Leon Neal is a well known reviewer of Bar-B-Q. He was kind enough to give me permission to post his general opinion of Bar-B-Q through out our great nation. Thanks Leon for the use of your material.
There is plenty of great barbeque in Texas – especially ‘out in the back country’ of Texas (it seems that the ‘city barbeque joints’ tend to ‘go tourist’ very quickly.) I generally find that a family owned/run place with the barbeque cooking done right on site is where I find barbeque that is worth returning to eat again and again. I enjoy talking to the owner/chief cook and having them tell me about how they barbeque and why they enjoy barbeque. It is even better if the owner will give me a personal tour of the pit area. Of course Texas barbeque is dominated by beef while here in North Carolina the term barbeque is a noun and means pork barbeque.
[You can find beef barbeque in some ‘joints’ – typically once a week as a special feature – and in some of the ‘chain’ restaurants usually barbequed beef ribs. We are getting a few of these places that have names like ‘Smoke BBQ’ etc. where they don’t limit their available barbeque sauce to their ‘one and only’ but put several bottles on the table and you must choose the one you like (I don’t trust any so- called barbeque place that ‘gives a choice’ of sauces. If they are not confident of their own sauce why should I trust their cooking? It is ok to have a ‘hot sauce’ on the table – such as Texas Pete – just to ‘add steam’ for those with taste buds already burned off. But a selection of barbeque sauces is just not right – in my opinion. I have stopped to eat in places where there are three or four sauces on the table (Eastern NC vinegar sauce, Memphis style sauce, South Carolina Mustard Barbeque sauce, Kansas City barbeque sauce, etc.). How am I supposed to know what the owner/cook thinks is the proper sauce – I want to judge their performance on the food – not select my ‘preference’. Most of these places have ‘smokers’ in which they place the meat – but typically the meat is not totally cooked with wood – which is my preference.
I have also received an e-mail from folks who have commented on my reviews and indicated that they were not happy with the ribs in the place I reviewed. I do eat barbequed ribs – both pork and beef – and I love them and I have preferences about them [I contend that the very best barbequed ribs (pork – of course) in North Carolina are found at Alston Bridges Barbeque in Shelby, NC – but you need to get there early in the evening because they only barbeque a certain number of ribs each day and when they are gone – they are gone. You order by – 3-rib plate or 5-rib plate. These ribs have wonderful wood smoke flavor and they do not totally ‘fall off the bone’ – you need to be able to gnaw to get the real sense of what you are eating. Be prepared to ‘take a sponge bath – i.e. wash your face and hands with soap – after eating these ribs as they cannot be eaten with only utensils, you need your hands and your teeth.
‘Real’ barbeque in North Carolina is pork. Historically it comes in chopped, minced, and sliced. (Pulled pork barbeque is a term from Memphis – in my experience.)
I have eaten barbeque across the United States – from Castroville, California to Beaufort, NC and from San Antonia, Texas to Vermont. But – there are still thousands of places that I would love to visit and try the barbeque. There have been numerous books written by authors who traveled many months – perhaps ruining their digestive tracts – sampling barbeque across the South. I have one of these books that I trust quite a lot. Many of the best barbeque places have limited hours (for example Thursday – Saturday only and in North Carolina many of the great barbeque owners are religious and do not open on Sundays) so you would do well to have a ‘guide’ that can provide that type of information. My general finding is that there are concentrations of barbeque places in many areas especially across the South but inevitably there is one – family owned and run – barbeque restaurant in each concentration that is superior to the rest. (I’m not certain that I have ever experienced ‘great barbeque’ in a place where the owner(s) was not right there in the restaurant) I love to find those superior places. Unfortunately when the ‘family line’ runs out for this type of barbeque place (i.e. father, son, daughter, or in-law who ‘falls in love with the business’) the quality just seems to go down and down – reputation sustains for a while but that is not barbeque. I would love to spend time in rural Texas eating barbeque. Also Kansas City – I have pretty well eaten through Memphis – I love The Rendevous – also Cincinnati (I have a friend who swears by the ribs there – doesn’t say anything about if they have pork or beef barbeque) and maybe goat barbeque in Kentucky.
What do you drink with barbeque? In North Carolina the only acceptable drink with barbeque is sweet tea – and a good barbeque joint will take pride in their tea. [Perhaps in Texas beer is the beverage of choice – I do not really know – but beer has not yet totally permeated the society in North Carolina – and some of us still consider this a Yankee drink with meals. Beer is more for pool halls and joints where communing with buddies is more important than food. I once asked a fairly famous eastern NC barbeque founder/owner ‘Why do you not serve wine or beer in here?’ Bill’s reply was, “Do you know who that lady was who waited on your table? That was my Mom. My wife, my daughter, and my daughter-in-law also wait tables in here. Do you think that I want my Mom serving wine and beer?”
In my rating of barbeque – I am refering to pork barbeque – sliced, chopped, or minced. In order to have any of the A ratings the barbeque should be cooked with wood – not simply put in to be smoked with wood smoke as an afterthought or a ‘finish’. [I do admit that technology is changing. I have seen in operation – and eaten some very good barbeque from – some ‘smoker/cookers’ that looked like large metal refrigerators or that were large metal rooms with something like a ferris wheel upon which the meat was placed to be cooked and were fired with wood – plus perhaps some automatic gas to maintain a set temperature but to me ‘pit cooked’ is still the gold standard.
So much for philosophy. Below is a ‘review’ of a barbeque joint that I enjoy in Beaufort, NC.
Roland’s Barbeque [Beaufort, NC]
I have eaten Roland’s Barbeque a number of times when I am in the region of Beaufort. My favorite way to enjoy Roland’s Barbeque is to get a take-out barbeque sandwich with slaw and a large tea and to take this lunch down to the area of the Beaufort Town Waterfront and eat lunch watching the boats. I have always found Roland’s Barbeque to be ‘top grade’ [I give it a rating of B+ and it would be an A except that it is apparently cooked with gas and not with wood. I miss the ‘wood flavor’ but this barbeque is about as good as it gets when not cooked over wood.
It has always been easy for me to tell other folks how to located Roland’s Barbeque (take-out) in the ‘old days’ because it was located right at the ‘big corner’ left-hand turn that US Highway 70 makes after you come off the bridge into Beaufort and go ‘straight-through’ most of Beaufort that is the ‘old town’ main tourist area. (You turn to the right at any street to get to the waterfront area.) I was surprised to discover a sign on the front of this building that Roland’s had moved. The sign gave the new address but not being familiar with the streets of Beaufort I went next door and asked for directions. The new location of Roland’s is only about ½ mile from the old location. You proceed on US 70 a short distance ‘toward Cedar Island’ and at the point where Highway 111 turns left (back to Havelock) there is a shopping center on the left side of Highway 70/right side of Highway 111. [The ‘most visible’ shop in this center is a large ACE Hardware store.] Roland’s is now a small restaurant – with a drive-thru on the side near Highway 111. This location now has a few tables and some seats (the old location was ‘take-out’ only.) The barbeque is the same, high quality product. Roland’s has now added about four vegetables and a couple of other meat selections (order at the counter). You can now have barbeque or a ‘meat and two’ lunch and choose to eat at tables in the building (similar to the way you get served at McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Hardee’s.) [Note: I did not try any of the other lunch selections but if I judge by the quality/taste of the barbeque, I would suspect that the food is very good.
Again – I selected a ‘chopped barbeque sandwich with slaw (I had my own Coke in the refrigerator back at the motel where we planned to eat lunch.) I chose to add additional ‘Roland’s sauce’ – generously – to my ‘que. As I stated at the top of this article I rate Roland’s Barbeque ‘as good as it gets when not cooked with wood’. The barbeque is not greasy and does not contain the large chunks of skin that many consider characteristic of Eastern NC barbeque. The slaw is white slaw and it goes well with the barbeque. The sweet tea is good. I strongly recommend that anyone visiting the Beaufort, Morehead City. Atlantic Beach areas consider Roland’s Barbeque.
I noted in some tourist information while in Beaufort that there is a White Swan Barbeque place in Atlantic Beach.(2500 W. Fort Macon. That is about 2 miles toward Salter Path from the causeway between Morehead City and Atlantic Beach.) I have eaten White Swan barbeque many times and it is ‘good’ – probably a B in my rating system. (I was ‘turned off’ when the owner of White Swan in a newspaper article claimed that the ‘smoke from the meat dripping down on the fire’ makes a taste that is equivalent to the flavor of wood-fired cooking. – No way! I still eat at White Swan but no longer drive 30 or more miles to eat there.) If you are in the Morehead City/Beaufort area and choosing between the two restaurants, I would recommend Roland’s.
3506 Carriage Drive
Raleigh, NC 27612
Tel & fax: 919.789.4338