Thursday, July 22, 2010

Contradictions and Carolina 'Cue

Luella's Barbecue
Ashville, North Carolina

In 1960, CBS launched a new series called the Andy Griffith Show about a beloved North Carolina lawman.

About the same time, in the western part of North Carolina, beloved North Carolina outlaw Jerry Rushing was solidifying his reputation as the premier moonshiner/bootlegger in the country, and those exploits would be the basis for the hit CBS TV show Dukes of Hazzard.

Later on, North Carolina had, as it's two sitting U.S. Senators, Jesse Helms and Senator Extremely Not Jesse Helms, John Edwards.

Then, just recently, left-wing Nanny Staters and misguided Christian moral crusaders joined forces to gut business owner property rights and banned smoking in all restaurants in bars in the most disgusting display of left/right statism since the Woodrow Wilson administration -- all in the heart of tobacco country.

It's not that North Carolinians are just self-contradictory and can't make up their mind.

Instead, I call North Carolina's behavior a prime example of "middle state syndrome." Stuffed between Virginia -- the proud birthplace of Presidents and Founders alike, and South Carolina -- the proud birthplace of Confederacy, North Carolina just wants attention.


And it seems like they're doing everything they can to make everyone from San Francisco liberals to Texas Tea Partiers love them all at the same time.

The result?

Well, sometimes I just don't what to think of North Carolina.

And as great as the food was, Luella's Barbecue in Ashville, NC also left me scratching my head.

One of the first things any 'cue connoisseur knows is that the crappier the decor, the better the food.

Looking at the outside of Luella's, I thought I hit the spot. From the outside, the building looked to be built around 1960 and had been painted only 3-4 times since construction.

There was also a cornhole board that served the purposed of trashing up the parking lot quite nicely.

Good start.

But when I walked in, my mouth dropped wide open.

The floors were clean, the bar had newer wood tile all over the back that actually looked stylish, the chairs and tables were new and modern . . .

. . . And there was abstract pig art all over the walls.

I was almost offended -- like somebody had painted a bunch of naked dudes on the ceiling of a church.

But not a mildly weird Sistine Chapel kind of way, but a gay way. Like with a bunch of John Edwardses.

In fact, judging by the decor, I was expecting my meal to taste like the equivalent of canned chicken and ketchup.

But I was hungry. So I sucked it up, determined to take whatever culinary punishment Luella's wanted to dish out.

During lunch, you order by walking up, so I didn't spend much time with the menu.

I ordered the pulled pork barbecue plate (because this is North Carolina and only John Edwards types order beef) with vinegar slaw and crinkle fries and a sweet tea.

It all added up to $12 with the tip. So not bad.

When it arrived, I gave it a quick dousing of Carolina barbecue sauce and proceeded to give it a try.

And it was awesome.

Most restaurants make you take a bite or two and think about it before you figure out if there's any smoke flavor there or not. Not at Luella's.

And a sniff of the sauce would have sent John Edwards running home to mommy.

The vinegar slaw was a tad wet. But the fries and the sweet tea were on point, as well.

While I was enjoying my meal, I checked out the bar. Bars are kind of weird in barbecue joints, but it turned out there was a decent selection.

There was even a local-brewed garlic ale I would have loved to try if I hadn't had a long drive ahead of me.

Turns out they have live music on the weekend. So maybe it's a cool hang out? Asheville is a college town.

About halfway through my sandwich though, yet another unwritten rule of barbecue etiquette was utterly and completely destroyed.

Elton John was playing on the restaurant sound system. Elton Freaking John.

Then that was followed by a slew of 1960s hippie hits.

I'm sorry, but hippies and barbecue do not mix one bit. Hippies only know how to smoke one thing and it ain't barbecue.

If I was just judging by the food, I would have seriously thought about buying the shirt.

If they had just crumpled up some newspapers, threw them on the floor, accidentally ripped off some of the fancy tile above the bar and took down the damn abstract pig art and threw up some ripped up Coors Light magazine ads, I might have actually bought the shirt.

But I left more confused than anything. I felt like Luella's just didn't know what the heck it was trying to be. Or maybe I was missing something and just didn't "get" it.

Of course, now I have to go back to find out -- and maybe check out that Garlic Ale and perhaps see what the place is all about when the sun goes down.

So, on second thought, maybe North Carolinian's know what they're doing after all.

Well, except for John Edwards.

Rating: Would Wear Shirt if it Were Free

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