Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Morphing from a Dairy Center

The Barbecue Center was
once the Dairy Bar.
No trip near, through, or to Lexington, NC, is complete without a stop at one of its legendary barbecue establishments -- with more than 20 places to choose from. In the city that boasts the opening of its first one in 1919, the lineage of pitmasters is very royal.

The Lexington style of barbecue is so well known: pork shoulders cooked slowly over hardwood coals. It is always served with red slaw (coleslaw made with ketchup rather than the traditional mayonnaise base). The meat is usually served chopped, although sliced can be requested, and with a sauce seasoned with vinegar, ketchup, pepper, and other spices.

The wood outside tells you that slow cooking over hardwood coals is still the tradition.

For my most recent foray into Lexington, the destination was the Barbecue Center, which is the oldest barbecue restaurant in Lexington that still cooks on pits. It had its early beginnings as the Dairy Center and was known for its ice cream and banana splits, which seems an unlikely beginning for a legendary barbecue restaurant in Lexington. Barbecue now brings in the customers, but the signature dessert is still a humongous banana split.

The counter, originally in the Dairy Center, was moved to the Barbecue Center's new location when it opened in 1961.

Barbecue was added to the menu to improve business for the Dairy Center in the winter months. Doug Gosnell, who took over the restaurant in 1955, learned how to make pit-cooked barbecue, Lexington-style from the legendary C. Warner Stamey, who trained many other early pitmasters in the Piedmont area of North Carolina.

The dining area of the Barbecue Center is busy throughout the day.

The tray of barbecue that I ordered arrived just as expected: packed with chopped pork and red slaw. They and the hushpuppies were excellent. Rather than end the meal with the mountainous banana split, which reportedly weighs more than three pounds (a table of four usually shares one banana split), I settled for the much smaller and almost as famous banana pudding. 

A tray of barbecue (chopped, course chopped, or sliced) comes with red slaw.

Being able to trace its roots to Stamey places the Barbecue Center at the beginning of Lexington style. By continuing to make excellent barbecue and sides, it has a secure place in preserving Lexington traditions for a long time to come.

Banana splits are still
made at the counter.
Banana pudding is almost as famous as the banana split.

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