Sunday, November 11, 2012. Our first full day in North Carolina on a birding trip and we were on the hunt for lunch, heading down NC Hwy 24 scanning the roadside for possibilities. Our general rule is no fast food, no national chain restaurants – if we can help it.
We’re in North Carolina’s tidewater region, on the mainland on the inland side of the outer banks – those barrier islands that flank the East coast from North Carolina up to New Jersey. My hope is either barbeque or seafood. As we drive we can occasionally catch a whiff of pit smoke and then we spot Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q. Good sign, lots of cars out front but the place doesn’t look very funky (not encouraging) or dicey (a good sign), so in we go.
First off, I can tell this isn’t the sort of place I was looking for. It’s full, but full of people on their way home from church – families, older couples – not the down and dirty crowd I’d hope for in a good BBQ joint. You order at the counter from a menu board – a promising sign. The gal at the counter is friendly and willing to explain how they do things here – good. I go for the Bar-B-Q and shrimp platter with beans and Brunswick stew as sides. Jeanne opts for the Bar-B-Q plate with slaw and potato salad. Pay up and take a seat – no numbers or cute signs to put on the table – don’t worry, the gal says, they’ll find us when they bring the food out.
Well, the Bar-B-Q was great – classic tidewater pork, pulled and doused with vinegar and hot peppers, but I expected the Bar-B-Q to be on a roll – a sandwich sort of arrangement. Oh, well. The shrimp was surprising – tiny guys the size I would call “cocktail shrimp” but breaded and deep fried – disappointing because I suspect they came out of a freezer bag. The beans were typical – sweetened and probably out of a can. Everything came with a side of hush puppies – I got an order of hush puppies with my Bar-B-Q and an order with my shrimp – but they were tasty.
The Brunswick stew was a first for me. I know about Brunswick stew, a regional specialty of the Eastern seaboard, but I’d never had it. It’s cousin to the Chicken Chowder I grew up with in Western NY, the Burgoo of Kentucky and the Booyah of Wisconsin. The main difference is that the Brunswick stew is heavier on tomatoes (tomato paste?), short on vegetable variety and seems to be strictly chicken based. It is thick enough to put on a plate rather than in a bowl. OK, but it definitely comes in fourth out of the four in my rankings.
The highlight of the stop was not the food. It was okay for the most part. The Bar-B-Q pork was better than OK and the hush puppies were pretty tasty.
The highlight, though, was the sink.
In the main dining room, adjacent to the counter where we ordered, was a sink. Not an industrial deep sink like you’d see behind the counter but a nice small china pedestal sink with side lights, soap and towels (paper). Their web site says that the original Smithfield’s had a sink in the dining room so the farmers coming in for lunch could wash up before they ate – a nice convenience for the customer. Apparently the sink in the dining room is a feature of their restaurants (there are 30 in North Carolina – yes, a chain but not national). It’s the most common-sense thing I’ve ever seen in a restaurant – wash up before you eat or clean up after a finger-lickin’ good dinner without having to go to the toilet facility to do so.
Decent food, simple consideration for the customer. Smithfield’s.