Saturday, October 17, 2009

NCBBBQ Tour Stop #5 : Eastern NC

Date: Jun 26th 2009

The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery
The Skylight Inn
Kinston Indians

Attendees: Harper, Bobby, Joey

It's a shame really. When it comes to NC BBQ the classic divide is East v West, but unfortunately there isn't much going on baseball or beer (or let's be honest - anything else) wise east of Raleigh. Part of me worries that the style is going to come across as underrepresented. The other part of me says, "It's your own fault Eastern NC. Get some damn breweries and baseball teams going!"

I think I agree with the other part.

The only team that lies East of the Raleigh suburbs is the Kinston Indians. Kinston though, has no breweries (or more precisely had no breweries then. Mother Earth will demand a revist) nor any iconic BBQ places to visit. That meant heading on a little bit of a tour, hitting Farmville first for the brewery, then over to Ayden for the BBQ, then finally to Kinston for the baseball. Map it - this is quite a bit of driving. Especially with someone who doesn't have a great sense of direction (in my head all roads are on a grid pattern - I can follow maps very well though). So considering this was going to be quite the little jaunt, I had my reservations. Could the triumverate of beer, baseball, and BBQ be good enough to overcome hours in the car?

Ah the beautiful Duck-Rabbit brewery. As I've said before - nondescript warehouse breweries are common place, but Duck-Rabbit takes the cake in the "Is this it?" category. It's a large shed in the corner of a small town. This is "Aim for depression and keep on till morning".

Despite the locale, this brewery in NC has been around for a while now brewing exclusively dark beers and doing a damn good job of it. I love dark beers and Duck-Rabbit is my go to brewery for dark beers. The brewery doesn't officially offer tours but if you make a call or email and if they're around when you're in town, they'll offer up a little look around. Totally sweet, right?

Here's our private tour in action

This was really interesting because everything is in this big room - storage, brewing vessels, bottling, and the packs ready to go. Really appreciated the tour.

Sadly we had to go - but the next stop was also a nice one. A genuine classic North Carolina BBQ local, the Skylight Inn in Ayden.

Not quite sure it's the "Bar-B-Q" Capital of the world (nor that Ayden is as far east as their primitive map would have you believe)

Your choices are limited to sandwichs and trays. Cornbread and slaw on the side. No chicken. No fancy sides. Just Eastern NC BBQ heaped in a pile. Notice also in the bottom left of the pic the cash money. How just like the old days is this place? No cash registers. Just a pile of cash. A pile of cash next to a pile of meat. That's a beautiful sight.

I order the tray. If you don't notice - I always go tray over sandwich, why lose some delicious pork flavor to some non-descript bread? Nope, what I need is a side of slaw and some cornbread. The BBQ, as you would expect - was fantastic. Splashed heavily in some spicy vinegar based sauce, I kind of wish I had some now. Love the Eastern style. The other sides, not so good. The coleslaw, while tasting fine was chopped super fine. It was almost a coleslaw sorbet. A little off putting. The cornbread was flat and dense, not how I like it. Of course these are the sides, the complements, the Titos and Ringos. They can tweak the enjoyment of the meal but not determine it. The main course was great.

There was time for a little stop before the game, so we hit up a beer store in Ayden called Cinderine's. It was fantastic. An amazing selection of beer, friendly staff, fridges with cold bottles to purchase, and a couple local beers on tap. There were a few tables so you could sit down and enjoy. This was the equivalent of finding a Picasso in the middle of a corn field. I cannot speak highly enough about this place. I am legitimately angry it is so far away.

When the owner heard we were off to the Kinston Indians game - he even gave us free tickets. If you are ever withing an hour of this place, stop by. Get some beer. Patronize in a good way.

Time for baseball and the Kinston Indians (and their ridiculously racist logo) have a very nice little stadium a little drive from the downtown. If you've been to one relatively new minor league park, you've been to this one, but that's meant to be a complement as it hits all the notes it should. Nothing really special to talk about but like an umpire sometimes you know the best work done is work that goes unnoticed.

After great BBQ and two great beer experiences perhaps it was too much to expect a great baseball experience too. Perhaps it would have been too much for my tiny mind to comprehend. I think I needed the everyday minor league game to bring me back down from that cloud.

The trek was long and a bit tiring but there can be no doubt about it, it was totally worth it. Eastern NC delivered in a big way.

Friday, August 28, 2009

NCBBBQ Tour Stop #4 : Greensboro

Date: May 30th 2009

Natty Greene's Pub and Brewing Company
Stamey's BBQ
Greensboro Grasshoppers

Attendees: Harper, Allison, Joey, Caroline, Marshburn, Dan

Stop #4 : Greensboro, NC. Greensboro is a decent sized city in the heart of Carolina that has a reputation of being... well... boring. Boring starts with a "B" though and here at NCBBBQ Tour we love things that start with "B". Besides, how boring can a city be that has baseball, BBQ, and beer?

Well probably pretty dull unless you're a fat sports-crazed drunk, but hey I'm not moving here, I'm just passing through.

We started with the BBQ and usually this is an easy win. Like I've said before I'm not a picky man and Stamey's is a NC tradition. Yet ominously the Greensboro natives that I know proclaimed that they would, and I quote, "rather lick the dirt where an out of business Greensboro BBQ place once stood" than eat at Stamey's. I think I read the same thing in Zagat's guide to Greensboro. Would this be the first BBQ failure of the tour?

The first thing you notice is the structure and design of the place. The restaurants in the BBQ world tend to be holes in the wall or have "same as 30 years ago" styling. Stamey's has more of a standard country restaurant styling, like a BBQ Cracker Barrel\l.

Here's the BBQ. How was it? Well I wouldn't rather tongue topsoil but it wasn't very good. The flavor was bland, probably the blandest I can remember having, and the chop was too fine. Usually the sauce will be a savior at this point but the sauce was merely ok, not this BBQs personal Jesus. For the sides - personally I liked the coleslaw and the hushpuppies, but those in attendance had mixed reviews. That'll happen with red slaw - which can have an odd taste - though this one was far less pronounced with ketchup flavor than others I've had. The hushpuppies were more salty than sweet. Most people like the sweeter hushpuppies. They had milkshakes which enticed some of our party but again another failure.

Not that any of this was bad purr-say, I'd certainly eat it if it was placed in front of me for dinner. But when you've had great BBQ after great BBQ, this mediocre "get you by" BBQ really stands out for what it is.

Ok well strike one. What about some beer to get the taste of pedestrian Q out of the mouth? It was off the Greensboro's hometown brewpub Natty Greene's (named after revolutionary hero Nathaniel Greene). A nice, large two-story place downtown much like Foothills brewery's place in Winston-Salem (though I'm pretty sure this came first for those that care about these things)

The beer? Redeemingly good. This is actually the second time I've been to the place and I've been looking for a reason to come back. Here's my "Wildflower Witbier". I believe I followed it up with "Bayonet ESB" and "Elm Street IPA" but don't quote me on that.

The absolute best part of the Greensboro tour is that the Grasshopper stadium is downtown, and not "20 blocks away" downtown or "one and a half miles away" downtown but right there. You drink good beer and then walk 10 minutes to the ballpark? That's gotta be ideal. Way to come back strong Greensboro.

Fortune almost turned on our intrepid tourists at this point. I don't go into attending a minor league game thinking i need to get my tickets early. Even at the very popular Durham Bulls games you can always find a seat (albeit baking in the outfield sun but still they're there). Dab nabbit though if Greensboro didn't sell out. They announced to the crowd that only lawn seats would be available and we had to rush to get those. Still the seats weren't all that bad for being in the outfiled and I guess I needed to have the "cheap seats" at least once this tour.

I really liked this stadium and it's attempts at making the game fun for all had the right twists to it: See the Neese's"sausage" race and the signs for Greensboro's congressman and their "other congressman" (ok that's not the team's idea but I still like it.) They also had Natty Greene's beer on tap all over the place. And again, blessed with just a gorgeous night for a game.

Despite the rocky start, Greensboro came back strong. For the completiists, eat at Stamey's. For others just the beer and baseball, will do you right.

NCBBBQ Tour Stop #3 (sort of) : Durham

Tyler's Taproom
Backyard BBQ Pit
Durham Bulls

Attendees: Harper, Bobby (baseball), Dave (beer), Paul (beer), Newport (beer)

I live in Durham. I've been to all these places a couple dozen times, so when Bobby got called away during the game for a work emergency I just scrapped it and went to Tyler's and drank. All three are worth your while - the Bulls being the best of the 3, having probabaly the best beer/food selection of any minor league park I've ever been to. Here are some pictures of the Bulls stadium.

I'll cover the other two later in more detail, along with Durham's local brewery Triangle Brewery, but it would be disingenuous to talk about it in this post, and you don't want me to be disingenuous do you? Of course not. You want me to be totally ingenuous. So ingenuous I will be. Or something.

Monday, August 10, 2009

NCBBBQ Tour Stop #2 : Raleigh

Date: May 16th 2009

Big Boss Brewery
Clyde Cooper's BBQ
Carolina Mudcats

Attendees: Harper, Allison, Paul, Lara, Joey, Caroline (eventually)

The second stop of the NCBBBQ tour was the capital city itself, Raleigh. Winston-Salem provided the ideal situation with beer, baseball, and BBQ all within a casual 15 minute drive of each other (well actually the real ideal situation would have all three within walking distance of each other but that doesn't happen outside of my dreams and the town of Harperville USA. It's a lot like Pleasantville before Toby McGwire and Reese Witherspoon turned it into a den of sin). Raleigh was more the typical situation. The BBQ was in downtown Raleigh, the beer a bit further out through city streets, and the baseball about a half-hour east of that, in a whole 'nother town with a name that sounds like an alien who came here to conquer Earth, Zebulon.

I could have certainly found a bbq place and a bar, maybe even a brewpub, in Zebulon, but I'm not looking to go any old place. For BBQ, I want to go to the more renowned BBQ places in the state. For beer, I was looking for places with operations large enough that I could possibly run into their beer elsewhere. What good would it be to know I liked a beer if I was never going to run into it again?

This time we started with the BBQ, specifically Clyde Cooper's. Cooper's is located in downtown and is an institution in the city. Having been here forever it has some old-fashioned quirks, like being cash only, but I like the feeling of sitting in a place that probably looked the same 20, 40, maybe 60 years ago. Here is a picture of some employees dealing with leaning tower of cups just to get a sense of the place.

The BBQ itself? Delicious. The chop was right and the flavor was so good I didn't need to add the spicy vinegar-heavy sauce (but I did anyway - I like sauce). Perfect. As for the sides, the slaw was "greener", less dressed in vinegar or mayonnaise sauces, than most and the hushpuppies received mixed reviews. Before I go on though take a look at the resistance piece in the middle of that table. That's right - HOMEMADE PORK RINDS. I've heard rumors that people of certain religions and philosophies of eating steer clear of Cooper's just to avoid the temptation of such gastronomical delights. With a few of those wrapped in a napkin in my pocket, we moved on.

After a long walk around an art festival taking place in downtown (stupid art!), and a bit of driving adventure, we eventually made it to the Big Boss Bar. Like most breweries, Big Boss is located in the middle of an industrial area of the city, where the big spaces come cheaper. So as you can see - not the best front of a bar that I've ever seen. Notice I said "bar" and not "brewpub". There's no food here, though they did scrounge up some pretzles for us. And like a true bar should be - it's real dark on the inside. Just a place to drink tacked onto the side of a brewery, it's like a dive bar from the imagination of rich people. (which is a good thing)

Big Boss is another brewery that tends to brew many types of beer, though I get the feeling they lean toward belgian brews. I started off with a Hell's Belle belgian blonde to cool me down and followed with a limited brew called a sour monkey. I really liked it though it wasn't a typical sour flemish ale I was expecting. More of a lighter belgian brew with a sort of non-sweet lemony sour taste added.

We only had time for a couple of brews and then it was off to the Carolina Mudcats game. The park is a good like 25 minutes east of Raleigh to get the suburbans that can't easily head the other way toward the Durham Bulls. Still it's a simple drive, or it would have been if didn't follow Google Maps like a electronic slot car. After an unecessary tour of downtown Zebulon, we reached Five County Stadium. I'm not sure what the 5 counties are. Let's say Wake, Orange, Madison, Orange again, and Brisco. The park itself was nice and clean (though pay for parking? Booo!) with a picturesque baseball water tower in the distance. Importantly there was beer! (and choices included a few microbrews)

The stadium itself is kind of unique. You've got two levels but only 5 or so rows in the bottom level. The top level is also kind of steep. It's kind of weird to look at but the end result is that everyone is pretty close to the field.

The weather was nice and the game was played much sharper than the last one. All in all a very good day.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

NCBBBQ Tour Stop #1 : Winston-Salem

Date: April 25th 2009

Foothills Brewery
Little Richard's Lexington BBQ
Winston-Salem Dash

Attendees: Harper, Bobby, Lauren

For the first leg of the NC BBBQ Tour, the three of us pulled ourselves away from the non-stop excitement that is the NFL draft and headed down I-40 to Winston DASH Salem, North Carolina. We started off the day hitting the brewpub of Foothills Brewery, located smack dab in downtown Winston-Salem. Coming from the northeast where April night baseball means sweaters and jackets, I was worried a bit that the early parts of the tour would be a bit nippy. As you can see by the short-sleeved patrons though, it was a great day for a ballgame. Let's play two! (for now...)

Foothills, as you'd expect from a brewery connected to a brewpub, is not limited to one genre of beer. Given the large cross-section of beers available, Bobby and I opted to get a flight a piece and then follow it up with a couple pints of our favorites.

The flight I believe consisted of the Salem Gold, Pilot Mountain Pale Ale, Torch Pilsner, Hoppyum IPA, Rainbow Trout ESB, Foothills Red, and the Total Eclipse Stout. We ranked them at the time but that was 4 months ago. I don't have a clue now what we liked and didn't, but i do recall that they were pretty consistently all good. I think we both had the same one ranked last if that helps (it doesn't, does it?).

Then it was off to Little Richard's Lexington BBQ in Winston-Salem. BBBQ Note: One of the great things about doing a BBQ tour is that BBQ is not only meat at its best, but the food is fast and generally cheap. I liked Little Richard's break from BBQ place tradition. Rather than having a pig ever-so-happy to offer up his life for the cause of great cuisine, they feature a pig running away. This makes far more sense to me. But inevitably no pig can escape the cold hand of death followed by the hot hand of the smoker. Onto the food!

A very typical inside for a BBQ place. Classic. Rack 'em! I'd say it was bit kitchsy for my tastes but really it's this type of place that kitcsh comes from right? Someone has to have wanted this non-ironically in the first place.

The BBQ itself - it was ok. When I eat BBQ I want the pork to give me a strong flavor. I didn't get that here. I do like the chop of this as some places can overdo the chopping. (Of course flavorful mush is better than bland pork with a good chop anyday.) This for me had decent flavor but needs its sauce. The coleslaw and hushpuppies were standard but good. I'm pretty easy to please.

So maybe for a kick-off experience the BBQ was a minor disappointment - but baseball would certainly make the day right? Well see if this next shot grabs you!

No? Unfortunately looking at that picture of the former Ernie Shore field is more interesting than the time we had at the game. The problem is the "Dash" is caught in the middle of a stadium building. The new stadium downtown was meant to be ready for the beginning of this season but money problems have delayed it. That would have been ok, I've been here before and Ernie Shore field was decent enough, but they sold their old field to Wake Forest University. They were able to rent it back for use this year but the fact that it is not their home anymore was evident. Awkward stands of limited foods and even more limited merchandise, and worse yet - college owned meant NO BEER. I don't consider myself needing a beer to enjoy a ballgame in general but when I've already started drinking...well that's a different story.

Perhaps a great game would have saved the day but instead we got 2 hours of sloppy baseball. It was 11-11 by the top of the 5th. Did I mention there was no beer? It was time to go.

Overall Foothills was great, Little Richard's was good, and the Dash...well wait I'm waiting 'til they get a new stadium to come back.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The List So Far

In case you were wondering...

April 25th
Baseball: Winston-Salem Dash
Beer: Foothills Brewery
BBQ: Little Richard's Lexington BBQ

May 9th
Baseball: Carolina Mudcats
Beer: Big Boss Brewery
BBQ: Clyde Cooper's BBQ

May 19th
Baseball: Durham Bulls
BBQ: ?
(I'll explain)

May 30th
Baseball: Greensboro Grasshoppers
Beer: Natty Greene's
BBQ: Stamey's BBQ

Jun 13th
Baseball: Kinston Indians
Beer: Duck-Rabbit Brewery
BBQ: Skylight Inn

Three B's? That's crazy!

Three Bs is right. This is the NC BBBQ Tour, where the extra "B" stands for Bbaseball! And where that extra "B" stands for Bbeer!
(and where that extra "B" is a typo)

Here's the thing. I love baseball and I've always wanted to visit all the minor league baseball stadiums in North Carolina. However, about a decade into living here, I've done a terrible job only visiting Durham, Charlotte, and of course watching some B-Tribe baseball (Burlington). This year I made it my mission to visit every stadium over the course of a single summer.

During the planning of these trips I noticed that a lot of these baseball towns also were brewery towns, the number of micro-breweries in North Carolina exploding over the course of the past few years. Since I also enjoy a cold beverage now and then, I thought I should expand this tour thing from a great NC baseball tour to an awesome NC Beer and Baseball tour.

Then my wife bought this book for a friend and suddenly the tour morphed from awesome to super awesome. If I could combine each minor league baseball visit with a brewery/brewpub stop AND a local BBQ joint, how could life get any better? Answer : it couldn't while staying rated PG-13.

10 teams, 10 beer stops, 10 BBQ joints, One summer.

We're already half way through so over the course of the next two weeks I'll update on the stops that have already happened. Hope you enjoy.