The Barbecue Joint
630 Weaver Dairy Road
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-9pm (egregiously stolen from another review of the restaurant; please call to confirm)
The Barbecue Joint is hard to find. The Picky Epicurean and I once went to look for it, paying so much attention to the side of the road that we posed a traffic hazard–and still couldn’t find the place. We actually made it there tonight, and it’s pretty clear why we had such trouble the first time around: The Barbecue Joint is in a small, unassuming strip mall, set behind a bank of trees and sharing property with a bagel shop, a kitchen remodeling company, and a tae kwon do studio.
Anyway, tonight we actually made it to the place. Having made it there, we eventually got around to eating barbecue, which I suppose makes sense in some twisted way. But before we ate, we had to order. The Joint’s counter opens onto its kitchen, and above hangs a large chalkboard displaying the menu. There may have been a paper menu as well, but we never made it that far before we ordered.
A few menu highlights: pulled pork is offered in four forms, a 1/4 lb sandwich for $5, a 1/3 lb plate for $6, a 1/2 lb plate for $7, and a full pound of pulled pork for $8. All plates but the full pound come with coleslaw, pickles, and corn bread. You can also get sides separately–one side for $3 or three sides for $8. The sides were many and varied, from the standard mac and cheese, hush puppies, and roast potatoes, to somewhat more interesting selections like a bacon and tomato salad. Also on the menu, for $7, was a muffaletta sandwich–a classic piece of New Orleans fare that consists of grilled eggplant and olive tapenade on Sicilian bread. The menu doubtless included numerous other items, but we were too distracted by the above to make it much further.
In the end, our table ordered lots of pulled pork and a muffaletta. The sides that ended up floating between us were cornbread, hush puppies, mac and cheese, and collard greens. Each of us had slaw and pickles on our plate, much to the dismay of the Picky Epicurean in particular (whose loathing of all things brined and/or mayonnaisey is both endless and boundless). The rest of us were quite content with our de rigeur sides.
So, about that food. The pulled pork was moist, plentiful, and well-smoked, but was relatively unseasoned in its standard form. While delicious in its naked glory, it was only improved by the liberal application of the Barbecue Joint’s house-made vinegar barbecue sauce. The barbecue sauce also had much to add when doused on cornbread, hush puppies, mac and cheese, napkins, small woodland creatures, and bicycle parts.
The mac and cheese was of the casserole variety, with an adequately crumby top and just the right amount of stringiness to the cheese component. The mac to cheese ratio was a little high for my taste, but my love of cheese borders on the unhealthy. Nevertheless, with a dash of the restaurant’s (homemade?) hot sauce, the dish was nearly sublime.
The cornbread was good, but nothing spectactular–to the point where an application of either coleslaw or vinegar was required for maximum enjoyment. On the other hand, the hush puppies were tender and moist even straight up. The coleslaw components were minced rather than shredded (contrary to my own preference), but the slaw was tossed expertly in just the right amount of creamy and vinegary dressing. The simple vinegar pickles were vibrant and crisp. Of the sides, the collard greens were probably the least successful–the leaves cut into large strips with the rib intact, with minimal seasoning, and nearly drowning in their liquor.
The unexpected surprise was the muffaletta sandwich, a chunky battleship comprised of layers of tender grilled eggplant and fresh kalamata olive tapenade. Roasted red peppers and (perhaps?) sun-dried tomatoes rounded out the bright, briny flavors in the sandwich, and the sturdy foundation of the Sicilian loaf kept everything in place while soaking up extra flavors from the fillings, as well as providing an excellent chew factor.
With its combination of excellent flavors and ridiculously cheap dishes, the Barbecue Joint is high on the list for restaurant revisits. Combined with the fact that we have sampled perhaps a fifth of the sides and two out of who-knows-how-many main dishes, I can guess that it won’t be long until we’re back.