Amongst the millions of other things we did as a Family (with or without Liz) this summer, one of the most pleasant surprises was an impromptu trip to North Carolina to visit my mom, sister and her family.
Especially after seeing all of them without Liz or the kids in Vegas for my other sister Jessi's wedding, I decided that while Liz was on one of her many either work-related, or blog-related trips, I'd drive the kids down to prove to them that their "other" cousins weren't just computer animated images that we see on Skype once a year around christmas.
I don't often get to see my side of the family, and it's even less often that my family gets to see Thaila and Sage so this was a rare occurance.
What's better is that they live in one of my favorite food related regions of the world, North Carolina, with it's famous North Carolina Bar-b-que.
What is NCB(bq)? Well, when it's done properly, it's a whole hog cooked low and slow over a hardwood fire, pulled off the bones, and pulverized into a mush with a few crispy bits of skin, and finally being slathered with a cider vinegar based BBQ sauce with chili flakes that brings it all into focus.
To ask if I love this, is to ask if I love food at all. To ask if I love living.
I more than love it, I adore it.
The hardest part of North Carolina BBQ is finding it. It's easy enough to find "any" North Carolina BBQ, but the challenge is to find good North Carolina BBQ.
So with that in mind I forced my sister Lexi to drive 40 minutes away to find the place that my Mom swore was the best place in the area according to her work friends that grew up in the area, and swear they love authentic Que, not "the bullshit kind found all over."
Sign me up for some of that!
After getting lost once or twice because we were on the wrong Highway 70 (apparently there were two...) my visions of a fire pit behind a gas station tended tenderly by a kindly old pit master that has been stoking the flames since the night before, with the love and compassion one usually reserves for a newborn child, were somewhat dashed when we pulled into the parking lot of a purposely barn-shaped restaurant named McCall's.
Across the street, loomed another "Carolina BBQ" themed restaurant with a more recognized name for good and mostly bad reasons to us whom care about where our food comes from (unlike some corporate sellout food network "personalities" we can mention, "y'all")...
Starving at this point, and undeterred by the all-you-can-eat buffet, and the kitschy "down home southern comfort" decor we were seated and proven it wasn't all bad by the availibility of sweet tea and hush puppies, the one thing my kids would eat on this trip outside of Pappa John's Pizza and pasta with butter (big surprise, I know)...
So I ordered the chopped pork plate with black-eyed peas and collard greens, which it turns out weren't half bad!
Mostly happy, and really only disappointed by the non-fantasy-conforming location and "theme" restaurant feeling down to the t-shirts for sale on the way out, we left.
Which, strangely to these parts, was; on a farm!
We stocked up on supplies for home (and a forthcoming dinner-post) and did the only logical thing one could do while in North Carolina, packed up the car and went out for some North Carolina Bar-B-Q...
This part comes with a little back story, but it's relevant to this one, I promise.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, before Liz and I had kids, or many cares in the world for that matter, we took a trip down to North Carolina to visit my Mom and Sisters (all of them lived there at that point). So long ago in fact, and I, at the tender young age of still-in-my-twenties, had never had North Carolina Bar-b-que...
Oh, I'd had bar-b-q before. Plenty, I'm sure. I just always thought of it as a mishmashed concoction more familiar to what was available in New York at the time (we're talking pretty early 2000's here, before the corporate sponsored food "revolution" which helped usher us into this ultra-specialized world that we live in today).
So on one of our drives from the Bed and Breakfast in the town we were staying in to the other town that my mom and sisters lived in at that time (Fuquay Verina and Lillington respectivly for those who care), we decided to stop for lunch at a quaint, ma and pa looking little number off the side of the road on a cute little river.
I remember the discussion in the car as we pulled into the parking lot:
"Have you ever had North Carolina BBQ before?" Liz (who had been to North Carolina before) asked me (who had never).
"Of Course." I either lied or mistakenly thought.
"Oh, I don't really like it, I don't like that vinegar-y sauce." she said with a scrunched up face which I've since come to learn is her "any food other than the 6 or 7 things that I like" face that I've seen hundreds of thousands of times since.
"Well, I do!" I said, thinking she meant just regular BBQ sauce, and therefore was crazy and weird because everybody likes regular BBQ sauce, but at that point in our relationship would never have said anything because I was still very excited that she would just even let me see her naked (still am!) and would never do anything to jeopardize the possibility of that not happening as frequently, which, to be fair, was a lot more so then, as opposed to two kids and almost 10 years later... But how could I have known that then!!??
"Oh. Well, good. I'll just get some chicken then..." (I know... I know.)
And the rest is a romantic history for the ages. One that will forever echo through the halls of antiquity. A love so pure and bright, it might seem embellished, or exaggerated in some ways, but I assure you, it's not. I fell in love that day, in a deeper, more meaningful way than I even knew was possible. One bite into this strange new world of possibility and never-before-imagined delights opened my mind and my heart, nay! my very essence to the wonders of my one true sustenance-related love above all others.
Oh, I've had, and will continue to have many other nutrimental "lovers" since then, but I always know that at the end of that long, lonely road, there's one beloved edible that will always be there waiting patiently for me whenever I call her name.
The fair lady Pork. The most supple and divine of all the noble meats...
Yes, it's true that at one point I thought cole slaw was gross, especially on a sandwich, and yes, at the time I covered the pulled pork sandwich with the vinegar based and the cloyingly sweet regular texas BBQ sauce.
And it's also true that I was well on my way into my pork obsession by the point this really happened, but I always think of this time as the first time I ever had North Carolina BBQ, something I've gone on to "relish" (food pun!) in my life, and this little place on a hill overlooking the Cape Fear River has a special place in my heart not only for that, but it also epitomizes this trip for me, Liz's first time meeting my family, our first trip in the car we just bought together, our lives forging together into "us".
So, even without Liz, it seemed appropriate to make a pilgrimage to the place that started it all in many ways, and share it with the next generation, even if they will only eat chicken nuggets and hush puppies (I know... I know.)
I speak, of course, of none other than...
Howard's, with it's chopped BBQ sandwich...
...with its ubiquitous sauce...
...coming together to form the perfect sandwich.
"Que" the angles... (ha! another food pun! I am an amazing food writer!)
And of course, for the new generation...
More Hush Puppies...
Which they were happy about.
And because I promised a "side of family" in my horribly named title, and because I don't apparently have anything better to do for the next hour or so but wait for pictures to upload, here a shit bunch of pictures from the trip with everyone...
Here ya go! Enjoy, my family specifically and only!
Thalia and Kelsey.
Lannie and Sage.
Bro bro with Uncle Brandon.
My mom and Thal.
Gerloff Blood runs deep in this one...
Thalia can't take a saerious picture.
Brodie photo bombing the pic from outside...
Cuteness in the woods.
And, wait! Who's this handsome guy?
I'll give you one more chance, because A) I'm so handsome. And B) it's one of exactly two pictures of myself I have other than the first one...
And because two pictures of myself in a row is the only thing worse than the title of this post I can think of to do, I'm gonna go ahead and end on that bad note...
Thanks to my fams for a great week! I have one more post from NC to get out and then I can begin to even focus on the juggernaut of post(s?) from Spain that I have lined up (over a thousand pictures!!! Longest post ever!!!), and also I have some rather interesting/typical-for-me news regarding my employment in the restaurant industry status (it has been over a year since a major shake up, that's a long time for me these days!)
Anyhow, thanks for reading...
Goodnight and you're welcome...
Farts and such,
P.S. I was purposefully inconstant between the "BBQ" "Bar-B-Q" "Bar-b-que" thing just to drive you crazy, whomever you are that gets driven crazy by those things...