The Road to Q-Demption – Day 6

April 24, 2016

Starting mileage: 2638.2

We had a leisurely, tick-free hike through the trails of Foothills Family Campground before breaking camp.  With a few hours before we hit the last pit on our barbecue tour, I munched on some of my homemade granola bars as I broke camp.  It took longer than it should have because my little buddies were determined to show me what they thought of their kibble by knocking their bowls over and staring at me like they were saying “Do you really expect us to eat this?”  Call me weird but I always try to pick up all of their spilled food; I guess it doesn’t matter so much in a busy campground but when we go out into the wilderness I try to minimize our impact as much as possible.  It’s just habit now.

So after a relaxed three hour drive and having driven 2933.8 kilometres, we arrived at Herb’s Pit BBQ in Murphy.  Even though it was literally in the middle of nowhere the parking lot was packed, leaving me to squeeze my little car onto the grass beside the driveway.  Fortunately most of the people were in the dining room so I lounged about in the gift shop as I waited for my barbecue sandwich and hushpuppies.

The sandwich was the most like the barbecue that I am familiar with: it was sweet but still with a bit of vinegar tang that did not cover the strong smoke flavour.  The sauce was so good I had a little bit of it straight up to try and figure out the ingredients.  I’ve never done a shooter of barbecue sauce but it was strangely satisfying.  The hushpuppies were good but not the best I had eaten on this trip.  And I love pickles so they were devoured in two bites.  We walked around the lot a little bit before we went back to the car.

We had reached the west end of the North Carolina Historic Barbecue Trail and as much as I was tempted to keep going, reality set in and now it was time to start heading home.  I had no route and no plans other than a large patch of green on my map between North Carolina and Tennessee.  With no GPS signal, I figured that I would head in a generally north direction.  My plan worked and soon we were in Cherokee National Forest.

We stopped at one of the first trailheads we found and after a short hike, we found something a little odd in the middle of a forest: pavement and a bridge.  We had found an old abandoned highway.  I was thought about following it to see where it led but decided there was a whole forest to see instead.

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Signs for the Cherohala Skyway caught my eye and I started driving along that, thinking that I would find a good place to spend the night.  When I started driving the Skyway, I was somewhat disappointed.  After the Skyline Drive in Virginia, I had thought I would see sweeping vistas and panoramic views.  Instead I saw hills.  Nice hills but hills nonetheless. We stopped at some of the many scenic areas in the park and finally got some exercise in.

Next order of business was to find a place to sleep.  The first campground I came to was okay but the best available site was across the lake from a highway and the sound of the traffic reverberated over the water.  Then I went looking for another site.  And looking and looking.  Apparently I had gone to the side of the park with no campgrounds.  Then I found one and after a bone-jarring drive down a dirt road, I found a small campground.  I didn’t like any of the spots and the tree cover was so heavy that it made the sites look kind of dreary.  So back on the road.

And I finally found a map.  After  studying that for a few minutes, I had an idea of where I was going.  Fortunately it went over Bald River Falls and I was able to get some nice photos.

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Bald River Falls


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Bald River Falls.

Then, finally, we arrived at North River Campground.  It was small and it was primitive and it was perfect for us.  I had the tent up, with much help, and we went for a hike to stretch our legs.

Oddly, though I hadn’t eaten for hours, I wasn’t at all hungry.  I guess I was sustaining myself on the copious amounts of barbecue I had eaten over the past few days. As usual, the dogs were sleeping by the time I slid into my sleeping bag. 

The Road to Q-Demption – Day 4

April 22, 2016

Starting Mileage: 1896.7

When I poked my head out around the curtain I saw that the forecast had not been wrong: it was pouring outside.  We were able to get in a quick walk around the parking lot without getting too soaked and soon back on the road.

First stop of the day: Short Sugar’s Bar-B-Q in Reidsville.  I sat at the counter chatting with the locals and left holding a container of chop pork, coleslaw, and a whack of hushpuppies.  I was tempted to order breakfast but since I had come for the barbecue, that was what I had to have.

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Breakfast courtesy of Short Sugar’s: chop, coleslaw, and hushpuppies.

After polishing off the contents of the container, we headed to Fuzzy’s Barbecue in Madison.  I was a bit confused because there were two addresses given for Fuzzy’s.  Turns out, one is the restaurant and the other is where they do wholesale barbecue.  I was talking to some of the staff and one of the cooks asked if I was a bounty hunter.  I looked around: was he talking to me?  Then he asked if I was an undercover cop because it looked like I had brass knuckles in my back pocket.  I started laughing and told him it was a pocket full of change and did a bit of a booty shake.  I left with my chop sandwich and sat outside on a bench with the dogs.  When I went back in to tell them how much I enjoyed the food, the same cook apologized for embarrassing me and asked if I wanted a tour of the kitchen since he heard me say I was doing the trail.  A tour?  Oh YAAAAAAAAAA.

I tried telling him that I wasn’t embarrassed but he insisted.  Who was I to turn down a tour?  As he was showing me around, I had a chance to meet the owner, Nelson.   I picked for as much information as I could get.  I’ll share some of the tidbits in a later post  He also told me about Lexington being the pinnacle of North Carolina barbecue.  I was heading that way.  I could hardly wait.  I left with knowledge, and hushpuppies, and was back on the road.

Fortunately there was a bit of road to navigate, which gave me the opportunity to digest.  We passed by Creekside Supply and when I saw the sasquatch statue, I had to stop for some quick photos.

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Making new friends everywhere we go.

Hill’s Lexington BBQ in Winston-Salem was the first of a cluster of pits that we came to.  As I was waiting for my order, I heard someone order banana pudding.  I had never had banana pudding and was somewhat hesitant to try it.  I like bananas but banana-flavoured things, well they bring up memories of amoxicillin which was a gross imitation of banana. The gentleman behind the counter gave me a small sample.  One bite and I was sold.  As I waiting for my sandwich and warm cup of happiness in a warm cup of banana pudding love, I mentioned that I was doing the trail and that I was hitting Lexington soon.  When I mentioned that Fuzzy’s had been building up Lexington barbecue and had given me a tour, the gentleman waved me forward and took me into his kitchen.  Turns out I was talking to J.R. Hill.  I was practically bouncing in excitement as I had a chance to plumb the depths of his barbecue knowhow.  I sat back outside and we devoured the sandwich but I didn’t share any of the pudding.  OK who are we kidding?  They had little tiny bits.

The next pit seemed to spring up out of nowhere and in less than half an hour we were pulling into the lot at Little Richard’s Lexington B.B.Q. in Winston-Salem.  If I had to describe the decor, it would be kitchy and the restaurant was busy.  But let’s face it, I didn’t drive for the ambiance; I came for the barbecue.  And barbecue I had: a massive portion of chop and red slaw with hushpuppies.  I found the meat to be a bit dry and it lacked sauce but that was quickly corrected.

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Chop, slaw, and hushpuppy plate from Little Richard’s.

As we were making our way to the next pit, I saw signs for Childress Vineyards.  Now I enjoy wine and we had driven by several other wineries so normally I would not have stopped but I had seen an article about Childress Vineyards making barbecue wines.  I stopped and made my way into the tasting room and that was when I found (yet again) that my tendency to skim over articles backfired slightly.  The barbecue wines are only made for The Barbecue Festival in Lexington which is being held this October.  I still left with a couple of bottles as souvenirs then took the dogs for a walk amongst the vines.  I had learned that with the tobacco industry in decline, former tobacco fields were being turned into vineyards.  Maybe next I’m in North Carol a wine trail will be in order. 

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Looking majestic at Childress Vineyards.

Now that some time had passed, I was ready for the next pit and we were soon at Smiley’s Lexington BBQ in Lexington where we dove into a heaping scoop of wonderfully moist chop pork and red slaw with corn sticks.  Not quite sure how I felt about a statue of a pig holding cleavers out front.  And here was where I realized I had made a bit of an error.  On the trail there is a pit called Speedy Lohr’s but I had been told by the locals to go to Speedy’s.  Well I had thought they were the same; they were not.  So a little bit of backtracking was required.

It really wasn’t much in the way of backtracking because it was less than 30 minutes before we were parking the car at Speedy Lohr’s.  Quickly I had my now standard container of chop and red slaw.  The odd thing was that the dogs seemed to be getting a greater share of the meat with each pit we visited.  They didn’t seem to mind.

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Red slaw and chop from Speedy Lohr’s.

The last pit of the day was The Barbecue Center, Inc. Lexington.  There was a long roof covering a drive-up lot.  We parked there as we devoured another helping of chop and coleslaw as I sat in my open trunk since the rain had started up again.

Studying the map for hotels, my options were pretty limited so we ended up going back to the Red Roof Inn in Greensboro and were put in the same room that we had stayed in the night before.  Thankfully it was a king-sized bed so plenty of space for everyone.  Especially since Leo has a tendency to hog the pillows.

Pits of the day:

Short Sugar’s Bar-B-Q

Fuzzy’s Barbecue

Hill’s Lexington BBQ

Little Richard’s Lexington B.B.Q.

Smiley’s Lexington BBQ

Speedy Lohr’s

The Barbecue Center, Inc.

The Road to Q-Demption – Day 3

Thursday April 21, 2016

Starting Mileage: 1439.7

As I was breaking camp, something was bothering me: I drove a long way to eat barbecue on a barbecue trail.  How could I leave without eating at all of the pits?  So I typed in the address for the pit we missed the day before.

After an hour of backtracking, we arrived at B’s Barbecue in Greenville.  The first thing I noticed was that a road was named after the pit.  As in a sign for “B’s Barbeque Rd”.  The next thing I noticed was the walk up window at the side of an almost dilapitated building. I ended up going inside to order so I didn’t block the window.  I was amazed at the number of people that came for barbecue so early in the morning since I’ve always thought of it as a meal for lunch or dinner.  But when in Rome…Any doubts I had about the food or the fact that I went so far out of my way were quickly dispelled.  The sandwich I had was incredible.  The pork was moist and the sauce was a suggestion.  The perfect balance of meat and smoke and sauce.  Instead of hushpuppies, I had corn sticks.  I’m guessing it’s the same idea as a hushpuppy but so different.  With a large cup of sweet tea in hand, back into the car.

I had this bizarre sense of deja vu as we headed back the way we had come on the way to Grady’s B.B.Q. outside of Dudley.  Even though it seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere, the line at the counter almost reached the door.  As I waited, I signed the visitor’s book, noticing that I was the only person from out of country for a few pages.  I ordered the plate: chop (chopped barbecue pork), coleslaw, and hushpuppies.  I noticed a slight change in the taste of the meat: the smoke was slightly stronger and the sauce was a bit deeper tasting.  The hushpuppies were crisp and light.  When I stepped back inside to tell them how much I enjoyed the food, there was a slight lull in the crowd and I had a chance to actually talk to the people behind the counter.  They made sure that I had signed the book and I had pens and cards handed to me before another rush of hungry mouths arrived.

In less than two hours, we rolled up to Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q in Willow Springs.  I walked in the door to find some of the staff having a heated discussion which had started when a customer called all Southerners dumb.  Knowing that my accent would give me away as an outsider, I quickly jumped in on the trash talk to become one with the local pack, like in a nature documentary.  After laughs were exchanged all around, I soon left with my plate of chop and chicken, coleslaw, and apple sauce.  I needed something that resembled a fruit in some form.  The pork was good, the chicken tasty, the coleslaw wasn’t as acidic as some others, and the apple sauce as least gave the illusion of healthy eating.  The flavour that I had noticed at Grady’s was a bit more pronounced here in that the smoke was a bit stronger and the vinegar of the sauce a little less prevalent.

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The plate from Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q: chop pork, chicken, coleslaw, and apple sauce.

With a full stomach, I started the drive for the next pit and it seemed as though no time had passed before I arrived at Allen & Son Barbecue in Chapel Hill.  I took a deep breath as I walked inside and steeled myself for the upcoming meal.  However, I was quickly distracted when I looked in the kitchen and saw the side of the fridge was littered with photos of boxers.  Well few bonds are as instant as the bond of breed owners. I was soon sitting at a table outside with a plate of chop, coleslaw, hushpuppies, and stew.  Again the deep flavour of the chop; even without anyone telling me, I was beginning to taste the change across the trail.  The stew was fantastic.  And the hushpuppies had become round and there was a hint of something other than corn.  Soon the woman working behind the counter came outside with a carafe of water and to snuggle with the dogs.  The table outside was a nice place to sit and we took our time eating before we left.

Next stop: Hursey’s Bar-B-Q in Burlington.  And now here is where I started to get clever: when I walked up to the counter and gave my little speech about being there for the barbecue, I then asked if they had a kid’s meal.  And here they do, sort of.  I ordered the hotdog without the bun.  Even though there was no hotdog; it’s just chop in a hotdog bun.  So a little bit of chop, some hushpuppies, and fries for a change.  The hushpuppies were light, the fries crispy, and the pork tasty with just enough sauce to keep the meat moist.  I very rarely had to add any additional sauce on the whole trip as they seemed to know just how much was needed.

We had time for one last stop, which is good because it was less than an hour away.  Final pit of the day was Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro.  Of all the places we had been to thus far, I’d say it was the nicest building.  Considering that it was across the street from the Greensboro Coliseum that’s not surprising.  I had my first taste of red slaw which is coleslaw with barbecue sauce.  Mixed with the chop it was an incredible compliment.

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Last stop of the day at Stamey’s: red slaw and chop.

By this point, it was time to start thinking about where we were going to spend the night.  The weather forecast was calling for rain and thunderstorms in the morning so camping was out.  Thankfully there was a Red Roof Inn nearby and I was able to drag myself up to our room.  When I walked inside I would have whistled if I could have (I can’t whistle).  It was so much nicer than I expected that I felt almost pampered as I climbed into bed with the dogs soon snoring around me.

Pits of the day:

B’s Barbecue

Grady’s B.B.Q.

Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q

Allen & Son Barbecue

Hursey’s Bar-B-Q

Stamey’s Barbecue

The Road to Q-Demption – Day 2

Wednesday April 20, 2016

Starting mileage: 758.5

With the address of the first pit entered into the GPS, we left Williamsport Pennsylvania, an absolutely dreadful cup of coffee from the hotel clutched in my hand.  It was so bad I almost spit it out but that would mean stopping and that wasn’t an option quite yet.

The route led us through some amazing scenery and when I saw a sign that said there was a wilderness area close by, I decided to veer off course so the dogs could go for a walk.  I sometimes forget that miles and kilometres are different units of measurements, and what I thought was a quick hop off the highway was not.  On the plus side, we found ourselves winding through some stunning farm land before we came to the wilderness area.  Even though it was a short walk, the dogs still managed to find a stream and go for a swim.  At least it was shallow so I wouldn’t have to worry about a car full of soaked dogs.

We were back in the car and I had found my way back to the highway, merrily singing along with the radio when I felt something on the back of my leg.  Thinking it was a hair or thread, I reached down and looked to see that I was holding a tick.  And now dear reader I have a confession to make: I HATE TICKS!!!  You would think that growing up on farms in the country I would get over it.  And the fact that my grandparents used to live in a tick-infested part of Manitoba and every night when we were visiting, we would do tick checks on people and dogs.  I was actually proud of myself for not freaking out as I rolled the window down and tossed that little sucker out.

Fortunately we soon needed gas and after filling the tank, I went over the dogs one by one.  They must have thought they were getting a massage.  Piper?  Good.  Jack?  No problem.  Leo?  He must have gone through a nest because he had three on his ears.  They had not been attached long and I had started them on Bravecto before we left which is supposed to kill those little bloodsuckers.  Needless to say, I spent a lot of time checking myself in the washroom before moving on.

Then, finally, we rolled into Ayden, North Carolina and laid eyes upon our first pit stop:  Skylight Inn BBQ.  A covered set of picnic tables beckoned to me.  But first, the Q!

The decor confirmed the fact that this place has been in operation for quite some time but the steady stream of people passing through the door was all I need to know.  I stood pondering the menu as I waited in line but I threw it all aside and when I stepped up to the counter I uttered the words that I would repeat 22 more times on this journey:  “I’m here from Canada. I came for the barbecue.  What do you recommend?”

There was a pause then “I’d recommend the barbecue plate.”

Done.  With a tray in hand I walked out to the car, unloaded the dogs, and sat in the shade at the picnic tables in the lot as I contemplated the food before me.  A good helping of barbecue pork, coleslaw, and corn bread.  The corn bread was dense, moist, and chewy; coleslaw a mass of finely chopped vegetation.  And the pork…ah the pork.  My first taste of North Carolina barbecue.  It wasn’t the heavily smoked and sauced meat that I was used to.  There was a definite acidity but above all else you taste meat then smoke and sauce.  Back home you taste SMOKE with some meaty flavour.  We devoured every little bit.  Of course we; it would be downright cruel to not give them little morsels.  Shhhhhh don’t tell my vet.

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The plate from Skylight Inn Barbecue: pork, coleslaw, and corn bread.

After packing the car up, I popped back inside to tell them how much I enjoyed the food.  I absent-mindedly scratched at the back of my calf and found ANOTHER TICK!  I had to contain the urge to let loose a yelp.  I talked funny as it was; the last thing I needed was for the locals to think that I was having a meltdown.

I punched in the next pit and when the map popped up I saw that it was…closed?  Mid afternoon and it was closed.  Huh.  OK then pit number three.  I didn’t really pay attention to where I was going, merely typing out the name of the restaurant and letting my phone order me around so when we drove into the real-life Farmville, I couldn’t help laughing.  And then we rolled up to Jack Cobb & Son Barbecue Place.

The exterior has one of the most colourful paint jobs I saw on the trip and for some reason it just made me happy.  I went inside and after my introduction, the gentleman suggested the turkey.  I was intrigued.  So I had the turkey sandwich and hushpuppies.  And here is where Southern hospitality starts to assert itself: we were talking about the barbecue trail and the long drive down and as the gentleman behind the counter hands me my food, he says “I pray that you enjoy.”  For some reason that really stuck with me.  I sat outside and took a bite of North Carolina barbecue turkey.  It was a tad bit dry but with a shot of sauce it was divine.  Again the smoke was a subtle complement instead of the dominant flavour.  Now for the hushpuppies.  They make me think of deep fried bits of corn bread.   As I ate, I watched the steady stream of vehicles pull into the lot and leave with bags of food.  I stopped in to thank them for the food then entered the next pit.

As I was driving along the road, I saw a sign for The Apple Jack Factory.  I continued on but after a very short distance I had to turn around.  How could I pass by a place that sells homemade fried pies and coffee?  I mean it was almost 5:00 pm so no coffee but pies?  I had to check it out.  I am an avid baker and I am always looking for ideas of course.  The Apple Jack Factory was a small trailer on the side of the road but it was loaded with all kinds of baked goods.  I finally settled on something called “chew bread”, a pecan tart, and a coconut tart.  There was a large field next to the trailer so we had a little walk before continuing on our way.

Next stop: Wilber’s Barbecue in Goldsboro.  By this time, my belly was pretty full so I decided to skip the full plate and just have the sandwich…and hushpuppies.  I also picked up a few bottles of sauce to take back for friends.  I was standing there chatting with some of the locals and staff and they all seemed blown away that I would drive so far just for the food.  As I stepped up to the register to pay, one woman waved me aside and said that she would pay and then totally brushed off my protests.  She looked at me and said “You’re getting Southern hospitality.” And then she left.  I was stunned and felt so humbled as I sat outside with the dogs.  The sandwich was the best one I had eaten that day and the hushpuppies…they didn’t last long.  Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is nearby so I had the opportunity to watch the planes fly overhead as we ate.

I went back inside to tell them how much I enjoyed the food and to ask if they knew of any places nearby to camp.  No one really knew any camping spots but there were some hotels in the area.  As several people were trying to figure out how to give the Canadian directions, I had another sandwich thrust into my hands.  It was made accidentally and so I had to take it; or that was the story anyway.

With directions in mind and a sandwich in hand, I went to the car.  As I was driving, I saw a sign for camping.  The weather was nice so I figured we would enjoy some outdoor time.  We drove into Busco Beach just as it was closing.  Fortunately I was able to get a spot which wasn’t hard as I was the only person camping.  It is geared more for ATV’s so the camping leaves much to be desired.  Just wide open spaces to pitch a tent, the dust is incredibly fine so it got everywhere, and the ground was packed so hard I couldn’t get pegs in.  It still wasn’t the worst place I’ve ever camped.  There are some trails so we spent well over an hour exploring as planes flew overhead.  It was well into twilight by the time we went back to our site.  The first camp-out of the year and the dogs were stretched out on their blankets before I had finished zipping up the door.

 

Pits of the day:

Skylight Inn BBQ

Jack Cobb & Son Barbecue Place

Wilber’sBarbecue

The Road to Q-Demption – Day 5

April 23, 2016

Starting Mileage: 2185.5

Feeling surprisingly spry for the copious amounts of meat I had consumed, we were soon on the road for our first pit of the day: Richard’s Bar-B-Q in Salisbury.  There was a patio outside and we were able to sit in the sun and enjoy our chop, red slaw, and hushpuppies.  The trend for heavier smoke continued and the slaw had a heavier taste to it as well.  The hushpuppies tasted like ONION RINGS!  I took a bite and my mind was blown.  Turns out Jack didn’t like these hushpuppies quite as much.  With the onion, they got tiny little crumbs anyway, but the little eating machine turned his nose up at them.  His loss.

Next pit was Wink’s Barbecue, also in Salisbury and another short drive between pits.  Since it was such a short trip, I decided to stick with the chop sandwich.  There was no where to really sit outside and out of the way, so another meal sitting in the trunk of my car.  At least it was shady and cool.  A walk around the block to settle full tummies and onward.

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Wink’s Barbecue sandwich.

M & K Barbecue in Granite Quarry was another pit that seemed to spring upon us and in about 30 minutes I was sitting at the counter waiting for my chop sandwich.  I noticed a picnic bench off to the side of the lot and sat there to enjoy.  The smoke flavour was the heaviest that we had tasted up to this point with very light sauce flavour.  The smoke may have been heavy but the meat was not and I didn’t have the overstuffed feeling I was expecting.  Soon we were back on the road.

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The sandwich from M & K Bar-B-Q.

But it wasn’t long before we arrived at Carolina Bar-B-Q in Statesville.  Now I had looked at the trail map and realized that this was the last of the cluster of pits so I could have slightly bigger meal.  I was not going to pass that opportunity up.  Chop pork, baked beans, and hushpuppies.  The pork was good, with a strong smoke to it but the baked beans and hushpuppies stole this meal.  Some of the best beans I have ever had and the hushpuppies had this incredible crispy exterior.  I ate them all and gave the dogs chop instead.

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The chop plate from Carolina Bar-B-Q: pork, baked beans, and hushpuppies.

Then we had some time on the road as we made our way to Switzerland Cafe in Little Switzerland.  The drive through the mountains was beautiful even if I could only enjoy it in little glimpses because of the winding roads.  The town seems to be geared toward tourists and the cafe was attached to a general store, coffee shop, and artist shop.  We sat in a corner of the patio as we ate our sandwich with slaw, potato salad, and pickle.  This was the closest we had had to a plated meal on the trip.  It was nice but lacked some of the rustic charm that I had become accustomed to.  It was good but so different from the other barbecue places we had visited.  I toyed with the idea of trying to find a place to stay there but decided that we could at least get a bit closer to our next stop.

Our next stop being Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby.  The lot was packed and I had a hard time finding a spot.  And it was a squeeze to get through the crowd at the front door to place a takeout order.  I had a chance to talk to the locals and most recommended the sandwich.  And as I watched order after order being placed or handed out, it seemed to mostly be the plate or the sandwich.  So they must be doing something right.  It was a great sandwich with a good hit of smoke and a nice sweetness to the sauce.

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Barbecue sandwich from Red Bridges Barbecue.

I knew that I would not be able to make it to the last pit before it closed, so I decided to just start driving that way until I found a place to sleep.  Fortunately I saw signs for camping and we got a site at Foothills Family Campground outside of Forest City.  It is by far the nicest private campground I have ever stayed at.  I was the only tenter again so I was able to pick my own site and choose one next to a little creek.  It was almost dark by the time we crawled into the tent for the night.

Pits of the day:

Richard’s Bar-B-Q

Wink’s Barbecue

M & K Barbecue

Carolina Bar-B-Q

Switzerland Cafe

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge

 

The Road to Q-Demption – Day 1

I walked through my front door the morning of Monday April 18 at 2:30 on the dot.  During the drive  home from the airport, I had toyed with the idea of sleeping for a couple of hours and getting on the road.  I knew I didn’t need much in the way of supplies since this was to be an eating road trip and I keep my gear packed and ready to go at all times.  It’s actually one of the few things that stays organized.  However the drive was exhausting and I needed some serious sleep or I’d have fallen asleep at the wheel so I spent most of Monday running errands and leisurely packing.

Obviously standard road trip rules would apply.  The road trip bottle was Woodford Reserve; bourbon seemed appropriate.

Then on Tuesday April 19 at 6:01 am, we left home.  I had hoped to be out sooner but I was dragging my backside a bit.  The long day of travelling Sunday had caught up with me as we joined the rush hour traffic.  I decided that I would not stop for coffee until we were past Toronto, just because of how sticky traffic can be.  And since I was very destination-driven, I had punched the first pit into my phone and let it tell me where I was going.  Unless I saw something really interesting, we were sticking to the GPS; until we got to where we were going anyway.

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All strapped in and ready to go.

We found Station 1 Coffeehouse in Grimsby which is just outside of Hamilton.  If there had been more time, I could have lingered there for hours.  I loved the ambiance and all of the coffees are fair trade, organic, and roasted locally.  The americano I walked away with had that lovely full-bodied flavour that I love.  I was tempted by the selection of baked goods but I decided that I was going to be eating plenty soon enough so I settled for a homemade granola bar.

Now if you’ve read a few of my previous posts, you’ll know that I seem to have an issue with crossing the border.  It doesn’t matter which way I’m going I still turn into a babbling fool.  So as we sat in the line to cross at the Peace Bridge, I actually rehearsed everything I was going to say.  Then we pulled up to the booth and the questions began:

“Where are you from?”  I gave her my address.

“What is the purpose of your trip?”  Vacation.

“What is your destination?”  North Carolina for the Historic Barbecue Trail.

She stopped with her hands hovering over the keyboard and literally did a double-take.  I explained the whole story about how I had heard about this trail, what it was, how long, everything.  As I was talking to her, she got out of the booth and reached into the back seat to start petting the dogs.  I can only imagine what the people behind us were thinking.

After we passed into New York, we ended up driving through Hamburg and stopped at Comfort Cafe.  So I ended up getting a second cup for the day.  It was not as good as Station 1 but for a small town it did the trick.  While chatting with some locals, I learned of a small dog park next to the vet office.  They weren’t kidding when they said small.  At least the dogs had a chance to walk around but they were soon standing at the gate staring at the car.  They knew that we would stop at some point for a good walk.

We were passing through Ellicotville when I saw signs for EVL Cheese Company.  Cheese? Yes please.  I found that it had a great selection of cheeses which was kind of disappointing because I had no means of safely keeping anything perishable.  I ended up just buying a container of cheese curds before we continued on.

I almost drove straight past McCarty Hill State Park.  We stopped and hiked up a couple of mountain ridges.  This was the site of first blood drawn on a dog: as we were walking back to the car, I noticed red on the right side of Jack’s face.  Rather than go around some brambles, he in his stubborn Puggy way decided to go through and gave himself a little cut on the tip of his ear flap.  Finally I was able to spring purposefully into action with my first aid kit to find the cut that was barely there.  We sat and had a few cheese curds since Jack was such a brave boy.

We soon passed into Pennsylvania and stopped for another hike in Moshannon State Park. We stumbled onto what I can only imagine is a pump house seeing as how there was a small stream that seemed to come out of one.  I’m not quite sure of the purpose but Leo is never one to let a chance to climb pass him by and jumped up onto the roof until we were eye-to-eye. 

The day was slowly coming to an end and I was looking for a place to eat.  After asking at a gas station, I was pointed in the direction of a bakery and restaurant down the road on the outskirts of Williamsport.  I ended up ordering the fish and chips and a chocolate coconut cookie.  The cookie was the best part of that meal.The fish was good but the crust was more like breadcrumbs and kind of soggy. 

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Fish and chips. Looks better than it tasted.

We stopped that night in the Red Roof Inn in Williamsport.  I can’t believe that it took me this long to figure out that they don’t charge for dogs.  It’s not like I hide them when I check in; the dogs come right inside the lobby with me.  After dealing with just me all day they need other people for a break.

Even though it was a relatively calm day, we all fell sleep shortly after crawling into bed.

The Road to Q-Demption

I was at work counting down the minutes until I left for the Bahamas, when I flipped open a local newspaper.  I was absentmindedly skimming the headlines when I turned to the Travel section.  Suddenly my wandering eyes stopped…an article about road trips.  Should be interesting.  I opened the paper and felt my jaw drop as my eyes nearly popped out of my head.  My co-workers noticed my expression and frozen posture, worriedly asking what was wrong.  I turned to them and with shaking hands held the paper out to them.  It wasn’t what was wrong; it was what was right.

The road trip article was about the North Carolina Historic Barbecue Trail.  A series of 23 old-style barbecue pits over 500 miles.  I like road trips.  I like barbecue.  It was fate.

Some quick research on the The North Carolina Barbecue Society website explained the criteria to be included on the trail: they had to cook their products on wood or charcoal, make their own sauce, and have been in continuous operation for at least 15 years, were considered a good offering of North Carolina barbecue, and enjoyed the high esteem of the community and barbecue aficionados.  Only places that offered a sit-down dining experience were included and there was a limit of two pits per city or town.  Who knew there was so much to consider with barbecue?

The trail was designed to be followed from Ayden in the east to Murphy which is almost on the Tennessee border.  I did the math in my head: 23 pits in less than a week once you factor in the time to and from North Carolina.  That was a lot of Q.  I was willing to put my body on the line; in the interest of helping others of course.

Now a few quick points to help with the barbecue journey:

In North Carolina, barbecue means pork; specifically the pork shoulder or “butt”.  Some places will serve barbecue chicken or turkey but don’t go looking for a rack of ribs or brisket.

North Carolina barbecue uses vinegar-based sauces as opposed to Kansas-style which is sweeter and uses more tomatoes.

Hushpuppies are available all the time.  These are bits of deep-fried cornmeal deliciousness which are usually found in oblong or ball shapes however there are some that are in sticks.  There was a trend with the flavour that I will expand later on.

I heard reference to Piedmont a lot which, according to the all-knowing Google, is a plateau region bounded by the Atlantic Coastal Plain and main Appalachian Mountains that is characterized by low, rolling hills.  Most of the trail is found in the this region.  Some people will refer to the barbecue as “Piedmont style”.

So loosen your belts, get comfortable, and hold onto your hats my friends.  The Adventure Dawgs are hitting the road.  Because let’s face it: where’s there’s smoke there’s great food.  And where there’s great food, there’s us.

 

The Only Wedding Where I Almost Cried

My brother doesn’t half-ass anything so when he got married this April, he did it in the Bahamas.  He’s my baby brother; I had to go.  And besides, he needed a best man…bridesmaid…best maid…Anyway, it was a chance to go the Bahamas for a week.  Specifically, we stayed at Augusta Bay on Great Exuma.  Rather than give a day by day recounting of the trip like I usually do, I’ll just sum up a few of the main points.

The Scenery:  Yes it really is that beautiful.  No it’s not Photoshopped.  That shade of blue actually does exist.

Make Friends With Your Bartender:  Through our bartenders we were introduced to the Goombay Smash.  It’s not just a name; it’ll get you smashed.  The drinks were stiff, the conversation steady, and the laughs never stopped.

The People:  The people we met were the most unbelievably friendly people.  And it wasn’t the “I’ll be nice to you so you’ll give me money” kind of friendly.  We joked about having beer with one man and he pulled out a six-pack and sat down on the beach with us.  We hitchhiked from town when we couldn’t find a cab.  I went running through Georgetown one morning and had so many people say something it was like a commentary.

Get Outside:  We rented a boat a couple of days and even though the area that we could take it was fairly limited, we were still able to pack some snacks and spend the day beach hopping, hiking, and snorkelling.  We knew that there had been tons of other people who had walked the same beaches, but to us it was untouched land.  At one point, I found myself clinging to the side of the boat as my brother drove closer to a large stingray just so I could film it.  And for the record, the stingray had no problem with me; I did not try to touch it or bother it in any way.

Stay Close:  One of the best times I had was snorkelling under the hotel dock with my brother.  We went from clear blue water to a creepy horror movie under the dock.  A wall of fish seemed to surround me as I wound my way past the posts.  I felt pretty badass when I emerged at the end after swimming with grouper and puffer fish and barracuda and stingrays.  And we were close to help if the barracudas and stingrays suddenly didn’t want to swim with me anymore.

Eat the Conch:  We had heard about the conch salad so when we went for dinner at “Shirley’s” at the fish fry just outside of Georgetown, we ordered a salad.  Then as we sat there and watched conch salad going from “Sam’s” next door to “Shirley’s”, we thought we would pick up our own order.  The conch salad was slices of conch (of course) with diced tomatoes, onion, green peppers, and a bit of Scotch Bonnet dressed with the juice of lemon, lime, and orange.  Now normally I don’t like tomatoes or onions or green peppers, but this salad was a great example of something being more than the sum of its parts, and I greedily scooped up bite after bite.  Even when the salad we originally ordered appeared.  The salad from “Shirley’s” had had other ingredients added which, in my opinion, upset the balance of flavours.

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The conch salad from Sam’s.

“Chat n Chill” on Stocking Island:  Skip it.  Unless you like sitting under T-shirts that are rotting off the walls and ceiling, lacklustre food, having to pay extra for the rum that should be in your pina colada, and people who will tell you a beach is two points away and only a 10 minute walk when it in fact several points away and a 10 minute boat ride.  The best part of the place were the tame stingrays.

The Swimming Pigs:  Not necessarily the pigs themselves but a guided tour around some of the islands.  Most of the pigs were full-grown which seemed to be a surprise for some people.  And many of them no longer felt the need to swim.  There were some piglets in the bushes, but it quickly become obvious who in the group had been around livestock before as most ended up back in the boat fairly quickly.  After the pigs, we went to an island inhabited by iguanas.  I would be sprawled out on the sand, eye-to-eye with a large igunana then hear claws scrabbling on the rock behind me only to look over my shoulder to see an even bigger iguana lumbering towards me.  Which brings me to the next point…

Back up Your Photos:  There is nothing sadder than having your memory card die most of the way through the week.  Excuse me while I wipe a few tears off the keyboard.

Talk to People:  Four of us went to the Bahamas, yet there were 17 people on the beach for the wedding.  Besides the pastor and his wife, the photographer and his wife, there was a family from England who’s three young boys acted as ringbearers, a couple of pilots from Germany who were island-hopping while on vacation, and the groundskeeper for an area near the beach.  It was heartwarming to see all these random people come together to share in a special day for a group of Canadians they had only just met.  Not only that, but the manager from the hotel had volunteered to shuttle us all back and forth between the hotel.

It’s OK to Cry:  I didn’t actually cry.  But as I was standing next to my brother watching his gorgeous bride as she walked towards him, all I heard from him was “wow…wow”.  And when he cupped her face in his hands and whispered to her, he suddenly wasn’t my baby brother anymore.  He wasn’t the thuggish-looking guy he seems to be.  He wasn’t the business man, the smartass, or the sometimes loudmouth.  He was a man looking at the woman he loves.  And wouldn’t ya know, that was when the sand kicked up and got me in the eyes.  Yeah that’s it.  The sand.

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Sitting with the newlyweds.

Too soon the week ended and I left to return to my life, leaving my brother and new sister-in-law to have a few days on their own for their honeymoon.

Was that the end of my adventures?  Hardly.