Saturday, January 04, 2014

High, Low, and In Between, pt. 1

If I had to pinpoint it, I'd say our recent Southern mini-odyssey officially started soon after we pulled into that gas station in Petersburg, VA.  Up until then it had just been a road trip.  But by that time it was about 10:00 pm and we'd been driving since early in the morning.  When we got out of the car it was downright balmy.  The guys next to us were pumping gas in t-shirts and shorts and we were the ones who looked out of place--I mean, Michelle was still wearing her winter boots.  But what really cinched it was when we went into the Quickie Mart and saw that hot boiled peanuts counter flanked by two pyramidal stacks of canned boiled peanuts.  That's when we knew we'd arrived.

By 11:00 am the next morning we were in Chapel Hill, NC, it had gotten even warmer, and we were on our way for our BBQ brunch date.

BBQ sandwich, Allen & Son fig. a:  classic combo

Allen & Son had provided me with one of my favourite chopped pork sandwiches on my North Carolina BBQ mini-odyssey earlier in the year, and I couldn't wait to dig into another one.  I was also excited to share the Allen & Son experience, with all its considerable charms,

allen & son2 fig. b:  classic interior

with Michelle.

She couldn't have been happier.  After all, this was her very first visit to a true Southern barbecue establishment.  Not that she had too many doubts, but with that bright sun and those warm Southern breezes outside, and the smoky succulence of Allen & Son's barbecue pork sandwich inside, this Southern mini-odyssey was already making a lot of sense.  We left Chapel Hill with a large to-go cup of Allen & Son's champion sweet tea and the very best hickory-smoked flavours lingering on our palates.

A couple of hours later, when we crossed the border into South Carolina, the Southern breezes were even warmer and we started to see a whole lot of palm trees.

And a couple of hours after that, as the sun began to set,

scott's 2 fig. c:  Southern skies

we arrived at our second barbecue destination of the day:  Scott's Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, SC.

scott's fig. d:  classic exterior

If Allen & Son is a true barbecue restaurant, with a double dining room out front, an adjoining full-service kitchen, and a sizeable brick barbecue pit area out back, Scott's is a true barbecue joint:  an informal enterprise run out of an aging country store that only serves take-out.  No tables.  No seats.  No fuss.  No muss.  You join the queue, place your order, pick up your goods, and you're off.  You want a bottle of Texas Pete or a loaf of Sunbeam to go with that?  Pick 'em up off their shelves.  Want to dine on premises?  Take your order across the street and you'll find a large open-air shed with some picnic tables underneath.  If it's warm enough--and it certainly was on the evening we were there--you can settle in and enjoy your barbecue right there.  And that's exactly what we did.

What's the attraction?  World-class whole hog barbecue, Scott's famous spicy barbecue sauce, some true Southern hospitality, and a whole lotta love.  And that is no joke.  This joint was jumpin', and with good reason.  If you're a fan of real pork barbecue prepared and served according to the Carolina tradition, this is the BBQ of your dreams:  luscious, smoked to perfection, and resplendent in Scott's signature red sauce.  (Need more proof?  Check out this slideshow.  Or read John T. Edge on Rodney Scott and a whole of other keepers of the flames in Saveur's 2011 "BBQ Nation" issue.)

The very next day Rodney Scott--Scott's current pitmaster, and the heir to the Scott's Bar-B-Que throne--was in Charleston to run a barbecue fundraiser so that he can rebuild a pit that burned to the ground back in November, just two days before Thanksgiving.*  Let's just say that there was something of a mob scene.  Rodney Scott is a legend in these parts, and this was a rare opportunity to score one of his phenomenal barbecue pork sandwiches without having to make the 90-mile trek to Hemingway--and all for a great cause.  How big a crowd are we talking about?  Well, according to Sean Brock, the famed Charleston chef (and a fellow Fatback Collective colleague of Scott's), the scene put "the Cronut line to shame."

We beat Rodney down there.  About two hours after our barbecue feast alongside the Hemingway Highway, we'd reached Charleston, the final destination of our Southern mini-odyssey.

xmas in c'ton fig. e: xmas in the Holy City

By that time, with two highly acclaimed Bar-B-Ques under our belts (adjusted accordingly, of course) and a tantalizing city before us, we knew we'd really arrived.

To be continued...

Allen & Son, 6203 Millhouse Rd., Chapel Hill, NC

Scott's Bar-B-Que, 2734 Hemingway Hwy., Hemingway, SC

Note:  If you aren't likely to be passing through Hemingway, SC anytime soon, but you are going to be in the South in late January and early February and you'd like to sample Rodney Scott's barbecue and contribute to the cause of keeping true Southern barbecue alive and smokin', you might want to keep your eyes open for the Scott's Bar-B-Que in Exile Tour.

* Rodney appeared to have taken this setback in stride:  "That's what happens when you cook with fire."


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