Foodie Travels: Allen & Son Barbeque, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Allen & Son barbeque

Allen & Son Barbeque serves one of the best Southern meals you’ll find anywhere. We won’t back down from that statement at any cost. In a state divided by preferences over barbecue styles, Allen & Son cooks up some of the best pig we’ve eaten anywhere. The sides are also fresh. The tea is sweet and plentiful. And you can’t beat the homemade desserts, especially the pies. Oh, my, how we love the pies. As our waitress told us, “if a pie looks perfect it’s not homemade.” Well, it may not have looked perfectly symmetrical on every side, but it sure tasted perfect!

Allen & Son Blueberry Pie

This legendary eatery on the north side of Chapel Hill, on the left if you’re headed from Interstate 40 toward Hillsborough, greets you with checkered tablecloths and a simple dining room. When we see checkered tablecloths, we know we’re usually in an old-fashioned joint that focuses most of all on its food and service. And that’s just what we got at Allen & Son. We’d heard great things, and the place downright delivered at every turn. That started with sweet tea that was so dark we knew it had been steeped a long time, just how we like it, with plenty of sweetness, and a jug for refills just for our table.

Allen & Son tea

Of course we sampled the pork barbeque, as Allen & Son spells it, and it was chopped up in nice big chunks, meaty, seasoned to a perfect vinegary flavor and containing wonderful little pieces of crispy brown skin throughout. Our plate came with coleslaw, delicious hushpuppies and a soft, yeast roll perfect for cradling a few bites of pork.

We also sampled a cheeseburger, and we were blown away by it, so much that we dare say the Allen & Son burger is one of the top five we’ve had anywhere in the South! And we eat a lot of cheeseburgers. The meat was plentiful and clearly hand-pattied, something we expect of an all-time great burger. The cheese was melty. The bun was soft and big enough for the sandwich. And the toppings of chili, mustard and onions blew our tastebud doors right off! Pretty darn near close to burger perfection, that Allen & Son cheeseburger.

Allen & Son Cheeseburger

After our main course, we knew we were going to enjoy some pie. We just didn’t know how much. We ordered one piece of chocolate and one piece of blueberry, both with a scoop of homemade ice cream. There’s no doubt the ice cream was homemade, as it contained the little icy shavings characteristic of home-churned ice cream. The berries were fresh and flavorful. And the chocolate was rich and decadent. We savored every bite until it was all gone.

Allen & Son Chocolate Pie

Our service was fast at Allen & Son, and our waitress was quick to make suggestions to better our meal and our experience. We’ll be back here every time we visit Chapel Hill or pass by on the way east or west on I-40. Chapel Hill is a food town, full of amazing places to get a great meal, but Allen & Son just might be our favorite foodie stop of all. Don’t dare miss it if you’re anywhere nearby! It’s the definition of a #FoodieScore.

Allen & Son BBQ

Allen & Son Barbeque, 6203 Millhouse Road, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Foodie Travels: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Decatur, Ala.

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For nearly 95 years, the legend of Bob Gibson’s delicious barbecue and his unique white barbecue sauce have spread across North Alabama. Despite that near-century tradition, however, most casual diners even in other parts of the South know little if any about “Big” Bob Gibson or the white sauce.

When I lived in North Alabama I had the opportunity to sample barbecue across the region—and Big Bob Gibson’s two restaurants in Decatur became my measuring stick for BBQ chicken perfection and, in my mind, the de facto original home of white sauce. (If this is your introduction to white sauce, think of it as a peppery ranch dressing-type condiment with an extra “kick” to it.

Gibson’s restaurants, still operated by his family, offer a full menu of pork, ribs, brisket, sides and other fixings, but it’s the chicken doused in that white sauce that keeps my mind coming back. So it’s fortunate you can also order bottles of the white sauce and have them shipped to your home, which is exactly what my wife Molly did this past Christmas. I couldn’t wait to open the concoction, dunk a few freshly grilled chicken breasts in it and serve them alongside a feast of Southern food favorites.

Obviously there’s nothing quite like visiting Big Bob Gibson’s two establishments in Decatur, but thanks to the restaurant and American parcel services, I can recreate the next-closest thing at home. The sauce even comes with a recipe for Grilled Chicken Breasts using the white sauce. You just coat chicken breasts with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, cook with your desired method and then bathe the chicken in a bowl of white sauce. In my experience, you’ll need about half a sauce bottle for two large chicken breasts.

If you’ve visited Big Bob Gibson’s in person and you taste the sauce on your own grilled chicken at home, it’s almost like you’re instantly transported to North Alabama. And in the vast barbecue world there might be no tastier place to be.

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, 1715 6th Ave. SE or 2520 Danville Road SW, Decatur, Alabama

3 Food Books We Love

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Molly and I are both North Carolina natives. Specifically, we each grew up in a separate corner of Gaston County in the western part of the state, her in Cherryville and me in Alexis. We’ve lived our entire lives here, with the exception of about a year total that I spent in Alabama and Florida. I lived in eastern North Carolina for about four years, and together we’ve crossed the state many times, stopping at local restaurants along our journeys.

So, with more than 60 years of combined eating experiences in North Carolina, we know this state’s food well. And we love this state’s food, from barbecue and burgers to homestyle plates and pies. That’s why we also love these books about North Carolina cuisine so much, because their authors share our deep love, appreciation and devotion to the delicious array of food in our home state. They also share our preference to eat at local, one-of-a-kind restaurants when they’re visiting North Carolina’s many great big cities and small towns.

1. Bob Garner’s Book of Barbecue, North Carolina’s Favorite Food, by Bob Garner, published by John F. Blair

Bob Garner loves North Carolina food. That’s evident when you watch his restaurant reviews on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Weekend program, which is where we first discovered Garner several years ago. He particularly appreciates a great plate of Tar Heel barbecue, which is the subject of this book that offers such an interesting overview of North Carolina barbecue history, cooking methods and restaurants across the state.

2. North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries: A Traveler’s Guide to Local Restaurants, Diners, and Barbecue Joints, by D.G. Martin, a Southern Gateways Guide published by the University of North Carolina Press

D.G. Martin’s vast collegiate, military, legal and media experiences have kept him traveling North Carolina over the years, and that has afforded him many opportunities to sample and revisit many of the state’s great local eateries. This book is a fantastic guide to North Carolina restaurants, organized along interstate lines as a companion for pinpointing places to eat when you’re on the road.

3. Tar Heel Traveler Eats: Food Journeys Across North Carolina, by Scott Mason, published by Globe Pequot, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield

As host of Raleigh-based WRAL-TV’s renowned Tar Heel Traveler segment, Scott Mason has studied North Carolina restaurants and shared them on the screen for years. As a follow-up to his excellent Tar Heel Traveler book, which contains many great dining suggestions of its own, this particular version highlights some of the most unique and outstanding eats North Carolina dishes up.

Have a book on North Carolina food or the cuisine of another Southern U.S. region you think we should read? Comment on this post at FoodieScore.Blog, or send us a quick message here. We never get too full when it comes to great Southern food ideas, especially in our home state!

Foodie Travels: Mamie’s Drive In, Laurel Hill, N.C.

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For North Carolina beach travelers from Charlotte and points west, it’s a common conundrum: Where can we stop and eat on the way? When the eastward destination is a place like Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach or Southport, there are several good joints to discover. But there may not be a more local, beloved place than Mamie’s Drive In, almost halfway between Charlotte and Wilmington along Route 74 in Scotland County.

Mamie’s opened more than 50 years ago and continues to serve favorite American fare like homemade cheeseburgers, hot dogs and meat-and-sides plates the way its late namesake did for so many years. It’s a humble place, where you walk into a small building, step up to a small order window and then have a seat in the small dining area or at a few tables out front.

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We enjoyed the Southern hospitality of the staff on our visit and the simple, satisfying meal—my cheeseburger and fries, my wife’s chicken strip plate. And the food was fast, a good thing for travelers ready to reach the beach or get back home after a few days of sand and sun.

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Many folks opt for a couple of barbecue joints on the route to the coast, but I’d argue that you won’t find a more iconic, down-home stop than Mamie’s. That tradition was honored by Our State magazine in its 2010 list of “100 Foods You Must Eat in 100 Counties.” Its place in the state’s food lore was then further cemented by a segment on WRAL’s Tar Heel Traveler in 2017, highlighting its adoration by both beach-goers and locals alike.

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So if you find yourself headed east (or west) on Highway 74 and asking the question about where you’ll eat, just pull into Mamie’s. You’ll get a good, fast, affordable meal, and you’ll become part of a longtime tradition for both locals and visitors to Scotland County, N.C.

Mamie’s Drive In, 9460 Andrew Jackson Highway, Laurel Hill, N.C.

Five Southern Places We Love to Eat Pie

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Much like the Golden Girls found great comfort in sharing middle-of-the-night cheesecakes while discussing life, we find immense joy in the partaking of delicious homemade pies in unique shops during life’s travels across the South. We’re always on the lookout for places to procure pie when a need for sweet treats strikes. There are so many great restaurants in the South that serve pie, but shops with a wide selection are often difficult to find if you don’t know where to look! We’re here to help with these recommendations as some of our very favorites!

 

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Baked Pie Company, Asheville, North Carolina

It’s quite possible this pie shop with beautifully rustic décor in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains introduced the world to the Pie Flight, a $13 treat with three generous slices of pie and a scoop of freshly made ice cream. Regardless, the place is now the standard for great pie in the region. We especially recommend the honey pecan, blueberry crumb, sweet potato, lemon chess and fudge brownie selections.

 

Possum Pie

Honey Pies, Little Rock, Arkansas

This cute little pie shop on the city’s west side is bright and cozy with a great selection of fruit, cream and other pies. In addition to full-size pies, we love that a complete menu of mini pies is available. It’s a nice alternative to ordering a single slice cut from a whole pie. We especially recommend the Arkansas-specialty Possum Pie, a layered masterpiece of chocolate, cream cheese and meringue in a Graham cracker crust.

 

House of PIes

House of Pies, Houston, Texas

You’ll be hard pressed to find a deeper-dish pecan pie than their Texas Pecan Pie. It’s yet more proof that everything really is “bigger and better in Texas.” House of Pies on Westheimer is like an oversized Waffle House-style diner, and the reason for the restaurant’s name is evident when you see the pie counter and rolling multi-shelf carts full of pies the minute you walk in the front door.

 

Miss Angel's

Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies, Mount Airy, North Carolina

We’re not sure we’ve seen a larger, broader selection of unique pies anywhere, including the South, than Miss Angel’s, which draws you in with its bright pink décor and holds your attention with its long counter of sweet treats. You can even get pies baked with moonshine here at this friendly spot in the heart of the town that inspired TV’s Mayberry in the legendary “Andy Griffith Show.” Miss Angel’s also serves a wide variety of mini pies, which we’ve come to love as a single-serving alternative to slices.

 

Pie Society

Pie Society, Savannah, Georgia

In the heart of downtown Savannah, a city bursting with Southern history, this British pie shop offers a delightfully different selection of sweet and savory treats. Like French pastries, British pies aren’t quite as sugary rich as their American counterparts, and we appreciate that more subtle take on dessert. If you’re strolling Savannah’s picturesque streets in the hot and humid Southern summer, this is a great place to duck in and savor a bite…or two…or three.

 

What’s your favorite place in the South to eat pie? Comment on this post, share on our Facebook page, or email us here!