Saturday, July 25, 2015

Bum's in Ayden

The huge pile of cut wood captured my attention as I drove north on West Avenue in Ayden, NC, towards the center of the business district. In a mostly nondescript paved parking lot, the pile guarantees that a barbecue pitmaster is onsite.

Although smoke usually is seen first, the wood pile outside Bum's tells you that good barbecue is inside.

Bum’s Restaurant lies in the heart of the Ayden Historic District, which was listed in 1994 on the National Register of Historic Places. Bum’s obviously contributes to the historic credentials of Ayden, but it contributes even more to the legacy of whole hog cooking in eastern North Carolina.

Bum's Restaurant is in the heart of the historic district of Ayden, NC.

Bum’s opened in 1966 in a town as famous for collards as it is for wood-cooked barbecue. When Latham “Bum” Dennis began his restaurant, he drew upon family cooking styles that date to the 1930s. Now operated by his second and third generation family members, the restaurant still serves fresh vegetable sides that are family grown: cabbage, black-eyed peas, rutabagas and collards. Although the sides are remarkable, customers arrive wanting barbecue, which is chopped bigger than that prepared at the equally famous Skylight Inn, operated by a cousin, also in Ayden.

Garden fresh vegetables, as promoted in the sign, distinguish Bum's from other BBQ establishments.

The Dennis family claim to be descendants of the first U.S. barbecue operators. Skilten Dennis, an early ancestor (born in 1842), started selling smoked hog meat and cornbread out of a wagon in the mid-1800s. The legacy continues today in Bum’s that N.C. writer Daniel Wallace describes as “unpretentious as a middle school cafeteria.”

The unpretentious counter of Bum's is where many customers enjoy their favorite barbecue and vegetables.

After the smokehouse in the back of the restaurant was engulfed in flames in early January, Larry Dennis (the second-generation operator) returned Bum’s to full working order in the first renovations to the complex. Given the honor of lighting the new wood stove in May was Billy Parker of Parker’s Barbecue in Greenville, NC, another family-run whole hog restaurant in eastern North Carolina. With the renovations complete, Bum’s continues to build to its legacy and history.

Bum's brags about its new "coalmaker" on its Facebook page.

At Bum’s, history comes alive one plate at a time. Usually it’s surrounded by smoke too.

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