After a wonderful lunch with family at the Pit in Raleigh and a surprisingly good mid-afternoon meal at Rick’s Smokehouse, I drove on down to Salisbury and checked in to the local Courtyard Marriott. It’s a pleasant, clean, and healthy place. Based on my travels, Marriott is doing a fine job dealing with COVID.
I spent a couple of hours unpacking, deleting email messages, and trying desperately to unsubscribe from political emails, most of which addressed me as “Elizabeth” in the salutation. Then I drove back up to Lexington and went to the Barbecue Center.
I usually go to Lexington Barbecue #1, local known as the Honeymonk, for the simple reason that it is one of the world’s great barbecue places. There is, however, a substantial group of non-believers (barbecue, like Christianity and Marxism, is highly schismatic) who prefer the Barbecue Center. I’d been there before and liked it, but thought I should check it out again in the interests of journalistic integrity.
The Barbecue Center has a few spots for curb service, but they were full, so I went in to order. I will simply say that there ain’t much social distancing there. I ordered quickly, held my breath beneath my mask while waiting for my food, and went back to my car. I had ordered a pork and barbecued chicken (1/4 dark) combination plate with fried okra and red slaw. It came with some hushpuppies and a plastic container of the Barbecue Center’s dip (sauce).
As you can see, the plate also came with two packets of ketchup, the purpose of which mystified me for a minute. After due consideration, I took it as a personal affront: no right-thinking person would ever put ketchup on anything I ordered.
I opened the container as soon as I got into the car so that I could taste everything when it was fresh and hot. I had a good 20-minute trip back to the Courtyard, and I wanted to be fair to the food.
The chicken was good, nice and moist and flavorful, as dark meat usually is. And the fried okra was quite good. The pork was well cooked, but the sauce was entirely too sweet. It undermined the pork flavor. The slaw also was on the too-sweet side. It didn’t have that bite you usually get with fresh cabbage.
The hushpuppies were terrible. They were a touch overcooked, which I can live with, but they were mealy and crumbly. Did they leave out the egg? Cheat on the milk? I used some of the dip to wet them, but it didn’t really help. This was a big surprise. On my last trip, the hushpuppies were a big hit, good enough to raise my hushpuppy total for that day to 24. Had they been good, I would have set a new personal record.
My overall reaction was that Rick’s Smokehouse definitely was better, at least on that day. You may think that I’m being unfair, that I was put in a dyspeptic mood by the relative crowding in the Barbecue Center. Perhaps, although there could be no mistake about the hushpuppies. Or it may be that the Barbecue Center had an off day. Even great places have off days, or so I hear. Miss Myra’s had an off day once. Really. (The pit guy didn’t show up on a Game Day, when all of Alabama eats barbecue.) And a true ‘cue expert (who will remain nameless) recently told me that Grady’s can be uneven. Even Homer nods.
I hope — I expect, that this was just an off day for the Barbecue Center. I hope that those of you who go there will report back, and I hope those reports will reflect its recovered glory. Meanwhile, I’ll go to the Honeymonk or Rick’s — and I need to try Cook’s.
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