Skip to main content

Timeless: Gary's Barbecue

Here's one mystifying, frustrating and yet occasionally beautiful thing about the Southern U.S. - change comes slowly. I find it even more beautiful when, after decade, some things don't change at all.

By this I mean Gary's Barbecue, an institution I grew up on in the 1980s and 90s in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Its provenance is China Grove, NC - a funky-named place between Kannapolis and Salisbury, and pretty much in the backwoods where somehow, someway, the subdivisions and ho-hum strip malls invading the greater Charlotte area haven't caught up with little China Grove.

I hope they never do. I hope Gary's remains untainted by growth and development so it can continue as the best damn Lexington-style barbecue joint out in the middle of nowhere.

Anytime pork on a bun comes up in conversation, Scott's probably learned by now to tune out my odes to Gary's glory, in the nearly nine years (!) we've discussed the finer points of barbecue. He grew up on South Carolina style, sadly - they drench the pork in a sweet/spicy mustard sauce. What is that all about?

I finally showed Scott REAL BBQ last weekend, during our drive down to my Grandmother Carrie's funeral in Concord, NC.


We pulled in to the parking lot off of Hwy. 29 and I immediately became giddy, nearly leaping out of the car before it completely stopped. I gabbed about their vinegar sauce and the ice pellets they use that I loved, the way the pork wasn't dry or plain, but moist and perfectly seasoned. The tin signs of memorabilia - Grape Nehi, Coke, Wonder Bread, etc. - lining the walls, and the three 50s-era Chevys with the bad-ass fins that they kept well preserved in a special room in the back. (This is NASCAR country, ya know.)


We seated ourselves in a booth and as I grabbed the menu, I realized it was probably five years or more since I last ate at Gary's. I pondered the weight of those years.

What if they didn't have that ice that I liked? What if the pork was just so-so and their fries weren't crinkle-cut like they used to be? What if, God forbid, they were out of Cheerwine?



When the waitress took our orders, I had to ask her what came on the BBQ platter versus the BBQ tray. I didn't remember. I ordered the platter - which came with pulled pork, slaw, fries AND hushpuppies (oh, those warm little carbs o' the South) - and Scott ordered a large sandwich and onion rings. As when in Rome, we ordered two small Cheerwines to drink.

The food came quickly, almost as soon as the Cheerwines, which luckily were poured over the ice pellets I recalled fondly. My eyes bulged at the amount of pork loaded on my plate, along with a generous scoop of slaw cut with red pepper and vinegar (no mayo), and several golf-ball size cornmeal hushpuppies.

Scott was confused to see slaw on his sandwich - I reminded him this was, of course, "Carolina Style." Nonetheless, it didn't prevent him from digging in, and after one bite, he grinned widely and uttered the highest compliment he can possibly give - "Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm."

That's right. Gary's hadn't changed a bit. The pork was still moist, the fries still crinkle cut, the slaw still piquant and slightly red, and the Cheerwine flowed freely from pitchers. Thank you, oh benevolent gods of the barbecued pork.

I don't know what I would have done if the meal hadn't been up to my expectations. I suppose I would have paid the tab and drove off, wishing for the "good ol' days." But I can say for sure that at Gary's, the good ol' days, and nights, are better than ever. And that, my friends, is truly a beautiful thing.


Gary's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Comments

  1. My hometown's bbq joint is "Joe's Barbeque" and like all good southern bbq places, it has a pig in an apron for it's logo. After all, Joe's slogan is "Good as the Best, Better than the Rest and Just a little big habit forming."

    And they hands down have the best sweet tea in the South. I think a BBQ face off is in order, yes?
    -Beth

    ReplyDelete
  2. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM! You know, I used to be anti-cole slaw, but damn, now I love that vinegar taste!

    Its funny, you know a Yankee has made slaw when it includes things like Romaine lettuce and, I kid you not, Peanut Thai dressing... sigh. They may never learn.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Peanut...Thai? Oh, no. That is fancified stuff right there.

    Beth! I have experienced the goodness of Joes! If I am correct, there is/was an outpost in Shalotte that we visited all the time when we were down at the beach. My cousins on my mom's side grew up on Joe's.

    I typically take my BBQ with Cheerwine, but I would consider the sweet tea option, too. Yum.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I will totally join the BBQ face off!

    ReplyDelete
  5. YES! You have par-taken in some of my native delights. The Shallotte Joe's BBQ is the sister restaurant to Whiteville's original Joe's.

    I feel so close to you right now. GROUP HUG!
    -Beth

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Best Way to Keep Cannoli Fresh and Other Baltimore Stories

My mom and step-dad were up visiting for Thanksgiving and after gorging ourselves on turkey and the sites of D.C., I took them on a day-trip to Baltimore.

After a visit to my mom's favorite museum (she's a mosaic artist), we aimed for lunch at Rocket to Venus in Hampden. It was closed for lunch, but our trip up Charles St. wasn't for naught - we stumbled onto residents of 34th St. setting up their Christmas displays! This street is Christmas at its best, or worst, depending on your tolerance/interest in all things Christmas. Erin teases me for being a scrooge, but I have to admit, lights and what-not are nice at this cold and dark time of year.

After a brief walk through Hampden, we aimed for lunch at Kooper's Tavern in Fells Point. The tavern was most certainly open, with rowdy sports fans packing the bar and even spilling onto the sidewalk for fresh-shucked oysters. (My friend Gideon would have camped out right there for their Chincoteagues!) After some deliberati…

Adventures in Gardening

We're back with another edition of "Hey, we used to be bloggers." I am not so sure who reads blogs much anymore (hi Moms!) but hell, if e-newsletters are in again and the '90s "flatform" shoe is making a comeback, maybe we have a shot.

As I nurse a gin and tonic made of nothing but the finest (here's to you, cheap Chek tonic cans from the Mount Pleasant, SC Bi-Lo - sometimes you just buy things to get the job done, especially when you're en route to Vacation Weekend after a slight detour to fix a flat tire on I-26...), I'm mulling over what's happening so far in our garden plots. 
We went Tomato Crazy this year, planting 6+ mixed varieties in our raised beds that kinda-sorta get sufficient sunlight in our backyard, and 8 seedlings in one of our two Winterfield Community Garden plots. Hopefully we'll soon pick beautiful Red Delicious, San Marzano, Black Krim, Blue Gold Cherry, Brandywine, and a few "mystery" tomatoes, and I can …

Green is Good

Garden hobby-ing aside, I'm trying to eat more plant-based meals these days.

After taking on a six-week fitness challenge earlier this year that included a vegetable and protein-heavy meal plan,  I'm working vegetables into my diet in ways that I never did prior.

Example: this alien-colored smoothie. 


A recipe from McKel Hill's Nutrition Stripped, the Creamy Ginger Green Smoothie has a few unpredictable ingredients. Sure, bananas are common. But throw in an avocado, spinach, ginger, lemon, dates and this curveball - tahini, usually reserved in the Adams household for batches of hummus -- and this ain't your average blended beverage.
I didn't have dates so I swapped it for a few dashes of stevia for sweetness. I also included some extra grated ginger, as I am a ginger freak. We bought a whole root of ginger from the Charlotte Regional Farmer's Market from a vendor selling primarily Asian produce. I've frozen it and just take it out and grate it on my Micropl…