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Travel Review Fall 2023
Carolina BBQ Part II of II

By Jay Whipple

Trend Magazine Online™

ISO (In Search Of) Da Best Carolina BBQ!cont'd.

Carolina BBQ Review Part II Pic

My next stop was one that I have been patronizing since the 1980's, [Sun. 10/09]. Sonny's BBQ in Concord, NC, is also my go to spot when working out QCT Charlotte NASCAR Shuttlesm service during the big races in May and October. As such, it was fitting that I included them on this list although they are part of a chain of eateries. I stopped by their drive thru around 3pm during the BofA Roval 400 race in early October. I was working and wanted to dine from my vehicle since it was a nice sunny and cool autumn day. My order was up super-fast, less than a minute after I paid. It was as if I had pre-ordered. I ordered their Pick Two Combo meal that came with two meats and two sides and garlic bread or cornbread. I chose pulled pork and dark meat BBQ chicken with their mild sauce.

Carolina BBQ Review Part II Pic!
My pork was standard but not delicious because of the sauce which makes the pork as mentioned earlier. My baked beans were better than average; sweet and tangy, and cornbread on point -- cake like, moist, and buttery. My baked sweet potato was delicious; not over or under cooked and was especially great with their spread used for the cornbread. As far as my BBQ chicken, this eatery is the closest to home cooked that I have experienced for a chain store. It was slightly crispy on the outside/skin, and perfectly moist and tasty on the inside. Their sauce pairs well with the chicken. As always, I will most definitely be back!

My next stop was via our annual QCT Fall Leaf Change Tripsm [Sat. 10/15] to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of North Carolina and not too far from Blowing Rock is the Little Switzerland Cafe'. We chose this eatery because our regular late lunch stop is now closed, I suppose due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. We have actually stopped in this replica Swedish mountain town before during this trip but have not dined in their quaint restaurant. They were not sure if they were going to be open on the weekend due to staffing shortages, so we had a couple of other alternate stops planned. The limited parking spaces were just about filled so I dropped our guests off near the entrance and waited patiently for someone to leave.

Carolina BBQ Review Part II Pic!
Thankfully, it was not long before a vehicle pulled out and I pulled right on in their spot along the narrow mountain highway. There was a line out front on the main entrance, but I was able to skip because our guests had already been seated. A great decision made by yours truly. We arrived right at 1 PM and the place was still very crowded, which is typically a sign of good food and service. The decor was traditional country-style with mostly wooden everything. There was this interesting picture on the wall of an old-timey moon shiner from back in the day; however, I had heard from the grape vine that that old mountain-based illegal business is still in operation for those that know the secret handshake. With so many folks inside it was difficult to gauge the cleanliness of the dining area but our table was certainly in order and the men's restroom as well. I once again forgot to check the sanitation code but with that many customers I can safely assume that it was 90 or above.

Carolina BBQ Review Part II Pic!My guests ordered some of their off the wall menu items like Quiche, but I stuck to their specialty which is good ole' fashioned Carolina BBQ with baked beans, slaw, and cornbread for sides. Our orders were up, believe it or not, in about 10 minutes, which was amazingly fast considering the crowd. The BBQ was as good as it gets for traditional pulled pork which was very tender and juicy with tangy Eastern sauce which is not typical for mountain folks who usually opt for the Western tomato based sweeter sauce. As mentioned earlier I prefer the Western style, but their tangy version was spot on good as well as all of the sides especially the baked beans which were homemade in traditional unique smoked-style spices. The slaw and cornbread were also homemade and like no other. My total came to $20.81 with taxes and gratuity which I consider not bad for a great lunch. This will certainly be our first choice on our next QCT Fall Leaf Change Tripsm.

Carolina BBQ Review Part II Pic!
My next stop [Sat. 10/22] was one that I had been planning to make for over two decades and especially when I lived in the quaint town of Winston-Salem, NC, which is on the same route. The Lexington, NC, BBQ Festival is now in its 39th season and is one of our country's most popular food festivals. My much-anticipated arrival took place at approximately 10:55 AM. Parking was tricky and costly, but my Spidey senses kicked in and I was able to find a free spot only a few blocks away from the main entrance to the festival off Main Street. As I traversed through the huge crowd and checked out the vendors it eventually became clear to me that my expectations were way off. This festival was not about a variety of eclectic BBQ from many different places but instead a festival dedicated only to Lexington BBQ. Duh!

Carolina BBQ Review Part II Pic!I was traumatized to say the least but quickly overcame my dismay for the sake of professionalism to continue my mission of locating the best BBQ in the Carolinas. I ended up at one of a few tents that served the signature Lexington BBQ dish and each one was crowded. I patiently awaited my turn with much anticipation of a great meal. I ordered the sandwich only which I believe was about $8 or so. I paid cash to speed up the process, so I do not have a receipt to confirm the price charged. The sandwich was what I consider the traditional mushy type with slaw, no sauce, but included Texas Pete Hot Sauce packs. It was good but not great without Eastern or Western BBQ sauce which I mentioned earlier makes the BBQ. And I was still quite disappointed that there were no other BBQ choices at entire festival. The festival itself was great and well attended by folks from near are far; but for me a great disappointment as far as what my expectations were for a plethora of different BBQ choices. I departed about 1:10 PM and have no plans to return.

Carolina BBQ Review Part II Pic!My next stop was to an event that I had not attended since my days as a field distribution engineer with Duke Power (today Energy) where us salaried employees were encouraged to attend because of the plethora of North Carolina State and local politicians that showed up to press the flesh and get votes. I did not put two and two together until after I resigned my position in early 1991 to go into the publishing business. Duke is one of, if not the largest employer of lobbyists in the State of North Carolina. It is for that reason that they typically get their way when it comes to rate hikes. Yikes! Anywho; this was the 91st Mallard Creek BBQ (since 1929), and its original purpose was to raise monies to pay contractors for Sunday School rooms at the old Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church which is now located at 1600 W. Mallard Creek Church Rd., Charlotte, NC 28262. The event is always on the 4th Thursday in October. I and a business associate arrived at approximately 12:35 PM after negotiating my way around the tons of traffic coming from the south.

I once worked in this area while employed with Duke, so I knew to go around to the northern end of Mallard Creek Church Road which was less of a headache. My GPS (Global Positioning System) guided us to the current Mallard Creek Church Road and not to the original church which is now the community center and site of the annual BBQ. There were sheriff deputies directing traffic near the entrance which helped with the flow of traffic in and out of the annual BBQ. The parking area was starting to fill up, but they also had a drive-thru option which is something that was not available during my last visit back in the late 1980's/early 1990's.

Carolina BBQ Review Part II Pic!I decided to order take out to enjoy the atmosphere and feel the vibes of this now historic annual Charlotte fall event. My business associate remained in my vehicle due to health issues while walking. I was in line approximately 25 minutes which went by fast as I was enjoying listening to people carrying on nice conversations in my proximity. I ordered two BBQ dinners that came with Brunswick Stew, slaw, apple sauce, and two slices of white bread. The total cost came to just $24 (no taxes) which I consider not a bad price for lunch. There was no dining available on site as before, so I drove to Hornets Nest Park to enjoy our meals outdoors. My BBQ was disappointing especially with the commercial sauce which came in packs; it was nowhere near Eastern or Western BBQ standards and tasted manufactured as opposed to homemade. On the other hand, the coleslaw was good because it tasted homemade and had a unique tangy taste.

The apple sauce was typical and tasted as if it came from a jar or container from the grocery store. The Brunswick Stew was the highlight of my meal and the only place that I know of to get it in the Charlotte area. The ingredients were tomato based with beans (or rice option) and vegetables; the meat was chicken (or pork option). My guest enjoyed it as well! This historic BBQ event is for a good cause which is to raise money for local missions! It was enlightening to learn that no politicians were allowed this go around and I plan to return one day.

Carolina BBQ Review Part II Pic! The last stop in my journey that began last year and covered over 912 miles and two States was Rodney Scott's Whole Hog BBQ in Charleston, SC. I came across this eatery by pure happenstance after learning that most mom and pops were closed because of the Independence Day holiday [Tue. 07/04]. It was after my visit to the brand new International African-American Museum while on a FAM (familiarization) trip for our QCT A Day in Charleston SC Tripsm. I chose this place because it was nearest the new museum and on my route back to the Charlotte, NC, area. I arrived at approximately 1:50 PM and chose to hit drive thru because the small dining area was jam packed, I guess because of the holiday closings. Their parking area was very small and another reason to use their drive-thru option.

Carolina BBQ Review Part II Pic! Their drive-thru service was super-fast, it took less than 5 minutes for my order to be handed to me and there were two cars in front of me when I arrived. I ordered their Signature Whole Hog plate with baked beans, potato salad, and corn bread. Unfortunately, they only offered the vinaigrette Eastern Carolina style sauce and not my preferred mustard version. Boo! My total came to $16.08 (with taxes), which I consider very pricey. I decided to park across the street in the Food Lion shopping plaza to consume my meal due to the limited parking at their establishment, First, they did not provide me with any eating utensils. My pulled pork was under whelming, a bit too dry, my sauce was too spicey; my baked beans were seasoned but still bland. My potato salad was seasoned also but still bland, my cornbread was moist but also bland. I have no plans to return to this eatery.

All in all, it was a great experience traveling from eatery to eatery throughout North and South Carolina in search of the best Carolina BBQ. My travels from the mountains to the coast took over a year and covered over 900 miles to some familiar and not so familiar eateries. I am disappointed that I was not able to find my favorite mustard BBQ sauce in South Carolina but am elated to have experienced my personal favorite BBQ at the Little Switzerland Cafe' along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. By the way, the term BBQ can be traced back to the 1500's and the Taino people in modern day Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba.

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