I recently spent a week near Asheville with my family. As it was a vacation, I tried my hardest to relax and enjoy myself as much as possible. Being in North Carolina, I knew it would be an excellent opportunity to try some authentic BBQ.
We stayed in an amazing AirBnB cottage just outside the town of Swannanoa. It is the first town you come to if you go East out of Asheville on I-40. Our location made it easy for us to try restaurants in the city, as well as out in the neighboring towns.
The first BBQ restaurant that I tried was Phil’s Bar-B-Que Pit in Black Mountain. Phil’s describes itself as “Alabama BBQ,” and upon entering the restaurant it is easy to see they mean it. I’m not certain of the style of BBQ that comes from Alabama, but the larger than life sized poster of Nick Saban and a wall of other University of Alabama paraphernalia made it obvious that ‘Bama is certainly favored there.
As for the food, I chose a three meat combo plate. I had chopped pork, a red hot, and sliced brisket with sides of vinegar slaw, onion rings, and hush puppies. The chopped pork had good flavor and texture, and I could taste a hint of vinegar from the mop sauce they had applied during the smoking and chopping process. The red hot had a nice smokiness, but lacked any distinct flavor beyond that. The sliced brisket was a complete fail in my opinion. It was very dry and lacked any distinct flavor either.
The sauces helped each of the meats, but I am a firm believer that great BBQ needs no sauce. At least the meats each came without sauce, so I was able to sample each of the sauces with each of the meats. Their sauces included a Classic Red BBQ Sauce, an East Carolina BBQ Sauce, a White BBQ Sauce, a Mustard BBQ Sauce and a Hot BBQ Sauce. I did not try the White BBQ Sauce, but each of the other sauces seemed to have a single flavor note – Classic Red was mild and slightly sweet, East Carolina was heavy on vinegar with a hint of heat, the Mustard was tangy with a bit of sweetness and heat and the Hot was like the Classic Red with a slight hint of heat. The Mustard paired best with the red hot and the East Carolina was best with the chopped pork. Nothing could save the brisket.
The second BBQ restaurant that I tried was Buxton Hall, located on the South Slope in Asheville. Buxton Hall was the one place that I had heard from before going to Asheville, and I was certain that I wanted to sample what they had to offer. A visit like this means I had higher expectations regarding what I was going to eat, but I have to say I was not disappointed at all.
I ordered the BBQ & Hash Deluxe Plate. This included chopped pork that came from a whole hog, South Carolina hash, slaw, pickles, hushpuppies, rice & one side. I chose a side of the slaw after the waitress told me that the slaw that came with the plate was essentially a garnish.
The chopped pork was everything I hoped it would be. The fat that rendered during the time the hog spent in the pit made it moist and flavorful, and there was a nice hint of vinegar from what the pitmaster mopped on it while it smoked. That vinegar helped cut through the richness of the fat, making it unctuous but not greasy.
The South Carolina hash was something new to me. I had an idea what it was, but I’d never had a chance to try it. SC hash looks like a thick gravy that has bits of shredded meat in it. It is made of many parts of the hog, including offal. There was a noticeable taste of irony liver in this hash, but it didn’t overpower everything else. Mixed in with the cup of rice that came with it, it was perfect. The starch of the rice thickened the gravy even more and the taste of the rice blended with the minerally meat to temper the flavor and make it an excellent option for a side dish. The only things I added to it were some black pepper and a couple splashes of hot sauce.
My only regret regarding the food at Buxton Hall was my choice of side. That is not to say that the slaw was bad, but there was nothing special about it. While I was eating it, I noticed that one of the other sides available was Green Beans Cooked Under the Hog. Reading the name of that dish made me want to try it. Typing it now made me want to try it. One last thing to mention about Buxton Hall was the dessert that I shared with my family, the Peach Cobbler. If you ever get the opportunity to try it, take that opportunity. You won’t regret it.
After leaving Asheville and spending a relaxing week with my in-laws in Myrtle Beach, we returned to Asheville for an overnight stay on the way home. The social media person for another Asheville BBQ restaurant had engaged me via Twitter regarding a photo and tweet that I had posted while eating at Buxton Hall, so I decided I would give them a try. This took me to Luella’s Bar-B-Que.
I went to the South Asheville Luella’s location at Biltmore Park. I placed my order to go and talked with one of the employees while I waited. He was a bit cocky when I told him that I had eaten at Buxton Hall and filled me in on a bit of the history of Luella’s. It is a restaurant that has been around since 2007 and espouses a family atmosphere regarding its employees. Hearing the story of Luella’s made me glad that I took the chance to try it.
I chose the chopped pork and smoked andouille sausage. My wife had the BBQ Chicken Salad. The chopped pork was ok, but not as good as that from Buxton Hall. The andouille was advertised as medium spicy, but in addition to being bland in its spices, it was lacking any taste of smoke. With sauce they were ok, but I mentioned earlier my thoughts on the quality of BBQ that requires sauce. The best thing that I had was some of my wife’s salad. The smoked chicken was pulled and tossed with Romaine, Tomato, Cucumber, Lue’s Pickled Corn Relish and Fried Onions. The dressing was creamy buttermilk with basil. The flavors combined perfectly to meld the smoke of the chicken with the tanginess of the relish and the creamy, acidic buttermilk of the dressing. As I had my order to go, I knew it was possible that the quality might suffer. That may have affected my thoughts regarding the meat, but the taste was just not what I hoped it would be.
Overall, I would highly recommend that anyone eat at Buxton Hall. As for the other two, they are definitely better than no BBQ at all, but neither are in the same league as Buxton Hall.