We escaped Asheville just in time to miss the deluge from Hurricane Joaquin. We got in Sammy’s “super car” (his name for our Highlander) and made a rainy, but uneventful drive to Lexington, NC. Why Lexington? Tomorrow morning, we are going to nearby Spencer for Day out with Thomas (separate post to come).
We arrived about 3:30, since we left early to beat the storm, so we had several hours to kill before bedtime. After checking in to our hotel room with a beutiful view of a large expanse of grape vines, we decided to go next door to check out the Childress Winery.
We arrived at the large Italian style building about 30 minutes before closing, and most of that building( including the expansive lobby with fountain) was in the process of being set up for a wedding later that evening. We quickly ducked into the gift shop and tasting room. We sampled their Riesling (not very sweet – pass), classic white (a Riesling and Chardonnay blend – pretty decent) and Muscsdine white (this will make a great dessert wine). We picked up a bottle of the Muscsdine and the classic white and, because it was still early, decided to go for a ride before dinner.
First, we explored the grounds of the winery, spotting the juicing operation, storage and barreling as well as some already pressed grapes on their way to some very lucky cows at a nearby farm.
After that, we set out to explore downtown Lexington. Not much was going on. In many ways, the town was stuck in time. We spotted a Roses department store and a video rental store still decked out in early 90’s decor. One local building was still displaying a sign proclaiming it as an official Zenith TV dealer. Realizing not much was happening (now or ever) in downtown Lexington, we decided to set out on a more important quest – dinner!
Since Lexington is the self proclaimed BBQ capital of the state, with the most BBQ restaurants (12-15 at any given time) per capita, there was no question dinner would be BBQ, but we had to choose a restaurant.
On a previous visit to the train museum a couple of years ago, we tried the undisputed #1 location in town, the original Lexington BBQ (aka the Honey Monk).
It was great, but I wanted to try somewhere different given the large number of choices in such a small town. There is not a clearly proclaimed #2, as it seems each local has their own opinion on ranking. However, several reviews and discussions we’ve had recently noted the Barbecue Center and we also discovered it was one of only five restaurants awarded official BBQ vendor status for the town’s famous annual BBQ festival.
We arrived fairly early for a Saturday dinner (about 5:30) and there were several cars in the lot, however it was by no means packed. The building is a low, simple brick structure on the edge of downtown. The beautifully maintained neon sign glowed warmly in the dreary, cloudy sky. I noted several cars parked under the cover used for curb service. Quickly after exiting the car, I could smell the hush puppies cooking in the air.
As soon as we walked in, it felt like another time warp. Other then the iPad mounted by the cash register for square, I could tell the place hadn’t changed in decades.
We took seats next to a large pig statue and a waitress quickly arrived and took our drink order (sweet tea of course) and asked if we needed menus (a good sign – this tells me they have a lot of regulars).
We studied the menu and noted that, while there were lots of choices on there, making our BBQ selection would be pretty straightforward. I chose a chopped tray (BBQ and slaw) with Hush Puppies (abbreviated on the menu as HP without further explanation). Jill ordered the same as a platter, which added French Fries.
At first, I was a little concerned because the food arrived fast! I’m talking within 3-5 minutes, so I was a little concerned about how fresh the food was might be. However, my concerns were quickly alleviated. The food was most definitely fresh. The kitchen was very organized and was getting ready for the dinner rush that started arriving shortly after we did. The crowd consisted of folks they were obviously locals and regular customers ( including a police officer who was greated by name – always a good sign when you see police, fire or EMS eating somewhere).
I started my meal with a bite of a piping hot hush puppy. It was a little on the sweet side and not at all greasy, and the outside had a nice crunch giving way to the soft inside, just the way I like them. Next, I moved to the BBQ. It was expertly chopped, with no fat included in my portion. I tried a bite with the smoke ring and was pleased with the spicy, woody flavor. This was definitely authentic pit cooked pork. The meat came out pre sauced but not overly wet. I asked for some sauce on the side, mainly so I could try it by itself. The sauce come out in a little cream pitcher, they definitely don’t want you to drown the meat that they worked so hard on in sauce! The sauce was vinegar based but balanced out with a nice blend of spices that melded well with the meat without overpowering. Finally, I took a cooling bite of the accompanying red slaw, which was a perfect complement to the BBQ, since it was made using the BBQ sauce, instead of plain vinegar or mayonnaise.
While we were eating, Sammy was not very well behaved (because he was so excited about Thomas). However I still took a moment to look around and learned several interesting fact about the restaurant:
- It takes at least 10 lbs of sugar to make a batch of their excellent sweet tea. I watched the waitress making a batch, until Sammy distracted me. There were still 20 lbs still on the counter when I looked away. I’m telling myself they went under the counter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they also ended up in the tea – it was sweet!
- The restaurant was recognized for 30 years of serving as the official BBQ of the BBQ festival and was also featured in Our State magazine last year.
- The waitress was dishing up a mean looking banana pudding for another customer. I quickly flagged her down and had her add two of them (to go because of Sammy) to our check. I’m glad I did! It was true to the Southern standard with plenty of banana chunks, Nilla Wafers, and cool creamy pudding.
Sammys antics led to a hasty departure back to our very nice Holiday Inn Express next to the vineyard in hopes of wearing him out in the pool. However, if I’m ever back in Lexington, I would definitely be tempted to stop at BBQ Center again ( locals say they make a mean banana split) even though I’ve barely made a dent in the restaurants that make up the world class BBQ scene in sleepy little Lexington.