it was good though. I would go back for another try. We are spoiled by southern prices so we thought it was steep but in comparison with other restaurants in this town, it’s inexpensive. The BBQ plate we had was $19. One of my youthful friends prefers Salvage and she is a foodie so I need to try Salvage again to really decide. Basically, we want what we can’t have here…real Southern BBQ! Call us spoiled! Here’s a link to the menu. https://wilsoncountybarbecue.com/…/2020/02/WCB-Menu-1.pdfo
That’s a pretty positive review under all the circumstances. Wilson County Barbecue has a good bit of North Carolina credibility, starting with all that wood and cooking whole hogs. The menu also includes biscuits, pimiento cheese, Brunswick stew, greens, and okra, not to mention the very good hushpuppies (made with minced onion). Also, they only pork and chicken — no beef. And shrimp and oyster po’ boys.
This was a while ago, and I’ve been putting this off for months. Perhaps like you, I thought that the coronavirus would be gone by now and I’d have been to Maine. Remember that original two-week lockdown? Will it ever end? I’ll contrive to get up there one day, though. Portland has several barbecue places I’d like to check. Ella mentioned Noble and Salvage. And it’s been a while since I did a lobster roll survey. Meanwhile, I welcome your reports on Wilson County Barbecue. How’s the remoulade on the po’ boys? And let me know if they chop up the crisp skin and mix it in with the pork.
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