Here I was, surrounded by icons of North Carolina barbecue: Wilber Shirley of Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro. Chip and Charles Stamey of Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro. Samuel Jones of the Skylight Inn in Ayden. And Ed Mitchell of Raleigh’s The Pit. We were assembled there to celebrate the release of the fantastic book on North Carolina barbecue, Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, written by John Shelton Reed, Dale Volberg Reed, and William McKinney. Mr. Mitchell was getting ready to pull a pig off his cooker in the kitchen, and folks were just having a grand time. I truly felt that I was not worthy to be around so many barbecue dignitaries, but they weren’t the ones drawing my attention. No, Andy Price was the person I really wanted to get to know, and that’s because this young accountant is about to open a small, Eastern-style barbecue restaurant in Lumberton.
This is a huge deal. Eastern style barbecue restaurants are a dying breed, and I’ve gotten tired of hearing news of another joint’s demise. Making barbecue, particularly whole hog, wood-cooked barbecue, is very difficult work, and there are only a handful of places that do it the right way. I cannot really remember the last time a new, traditional Eastern barbecue establishment opened in a small town — it might be when Ed Mitchell opened his place in Wilson years ago. Mitchell’s ambitions for Wilson were greater than the demand, and his restaurant was far too big for the town, ultimately resulting in its closing.
Andy Price, and his lovely wife, Patricia, are opening Nelson’s Barbecue, a 75-seat restaurant just off of I-95 (between exits 20 and 22) in Lumberton. They bought an old restaurant, demolished it, and are now coming close to finishing the place, with an opening expected in February. Nelson’s will have their 5’X6′ elevated steel pits behind the restaurant, abd the kitchen will be open to the dining area similar to the Skylight Inn. They’ll be cooking whole hogs, supplemented with some shoulders, over oak. Nelson’s will be open Tuesday through Saturday, taking off Sunday and Monday so Andy and Patricia can spend time with their two young children.
Oh, and why is it called Nelson’s? Andy Price’s middle name is Nelson, and he and his wife liked the sound of “Nelson’s” more than “Price’s.”
But will the barbecue be good? I think it will be great. Price has barbecue in his blood. He’s been doing pig pickins for a number of years, and he wanted to open is own barbecue restaurant so badly that he spent a lot of time at Wilbers, my favorite barbecue place in the state. He studied how Wilber’s operates, how they cook their hogs, how they serve their barbecue. If Nelson’s is anywhere close to being as good as Wilber’s — and being a lot smaller, they should have good quality control — then I’ll be finding reasons to head to South of the Border.
Nelson’s will also serve barbecue chicken in a style similar to B’s Barbecue in Greenville (and frankly, I like B’s chicken more than their barbecue!). They’re going to try serving ribs, but they’re not sure how well they’ll sell. Interestingly, they’re going to offer both hush puppies and corn sticks, as Mike likes the former and Patricia is a corn stick fan. Other sides will include slaw, beans, but alas, no Brunswick stew.
The locals are excited, as the only other game in town is Fuller’s Barbecue, which is fine, but not great. Price told me that he and his father, another CPA, have run the numbers several times, and they think they can truly make a go of it, even during these tough economic times. Hell, when the world around you is overly crazy, spinning out of control, you can look to a fine plate of barbecue for comfort, reminding you of the simple things in life. And I’m looking forward to getting one of those first plates of warm comfort from Nelson’s in a few months.
4880 Kahn Drive
Lumberton, NC 28358
Off I-95 between exits 20 and 22
www.nelsonsbarbecue.com (not active yet)