Monday, February 20, 2017

Curling Whiffs of White Smoke

As you approach the original Little Richard’s Lexington BBQ in Winston-Salem, NC, it’s easy to notice the curling whiffs of white smoke spiraling from the smokestacks. It’s a good sign. Barbecue is being cooked in the traditional manner – over hot wood coals.

Spiraling smoke tells you how Little Richard's cooks its pork shoulders.

Little Richard’s takes its name from founder Richard Berrier who got his start in the barbecue business when he was 13. It cooks pork shoulders – the Lexington style, hence the use of Lexington in its name – with hickory wood on an open pit for up to 10 hours. Then they’re hand-chopped as the restaurant’s dip (sauce) is added.

The parking lot fills quickly when Little Richard's opens.

When I arrived for lunch several minutes before noon on a Monday, the restaurant was busy. Only two tables were available. Glancing at the other tables, I saw that most customers had a BBQ tray (a cardboard boat loaded with chopped barbecue and slaw) or a BBQ sandwich. Even a small tray, which also comes with hushpuppies or a roll, was more than enough for lunch.

My tray was packed with adequate servings of slaw and barbecue.

Although the chopped pork was moist and delicious without needing any extra sauce, I was captivated by the tangy flavor of Little Richard’s own house dip and kept adding more and more to my boat as I ate the barbecue. The dip, mixed every morning, is Little Richard’s select combination of vinegar, ketchup, water, spices, and salt. It is thin and vinegary with a consistency similar to sauces in eastern North Carolina.

The dip recipe is a secret, but the ingredients are listed on the bottles.

True to Lexington style, Little Richard’s offers a vinegary red slaw, which gets its characteristic color from ketchup, with its BBQ plates, trays, and sandwiches. The menu lists “slaw,” with no description -- the implicit understanding is that the mayonnaise-based coleslaw of eastern N.C. barbecue traditions isn’t available because it’s not Lexington style.

Soon after I arrived for lunch, every table was occupied.

The original location, a destination on the historic N.C. Barbecue Trail, opened more than 25 years ago (a second location is also available -- surprisingly and somewhat confusing, several other barbecue restaurants in the area are also named Little Richard’s but are not connected).

The wood pile in back is Little Richard's proof that it cooks its pork slowly over hot coals.

By serving delicious barbecue that is cooked slowly with hickory wood, Little Richard’s is easily achieving its goal of “Eat Mo’ Pig.”

"Eat Mo' Pig" is an appropriate motto.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Returning to a Classic in Lexington, NC



Soon after I moved back to North Carolina, a day trip to Lexington was high on my to-do list. The purpose, of course, was to enjoy barbecue at one of the city’s dozen classic establishments.

Plenty of wood is ready for slow cooking pork shoulders.

Of all cities in the state (and the South), Lexington is probably the one most closely identified with barbecue. Visit NC, managed by a state agency to promote tourism, recognizes the barbecue legacy of the city by featuring a “barbecue tour” of it < https://www.visitnc.com/trip-idea/lexington-barbecue-tour >, and its legendary barbecue festival attracts thousands of spectators each October.

A pig in the Pig in the City art initiative greets customers as they arrive.

Even the city’s official website pays homage to the city’s barbecue heritage < http://www.lexingtonnc.net/>, and many businesses participate in the Pigs in the City art initiative, which places life-size pigs painted and decorated artistically around the city.

A barbecue tray with slaw is served in a cardboat boat, typical for Lexington-style restaurants.

Because Lexington Barbecue Restaurant (sometimes called “Lexington #1” or “The Honey Monk” by the locals) was the first place where I ate barbecue in Lexington, it’s always a place to stop when I’m in the area as I was recently. Very little changes here. Although it has expanded from a small cafĂ© to the large white building it now occupies, it has always served excellent pit-cooked barbecue since being opened in 1962 by Wayne Monk (hence, its alternate names of “The Monk” and “The Honey Monk”). Monk, who worked under the legendary Warner Stamey of Greensboro, was 26 when he built the first building and opened the business.

The white building is the current home, long ago replacing the small cafe built in 1962.

Located on appropriately named Smokehouse Lane, Lexington Barbecue cooks pork shoulders slowly and fresh daily over oak or hickory coals for about ten hours. The result is always superior barbecue – well worth the drive and the logical starting point for enjoying barbecue in the “barbecue capital.” USA Today has listed it in the top 10 best Southern barbecue spots, and Southern Living magazine has identified it as the favorite barbecue place of its readers in North Carolina.

The line of customers waiting for tables on a Friday night seems to never end.

Barbecue is served chopped, sliced, or coarse chopped. Plates, trays, and sandwiches come with “red” slaw, traditional for Lexington-style. Returning to Lexington Barbecue reminded me of my first visit – the simplicity of the restaurant; the friendliness of the wait staff; the authentic preservation of its style; and the excellent barbecue, slaw, and hushpuppies. No wonder that it continues to receive high praise and recognition even with all the other nearby barbecue restaurants.

A young fan declares Lexington Barbecue, also known as Honey Monk ("Hnemonk"), is the best.