Barbecue restaurant sides as important as meats

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My people and I don’t know much about the James Beard Kitchen Awards except that they are very significant. Categories and criteria quite involved and complicated. Judges with refined taste and culinary knowledge. My family has their own opinions and chooses the best restaurants. We are ordinary people who love blue-collar food. “Like the wings? is as structured as our food ranking.

‘Barbecue’ is one of our categories. We’re easy to please with smoked meats, thinking that grilling and smoking is so delicious, you can’t mess it all up. We love a charred flavor. Smoke anything and it’s good. Cow, pig, vegetables, gravel.

We understand that there are loads of styles of deliciously cooked meats. Secret methods and sauces. Lots of debate in the barbecue world about frictions and the types of woods used for smoking. But in general, me and mine haven’t come across any smoked meat that we don’t like.

When we feel like barbecuing (and when aren’t we in the mood?), we decide where to go, based not on appetizers, but on sides. It’s the sides that take our barbecue experiences from good to great. Please note that we accept and respect any way people want to spell or abbreviate BBQ, Barbeque, Barbicue, Bar-B-Que. We are also fine with the meat mascot or pork logo an establishment chooses to use.

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Blessed with so many great BBQs in Asheville, it’s interesting that my favorite spot is an hour away. The food is good, but perhaps even more so is the service. After a tough week of living, taming tigers and slaying dragons, dealing with automated menus and unreliable goobers, I guess some people are heading to a bar for a drink. Instead, I yearn for my barbecue joint. Haywood Smokehouse. There are three locations; I drive to Dillsbot’s.

Forget the BBQ, I would go there for nothing but the service. Just stand there, watch and almost cry as friendly, bright-eyed, quick-witted employees immediately connect with you. Generally no employees in sight on their mobile phone. What?! Workers are running at high speed, efficiently preparing a high volume of food and takeout orders, without complaints, sighs or terse movements. They don’t know me there, it’s just the way the employees treat everyone. As if… they like their job.

I once spoke to the owner and asked him how can I get such great help, especially in this time of labor shortage? Are you hiring right, training right, or both? He was modest and said the nearby university was a good source of good workers. I said no. Universities are everywhere, but the consistently top-notch customer service in the food industry is not.

The other reason I drive is for green beans. For the past four years when College Son came home from college, green beans were his favorite treat. I would go buy a bunch. I made my boy happy to come home, get a quart container of beans and a fork, then sit down to talk. I can whip up good food myself, but “welcome home” food for him means Haywood Smokehouse green beans.

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Here in town, our favorite “side dish” is the appetizer wings which we treat as the main event. Moe’s original barbecue has wings that my team loves. About 10 years ago I noticed the results of a chicken wing tasting contest published in the Citizen Times. As a smoked wings connoisseur, I decided to start with the winner of the contest and work my way through the top five. I never got past number one. Moe had the winning wings and my family, friends and visitors have eaten many Moe wings since. We cross them like termites eating a porch.

Admittedly, the Moe’s wings vary greatly in size from time to time. I think you can’t control the size of the chickens that come your way. They also can’t control the price since the pandemic. When I have a large crowd to feed, wings aren’t an option right now, unless I want to get a home equity loan. Although when it’s just our immediate family, I jump on the winning wings on occasion. And frugal is probably ruining the meal for me by watching how much chicken eaters leave on the bone. Uh… there’s still quite a bit of expensive wing meat on that bone. Want to try some more?

Good friends from rural WNC sometimes come to Asheville to visit neighbors who are in Mission Hospital. They’re so excited about going to Three Pigs BBQ that I suspect “visiting the sick” is an excuse. What they love most about this place, besides the fact that they’ve been coming here for decades, like their parents before them, are the hushpuppies.

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Hushpuppies are an art. Some joints serve small, hard chunks of cornmeal density as hushpuppies. A good puppy should be light and airy on the inside, crisp on the outside. Exactly like at Three Pigs. When my friends text me they come to town and do I want to go with them to the hospital and then have a bite to eat. I say, let’s stop pretending to visit sick people. Just order me a Diet Coke and six hushpuppies and I’ll be there in 15 minutes.

What are some other favorite sides of my family and friends? Calico Beans and Sweet Potato Chips from Luella’s, Fried Okra Fries from Bonfire, Corn Pudding from 12 Bones, Lima Beans from Buxton Hall, Burnt Baked Beans from Haywood Smokehouse. All high, high end.

Nancy Williams, Citizen Times columnist and vocational education coordinator at UNC Asheville.

We’re always on the hunt for the best banana stew and pudding in Brunswick. Both are staples at most barbecue restaurants. We haven’t found any favorites yet. Lots of places make decent stew and decent pudding.

Guess we’ll have to keep looking for some worthy rewards. A delicious quest, certainly.

That’s the opinion of Nancy Williams, vocational education coordinator at UNC Asheville. Contact her at nwilliam@unca.edu.

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