Some critics in Fayetteville argue there is no real food culture in a town made up vastly of chain restaurants with a few excellent local spots sprinkled in between. But what about barbeque? Isn’t that a tasty populate of our food culture?
If you really look closely, one will notice that our main haunts for barbeque tend to be clustered around the Skibo/McPherson Church Road area (Smokey Bones Bar and Fire Grill, Memphis BBQ Company, Carolina Ale House, Mac’s Speed Shop) and past downtown scattered nearby Eastern Boulevard (Cape Fear Bar-B-Que & Chicken, Fuller’s Old Fashion BBQ and Buffet, Patterson’s Barbeque and Buddy’s Bar-B-Que). And who can forget the iconic pit stop, The Barbeque Hut on Fort Bragg Road and Owen Drive with its vintage menu board and simple, tried and true menu.
There are numerous BBQ joints in Cumberland County alone and many casual dining restaurants feature outstanding pork sandwiches on the menu, covered with vinegar based sauce that’s the key component of Carolina barbeque. In the 1960’s through the early 80’s one of the best barbeque places was Harold’s Barbeque on Bragg Boulevard. They had a specialty of sliced barbeque pork. Marshall Waren, publisher of CityView, remembers it as the best place to get sliced pork. Waren said, “When the owner died the place had to close, it was a sad day for sliced pork in Fayetteville.”
At the Carolina Ale House, it all begins with the bun. “We take our spice mix and we whip it into the butter and we butter the bun and grill it…so there’s a layer of flavor built into the bun,” explained Joel Dubois, General Manager. The pork is sourced locally from Brookwood Farms in Siler City. “There’s a 12 hour smoking process. Vinegar, of course, is used in the process. It’s got that good smoke flavor and the rub we use also adds another layer of depth and flavor to it,” continued Dupree. Their flavor is rounded out with a secret sauce.
Cape Fear Bar-B-Que and Chicken, a local favorite whose concept began in Smithfield, now thrives on Grove Street in Fayetteville as well as in three other cities: Lumberton, Elizabethtown and Clinton. June Massengill’s parents had Smithfield BBQ in the late 1970s. After June went to college, the restaurant business lured her back in and now she is the owner of four locations in southeastern N.C. She prides herself on the family tradition of cooking fresh pork daily.
“Wanna try it real quick?”
Fuller’s Old Fashion BBQ and Buffet is a haven for the southern foodie. Their buffet is brimming with goodies like collards, corn bread and of course, fat back. Sure enough, long time employee turned part-time manager Dorothy Bryant will ask a customer, “Wanna try it real quick?” And most come back and try it all again, which is why the Fuller’s parking lot off Eastern Boulevard is usually overflowing with automobiles.
Again, at this family owned restaurant with two locations in Lumberton and Fayetteville, the focus is less on the bread and more on the meat. “We use the whole hog. Most establishments don’t do that, they only cook the short cuts,” Bryant explained. “We have an employee whose job every week is to purchase hogs from a market in Fayetteville. A hog goes for about $120 and we use about 100 a month at both Fuller locations.”
Now, that’s a lot of barbeque.
The meat is cooked in their outdoor fire pit located in Lumberton. And Fuller’s, just like most mom and pop restaurants in the area, make their own delicious vinegar based barbeque sauce…and yes, it’s a secret too. “Up north, you know they use that thick hickory sauce. Sometimes, we will get northerners in here and they’ll ask ‘What is this?’ And either they like it or they don’t!” Bryant said with a slight smile and shrug. Fuller’s has been in existence since 1986 and are now creeping in on their 30th anniversary. They know their great success is due to service, family-atmosphere…and of course, creating a great barbeque sandwich.
“Would you like some sweet tea?”
Iced tea, perhaps the sweeter the better, is the optimum partner to a juicy barbeque sandwich and it’s most difficult to find a sweeter libation than at Buddy’s BBQ on Gillespie Street.
Started in 1945 by Sampson County native and World War II veteran, Buddy Hayes, the small brick building with iron bars on the windows may not have the most beckoning exterior, but the inside, with 1970s era vinyl booths and hundreds of pig figurines and collectibles adorning the atmosphere, can only be described as kitsch, comfy and something you can find only in the South. And the owner these days, Buddy’s daughter, Janice Bundy, may be the Paula Deen of the barbeque world with her perfectly coiffed hair (she was a former hairdresser) and warm smile.
Mrs. Bundy is flawless and she did wake up like that.
“I’ve been in the barbeque business for 40 years. My husband helps here and so do my two daughters, one who is a college student at Methodist University and in the nursing program,” said Bundy.
The key to their longevity in the barbeque business, Bundy believes, is the friendly service and quality food they serve. Their delicious, secret sauce doesn’t hurt either. “No one has my sauce. It’s a vinegar based sauce that my father made,” shared Bundy.
While Carolina Ale House places extreme focus in the preparation of the bun of the sandwich, that’s something Bundy had to forgo once upon a time, 21 years ago.
“When Hurricane Fran hit, we had people lined up out the door. We were the only place with power, other than EMS next door. We had customers serving customers.” Bundy continued, “We had to throw our barbeque on white bread, hot dog buns…that’s one day I’ll never forget.”
And one could say the secret to the success to all of these establishments is in their different, yet delicious, Carolina-style vinegar based sauces…and the lips of Carolina Ale House, Cape Fear, Buddy’s and Fuller’s are all sealed on that one.