Lip Smackin’, Finger Lickin’, Carolina BBQ

I’ve learned something about us Canadians: we don’t know how to barbecue. We think we do, and we certainly have heart when it comes to grilling (who hasn’t shoveled a path through the snow at minus 25 (C) to get to the grill?) but compared to our neighbours in the South–and I’m talking the Deep South–we don’t have a clue about the ‘cue.

I was on my way to Florida with a brief stopover in Charlotte. That was just fine by me because it meant getting the chance to sample some real southern fare. I contacted Slow Food Charlotte and asked their advice on where to experience good barbecue. One of the members, Thom, suggested Mac’s Speed Shop, a place that proudly proclaims “beer, bikes and bbq” as the trifecta of local culture. When I pulled up to the restaurant, the parking lot was packed with bikers. The owners, decked out in varying degrees of leather and studded things, drank beer and strolled around admiring each others Harleys. I should have taken a picture then because an hour later a thunderstorm rolled in and all the bikers took off leaving behind an empty parking lot. I definitely missed the money shot.

The restaurant (as you might expect) is totally unpretentious with rough wood floors, stools at high tables, exposed beams, and a very long bar with 200 types of beer available. Impressive.

I bellied up to the bar and sat next to a man known as “One Time Charlie”, an ex-bartender and regular customer since the doors opened about four years ago. He took this lone Canuck under his wing and explained a few things about the food. The combo plate was a good place to start with four meat items (brisket, ribs, pulled pork and chicken) and two sides, all for $16. Choosing sides took a while longer; they all looked pretty good. I relied again on Charlie for advice. He tried to explain the collard greens but I stopped him telling him that there was no need to explain; I was in the South, I couldn’t call this a true southern bbq experience if I didnt have the greens, so that was easy.

Choosing the second side was more difficult. I learned about a local dish called Brunswick stew while researching the internet and it certainly sounded good but how could I pass on the beans? Beans and barbecue go together like chips and dip, or ketchup and fries. My decision was made a little easier by Charlie giving me a wink and saying “maybe I could get the kitchen to give you a little sample of the stew!” Well, by all means, Charlie…you do what you have to do! The fellow sitting next to him disagreed…”She has to have the mac and cheese, Charlie!” he argued, and got off his chair, walked up to the kitchen and weasled a little dish of the pasta from the cooks so I could try it. Creamy, rich, bubbling hot…I wished I had an extra stomach for this meal.
The stew was fantastic, much like minestrone soup, but with sausage and a little something extra that I can’t explain — a southern je ne sais qua you could say. It was very good and I can’t imagine a cold winter day without it. But it was 80 degrees (F) outside and that’s what did it for me; I went with the Sis Gibson beans instead. Not sure why they’re called that; I may have asked but I don’t remember…I also had Bob the Bartender slipping me samples of locally brewed beer so I could make up my mind which one I wanted. All this plying of food and beer was a little overwhelming. Okay, that’s a lie. I was loving every minute of it.
The meat arrived on an oval platter and I was glad I ordered the small size. The brisket is smoked for 12 hours and spiced to perfection. I was tempted to ask for a take home bowl of the mix so I could snort it later because I couldn’t imagine having to eat future meals without it. My husband makes a wicked beer can chicken, but this beer can chicken was so juicy I could’ve used a bib. The ribs were lip-smacking, finger-licking, mouth-watering awesome with just enough give to them to make it feel like they were putting up a bit of a fight, and the tender pulled pork came in a pile high enough to feed four. I didn’t know where to start.

It took me two seconds to ditch the knife and fork and get my fingers dirty inspiring Charlie to proclaim,
“Yessirree, y’all a real Southen’ gal now!”and telling me he suspected this wasn’t my first time at the rodeo! I was in hog heaven and I didn’t want to leave.

The people and the food were fantastic. Getting to eat at Mac’s Speed Shop was a stroke of luck for me. The folks at Mac’s gave me a real good dose of Southern hospitality and next time (there will definitely be one) I’ll come hungrier and earlier, sit outside on the picnic tables and soak up the ambience. A little Harley exhaust, some music, bbq smoke and good food. It doesn’t get much better than that.