January 27, 2009

Driven By North Carolina Barbecue

Many North Carolinians love to debate the best barbecue. We have a great barbecue restaurant, Allen and Son Barbecue, right here in Chatham County. In fact, it's only a ten minute drive down the road from our house. On a pretty winter day, we wanted to take a nice, long drive through the countryside.

We drove three hours roundtrip from Chapel Hill to Lexington to eat... what else? Lexington barbecue!

The Monk family has been running the Lexington Barbecue for as long as most folks can remember.

If you drive old Interstate 85 to Lexington and can't find that big "Lexington Barbecue" sign by the highway, just stop and ask someone for directions to "Honey Monk's Barbecue" (as all the locals call it). There are many barbecue places in the area, so make sure you ask for Honey Monk's.

Knowing the popularity of Honey Monk's, we arrived late for lunch at 2:00 pm on a Monday afternoon, only to find the parking lot overflowing. The smoke billowing outside was the indicator that there would be no shortage of this North Carolina specialty, no matter how large the crowd of diners.

The line for inside seating was long, but the wait was short and we were seated in no time at all. During our brief wait, we had a few friendly conversations with other loyal customers in the line. Folks like to know where you're from and just how far you've driven for barbecue.

Everyone working at Honey Monk's wears a smile as they run back and forth between taking orders and bringing out the food. The restaurant is as efficient as can be imagined.

Immediately, we were asked about our beverage preference... sweet tea, of course. That's iced tea, southern style. The friendly wait staff came around to top off our glasses as often as necessary.

Experienced barbecue connoisseurs (like us) don't even look at the menu. We just have to decide between chopped or sliced pork.

Both my husband and I went with the sliced pork platter. It includes French fries, coleslaw (slaw) and your choice of bread. The bread of choice for me is always hushpuppies.

If you're not from the South, you probably don't know about hushpuppies. These are nice, lightly crisp, deep-fried, dropped in the oil by spoonful, delicious cornmeal batter delicacies. Just look at the upper right side of my photo of the food. That's a nice batch of hushpuppies in the little container beside the plate.

I love the slaw, too. This slaw is made with vinegar, not mayonnaise. The tangy taste is a great side dish for pork barbecue.

The French fries are crinkle cut and perfectly crisp, piled high on top of the sliced pork. There's plenty of pork hiding under there!

As with many barbecue places, the secret is often in the sauce. A half-cup portion of sauce is served alongside the plates. Served warm, it won't cool off the piping hot barbecue. A brand name hot sauce is also on the table, but the homemade barbecue sauce is really great. Don't worry; it isn't spicy like the hot sauce.

Although I couldn't finish the generous portions on my platter, I still wanted Honey Monk's famous peach cobbler. My husband ordered it with ice cream, but I prefer the cobbler served without any distractions.

When the bill arrived, it was around $20 for the two of us. We left a tip on the table for the wonderful staff and paid the bill up at the register on our way out.

Given the distance we'd traveled, we debated whether to buy a pound of barbecue to take home. We even had our cooler out in the truck, just in case. We concluded that this was probably our last meal of the day. We decided to pass on the carryout this time... we don't mind the roundtrip drive for a return visit to Lexington Barbecue.

Story and photos by Freda Cameron. Calories not included.
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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