Thursday, September 2, 2010

Three letters: B-B-Q

So I accidentally started a movement for myself. A couple Fridays ago I had some barbecue and I was all like, "ah man, this is delicious! I should eat barbecue more often." Well, I took that literally and ate barbecue every day for the next 7 days. Once I accidentally hit 4 straight days, I figured I might as well make it 7. Once that got going, an even better idea was thrown at me. I should try all of the barbecue restaurants in and around Charlotte and rank them! One of the better things I've gotten myself into.

So my barbecue tour needed some sort of rules. After consulting with both my stomach and taste buds, I came up with the following questions I answered for each restaurant:
  1. How is the overall service and atmosphere? (greeters, waiters/waitresses, etc.)
  2. Does the menu get me excited?
  3. How quickly do I get my food?
  4. Do the sides tickle my fancy?
  5. How awesome is the sauce? 
  6. Is this meal gonna hurt my wallet?
  7. Oooo, I love a good surprise! (X-factor)
  8. Amount of food?
Every restaurant went through this SAT-like test. So far I've visited Mac's Speed Shop, Q-Shack BBQ, Jim and Nick's Bar-B-Q, and 521 BBQ and Grill.*
(Before I begin, I would like to add that this barbecue tour is on-going. These are just the places I've hit in my 7 straight days. )

First up, Mac's. Asha and I went  on a Friday night and, as usual, it was packed. Mac's always has a live band on Friday nights which is pretty cool. The parking lot is always overflowing and people seem to be having a great time.

  1. Service/Atmosphere: Atmosphere was great, if you don't mind the biker-bar vibe. Our service, however, wasn't the best. It wasn't totally our waitress' fault though. It was busy, which meant she was busy, so we felt a little overlooked. Plus, the sprite we ordered had zero syrup soooo it was nasty. Grade: B-

  2. Menu excitement: Reading this menu was nice. Definitely woke up my taste buds. There's lots of options on the menu, including what sounded like wonderful ribs and burgers. Grade: A

  3. Food Speed: I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The food came out like how I like my cars and my women - fast (just jokes). It only felt like 5 minutes max, and there was never a period where I thought, "what's taking so long with the food?" With that said, Grade: A

  4. Tickled fancy: Mac's got some good sides. I had Mac'n cheese, baked beans, and fries. Fries weren't anything to rave about, but still good. Baked beans honestly tasted like some Bush baked beans I could've made myself. The mac'n cheese was the best part. It was real mac'n cheese. Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about either. It was baked... none of that box, stove-top stuff. Not as cheesy as I like, but still pretty good. The best part about it was that it was unexpected. Grade: A

  5. Sauce: The sauce pretty much makes the barbecue. Luckily for Mac's, they had some good sauce. Again, I don't have much to say about it. Just... good sauce. Good enough for a decent grade. Grade: B

  6. Wallet pain: Mac's is definitely reasonably priced. A meal for 2 came out to roughly $23. It wasn't over-priced which is always. Grade: A

  7. Surprise: Yeah, there were no surprises here. No surprise = no grade.

  8. Amount: Basically, if I get a to-go box, then we're good. I got a to-go box, so I was good. Grade: A+

Next up was the Q-Shack. I'm going to go ahead and put this out there - this restaurant is, right now, on the bottom of my list. Let's be clear though, it wasn't bad. It just wasn't as good as every other restaurant. For starters, the restaurant is sort of set up like a... Quiznos. You walk in and order then basically walk along the bar and tell them which sides and what not you want. So yeah, on to the grades...
  1. Service/Atmosphere: Well, if you want a quick barbecue sandwich, then this is your place. Set up much like a fast-food restaurant, you can get in and out of there on your lunch break easily. If you want to have a good sit-down meal, look elsewhere. Grade: B-
  2. Menu excitement: I don't remember getting very excited at all. Grade: D
  3. Food Speed: Again, it's set up like a fast-food restaurant so of course we got our food fast. So for that, I have to give them a high grade. Grade: A+
  4. Tickled fancy: The sides were pretty lame. I got mac'n cheese and baked beans. The mac'n cheese LOOKED like the real stuff, but I was fooled. DEFINITELY not enough cheese. It was pretty bland. And THEN their baked beans had a delicious sounding title... but it was poop. This will receive a low grade based on the huge let down I received. Grade: D
  5. Sauce: The sauce was pretty good. (Sorry, that's really all I have to say) Grade: C <-- average
  6. Wallet pain: Luckily, Asha and I had a bogo coupon for this place (buy one, get one). So our total came out to just over $10. However, I would not want to pay $10 for the meal I received. It just wasn't worth it. Grade: D
  7. Surprise: I was surprised at how much I did not enjoy myself. Grade: D
  8. Amount: I didn't get a to-go box. #fail Grade: F <-- fail.

From the worst, to the best. Jim and Nick's is currently my number 1 and now favorite place to go for some barbecue. As a reward for running, Asha and I treated ourselves to some barbecue. This turned out to be one of the best rewards I've ever received. I'm just going to let you know now this place was the nerd of the class - straight A's.
  1. Service/Atmosphere: Awesome. I swear, this was a down home, small town family restaurant disguised as an upper scale, somewhat modernized family restaurant. The greeter was earning her money. She was very pleasant. Our waitress was awesome. Of all the restaurants I went to, she got the biggest tip. Really, everyone there we encountered was nice. It had some nice southern hospitality. Back to our waitress, she was very helpful and had really good timing which was greatly appreciated. Grade: A+

  2. Menu excitement: My mouth has never watered so much from reading. The first thing I read on their menu was how they take the time everyday to slow cook ALL of their meat (not just the barbecue) for 20 hours. That heavenly sentence was all I needed. Grade: A+

  3. Food Speed: This was great. Any time your food comes out faster than you expect, that's a good thing. Grade: A

  4. Tickled fancy: Maaaaan, these were some good sides. Again, I got mac'n cheese and baked beans. Baked beans were good, not the best ever, but good. The mac'n cheese was delish. It was REAL mac'n cheese and it was REAL good. Best sides of any place (leap frogged Mac's). Grade: A

  5. Sauce: Goooooood. I used mostly the spicy sauce. It was perfect. Just enough kick, but not over powering the taste. I loved it. Grade: A+

  6. Wallet pain: Easily the priciest place of the bunch. But unlike a previously mentioned restaurant, this was worth it. A meal for 2 came out to roughly $27. Grade: A

  7. Surprise: Best part. I had 3 wonderful surprises here. First surprise - Good LORD they had some good lemonade. Asha got the lemonade and I had sweet tea. The tea was also good, but the lemonade was so good, I ordered a to-go cup for some. Second surprise - Asha ordered the ribs. Not only is it awesome when your lady can dig in on some ribs with you, but at every restaurant I wanted to order ribs soooo bad. So it was awesome she ordered some so I could try them and let me tell ya, when they said they slow cook ALL of their meat... they ain't lyin'. Those ribs were excellent. Third (and best) surprise - you know how some restaurants give you bread to munch on until your food arrives? Well, Jim and Nick's gives you some delectable cheese biscuits. I can't accurately describe how delicious those little biscuits were. It was just the perfect combination of sweetness butter, and cheese. OH, and this ties in with the food speed, we asked for another round of cheese biscuits and actually got our entrees before the biscuits even came out! They were super fast. (P.S. - they also had pickles on the barbecue. Never seen that before but... those were some good pickles! A nice little surprise) Grade: A+++

  8. Amount: Great amount of food because I had the best lunch ever the next day. I probably COULD have finished all of my food there, but I knew it would be such a good lunch and I didn't feel the need to completely stuff my face. Grade: A

Finally, we've got 521 BBQ. It took a little while finding the place (technical difficulties), but we eventually made it. The place looked fairly new, but we discovered it's been open for 5 years. Anyway, it was a small place, somewhat cramped inside, but all of the patrons didn't seem to mind the close quarters. Anyway, let's get to the grades.
  1. Service/Atmosphere: So like I said, it was a small restaurant, and it was also packed when we arrived. Our waitress seemed to be one of the veterans of the restaurant. She seemed to know what she was doing, which is really all I ask. There were, however, some... newbies. It was clearly their first week of service. So again, our waitress was fine, everything else... eh. Grade: B-
  2. Menu excitement: Wasn't too much excitement with this one. It was pretty standard. I went with 2 friends and we all got the same meal. I don't really remember anything special about the menu either. I honestly don't really remember much of anything on the menu, but I mean... it wasn't terrible. Whatever... Grade: C
  3. Food speed: If I remember correctly, we got our food fairly quickly, especially considering the hectic time period. It wasn't a blazing speed or anything, but it didn't take long which was nice. Grade: B
  4. Tickled fancy: My two sides were baked beans and potato salad. I didn't even touch the potato salad. I guess the beans were OK. I'm going to dock some points due to my not even tasting the potato salad (it honestly just didn't look appetizing). Grade: D
  5. Sauce: I can rave a little about the sauce. They had some good vinegar based sauce. The eastern style was a nice switch. What was also nice was when I mixed their two sauces. That tasted great. Grade: A
  6. Wallet pain: Fairly priced. It was very comparable to the other restaurants. So... Grade: B
  7. Surprise: Well... I was surprised at how my sweet tea got worse with each refill. It was weird.     Grade: D
  8. Amount: I ate it all, no to-go box here. Grade: F
So there you have it. Pretty much the first half of my barbecue tour.  It's been great. Trying new places has honestly been awesome. If you've got any suggestions, please feel free to comment and let me know. I really want to try more places because I love barbecue. Hope you enjoyed, be sure to check back for more barbecue updates.

* Just an FYI, during this barbecue tour, I also went to Woodlands up in Blowing Rock. IT was great, but I decided not to include it since it wasn't in Charlotte and surrounding.


    1. Blogging BBQ - Great Idea!
      Glad to see someone giving BBQ the attention it deserves.
      Enjoyed reading the reviews and liked your criteria for your rating system.
      Would like to see one more area included. Traditional NC BBQ was prepared in the “low and slow” method, cooked over wood coals. The recent trend, for several reasons, is to switch from that method to modern electric ovens.
      The traditional “pit master” is giving way to modern “thermostat setters”.
      The “old” way used a tremendous amount of wood and frankly wasn’t very efficient.
      There are several things that need to remain being done in the “old” way. Mainly BBQ.
      Cooking directly over wood coals for 10 to 12 hours, while being “dipped” on a regular basis, gives BBQ a flavor that cannot be equaled by modern electric ovens.
      Now, to my suggestion:
      How about a “BBQ Throwdown”?
      Seems you really know what you like about BBQ, so why not show you can do it at least, if not better, than anyone else?
      Do you have a favorite sauce or rub? Do you have the patience to spend 10 to 12 hours around a smoker?
      Here’s the challenge. Cook your own Boston Butt or pork shoulder and have a taste test.
      See where your BBQ ranks. Keep the tradition alive.
      I know I’ll be there. Can’t wait to taste your BBQ.

    2. First off, thanks for reading and leaving a comment! Good, southern BBQ deserves as much attention as possible. I'm glad you liked the reviews and don't worry, the BBQ tour is NOT over. I still have restaurants on my list to visit so there will be more reviews to come. I also think you're absolutely spot on about the "old" way vs the modern convenience of electric ovens. Just like any craft, it's just better when the artist (or in this case, grill master) really takes their time to get it right. I wish I thought more about that during my reviews because you could tell which method was used at some restaurants.
      As for your challenge, I've reeeeeeally been thinking about trying my hand at slow cooking some BBQ. I actually want to MAKE my own grill and turn it into a big project so I can get some personal satisfaction in not only cooking my own food, but making my own appliances too! I don't have any particular recipes, sauces, or rubs and I heard you're quite the BBQ lover so suggestions are welcome!
      Thanks again for the comments, keep 'em coming!

    3. Hmm... I don't know why that comment posted in red...