Capitol Q

July 14, 2009

My friend Joe York, filmmaker extraordinaire, has put together a fantastic film on one of North Carolina’s barbecue gems, the Skylight Inn in Ayden. The Skylight is a special place, a purist’s nirvana, where the crunchy skin is cut into the meat, and there are only three foods on the menu — barbecue, slaw, and cornbread. Yeah, they have soda and Moon Pies, but those aren’t made there. And the barbecue at the Skylight is seasoned very lightly, allowing you to savor the full flavor of the Q.

Watch the film, which was put together for the Southern Foodways Alliance with support from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. The film debuted in New York, of all places, at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party.

Edit: I meant to re-post this great photo of James Henry Howell, the Skylight’s pitmaster:


Smoking Ban Now a Law

May 19, 2009


With Governor Beverly Perdue’s signature today, Session Law 2009-27 prohibits smoking in restaurants and bars beginning on January 1, 2010.  To the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Perdue, I thank you, my wife thanks you, and most importantly, my children thank you.  The fiction of a non-smoking sections, when they’re adjacent to the cloud of cigarette smoke, will soon be over.  I can eat my meal without worrying about the smell of my clothes or the watering of my eyes or what the smoke is doing to my kids’ lungs.  Some say this will be the beginning of the end for bars, but this now makes me want to hit them more often!  I never thought I’d see the day when this happened in North Carolina — aka Tobacco Road.  Simply amazing.

New North Carolina Barbecue Book Coming

June 23, 2008

I received in the mail a notice from UNC Press about a book that will be coming out in November, a book on North Carolina barbecue with the title, “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue.”  Yeah, I know — “Just what we need, another barbecue book.”  That’s what I thought, too., until I saw who wrote this sucker: John Shelton Reed, Dale Volberg Reed, and William McKinney.  I know each of these individuals, but Will McKinney is a friend who may be more knowledgeable about NC barbecue than anyone I know.  How knowledgeable?  Well, how many people have spent HUNDREDS of hours gathering oral interviews from owners and pitmasters of NC barbecue establishments?  How many people can say they founded the North Carolina BBQ Society — when they were a student??? McKinney has a passion for barbecue that few can match, so I’m quite sure his contributions were invaluable to this book.

John Shelton Reed is not a historian or a food writer by trade; he’s a sociologist, and that makes this book even more exciting in my mind.  It’s the human dynamic of barbecue that fascinates me, and I really can’t wait to dive into this book.  Professor Reed and his wife are two of the leading authorities on Southern culture (if you haven’t read their book, 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About the South, you need to), so I’m pretty darned sure that this book on barbecue won’t disappoint you.

The Pit is Great, And They’re Open for Lunch

January 22, 2008

thepit.jpgThe Pit has now been open for nearly two months, and I finally made it there for lunch. Yes, that’s right, for lunch — they started offering the mid-day meal in the last couple of weeks. But others — many others — have beaten me to the punch. Greg Cox of the N&O has already visited and will be reviewing it shortly. Bob Garner‘s crew is editing his review for his television report. And I, after writing about it extensively (including my first ever post on VarmintBites), finally got down to Davie Street to see how good it was. Damn good is the answer.

For some reason, I was a bit skeptical of The Pit. Most of the early reviews were favorable, with a few high praises and one or two “no, thank yous” mixed in. I knew Ed Mitchell could cook a pig as well or better than anyone else, but I also remembered that his Wilson restaurant was plagued with quality control problems. Blame it on inattentiveness, bad management, or just lack of consistent turnover, but I had some pretty lousy barbecue at Mitchell’s. That’s why I was hoping, but not overly optimistically, that this partnership with Greg Hatem and Empire Eats would result in a quality eating establishment. Read the rest of this entry »