(Honeymoon flashback: In July 2009, Marie and I took a road trip up to Montreal and back, enjoying some really terrific meals over our ten-day expedition. I’ve selected some of those great restaurants, and, once per month, I’ll tell you about them.)
We no sooner pulled into Charlotte, North Carolina than Marie and I concluded that there was no reason why we shouldn’t come back regularly. It’s a really nice looking town, and only about three and a half hours away. Nevertheless, despite all the great sounding restaurants and bookstores and things to do, the road hasn’t taken us back that way since our honeymoon road trip. We agree that we have so much in the Carolinas to do and see, but there never seems to be time or money.
Of course, we’ve been back to Asheville twice since our honeymoon and will be up there again in a few days’ time, but we’re totally in love with Asheville, and merely curious about Charlotte.
I put together most of the itinerary for the trip, and where I could, I sent Marie suggestions of two or three places to pick for a meal. I knew that on our first day, we’d be in Charlotte for lunch and that I would definitely want some eastern No’ca’lina barbecue, so I asked her to choose either Bill Spoon’s or Bar-B-Q King. As it turned out, Bar-B-Q King might have been a more faithful choice, as over the course of the trip, we would be eating at three places detailed in the tie-in book to the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Bar-B-Q King had actually been featured on the TV show, but hadn’t made the book and I hadn’t seen that episode. If Guy Fieri and his writers had included it in the book, then we would have stopped there, and missed the great slaw at Spoon’s!
I hope our readers will excuse the poorer-than-usual standard of photography in these flashbacks; we have had much more practice since we took this road trip!
We arrived a little early and were the first guests at Spoon’s this Saturday in July of ’09. We took I-85 into town, went south around the 485 perimeter and then north up I-77, then had to fiddle around on surface streets that confused us a bit. If there’s any sense to any road calling itself “South Boulevard,” I can’t see it.
Eastern North Carolina barbecue is made from the whole hog, not just the shoulder, and it’s served with a vinegar-based sauce. In Georgia, we have several restaurants that offer similar style without drawing much attention to what they’re doing, particularly Zeb’s in Danielsville. Obviously, I’m not at all an expert in what this region can offer, what with all of two trips to Charlotte and one to Raleigh in my life, but this is what I’ve heard.
So Spoon’s is alleged to be one of the very best of all the eastern NC restaurants. Mr. Spoon opened the place in 1963 and his family, who continue to run it, still don’t take credit cards. It’s a no-frills business with chintzy tablecloths and paper plates and it’s completely terrific. The pork is so tasty and juicy, and the stew is really thick and meaty, and the hushpuppies – a common affectation in the region – are a welcome little treat, but the meal is elevated by the inclusion of this amazing slaw.
I’ll tell you this for free: if we get some hard evidence that mustard slaw is the accepted standard recipe all over coastal Carolina, then we might just have to abandon our plans to relocate to Asheville and look for jobs in Wilmington or Fayetteville instead. This stuff is amazing. Your standard mayo-and-vinegar recipe just does not compare at all. On its own, it’s terrific, but eaten with the chopped pork, it is simply divine. What a great meal!
We didn’t make very many mistakes on our honeymoon, but one was this: I know that there’s a very good comic shop in Charlotte, and assume that there’s plenty of other things to do and see as well, but we hit the road as soon as we finished, hoping to get 265 miles up the road to Charleston, West Virginia in time to do some shopping there. Unfortunately, the comic shop in that town which I hoped to visit had already closed; we’d have done better to have hung out in Charlotte a little longer instead. Charleston did have some other memorable treasures which I’ll come back to in next month’s flashback installment.
As for Charlotte, I have a two-day road trip in mind for some point in 2011 that will bring us back by Bill Spoon’s. Maybe some other place, too, but it’s going to have to be pretty amazing to top the meal that we had here.