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.

Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie

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Sweet potatoes possess a “superfood” reputation for the mega nutrients they contain and are widely considered one of the most healthy and versatile vegetables available for the human diet. (Sweet potatoes are also honored by a wonderful Winston-Salem, N.C. restaurant that takes their name.) I remember my Grandpa Lee Quinn always relished the opportunity to bake and eat a sweet potato with supper, correctly believing it to be a smart food choice. I have the same perspective, enjoying the sweetness of such a potato, as long as it’s not drowned in butter and brown sugar. Let’s reserve those ingredients for an occasional sweet potato pie!

I love both sweet potato and pumpkin pies, despite my opinion that they’re very similar in taste and appearance and my understanding that most of America prefers one over the other for the family Thanksgiving table. Am I the only one who thinks it’s easier to get away with making a sweet potato pie year round because pumpkin is so closely associated with fall, both for Halloween and Thanksgiving?

In our kitchen, if it’s a pie, any pie, then it’s acceptable any time!

This is our tried-and-true recipe for homemade Sweet Potato Pie. It’s called “Mama’s” because the ingredients are directly from my wife, Molly’s mother. And also because we added a twist borrowed by the famed Mama Dip’s restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (By the way, Chapel Hill is one of the South’s great foodie towns, if you’ve never been.) “Mama Dip” boils her sweet potatoes, instead of baking them, prior to mashing. We couldn’t tell a difference in taste when we boiled our potatoes, but we did find it to be an easier process overall.

Regardless of how you cook it up, sweet potato pie is truly worthy of the old Alabama song that sings, “Song, song of the South. Sweet Potato Pie and I shut my mouth.

Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie

Ingredients

1 pie crust

1 cup mashed sweet potatoes

1/3 cup melted butter

2 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 pinch salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sugar

Directions

1. Stir all filling ingredients in large bowl.

2. Poke holes in pie crust with fork.

3. Pour filling into crust.

4. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. (#FoodieScore Pro Tip: Sometimes we make mini pies, and the baking time for this recipe is about 15 minutes for such pies in our oven.)

5. You can sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg atop each sweet potato pie either before or after baking.

Sweet & Salty Atlantic Beach Pie

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Let’s just save the suspense on this one. This is the best lemon pie I’ve ever eaten.

Now that we’ve got that bite of bold honesty out of the way, let’s back it up with my qualifications for making the claim.

I’ve eaten a lot of lemon pie. My mom loves lemon pie. So did her dad. My wife Molly loves lemon pie, too. So does her dad. Infinite opportunities, by my count, have presented themselves to my mouth for lemon pie consumption.

We learned about Atlantic Beach Pie while visiting the fabulous small food city Chapel Hill, N.C. Locals tout the legendary and unique flavor of the Atlantic Beach Pie, made from a recipe always credited to Bill Smith, at local restaurant Crook’s Corner. (Why does he make it this way, and why is it called Atlantic Beach Pie? Here are your answers.)

No matter how much we tried, we couldn’t get the pie, and the opportunity to make our own at home, out of our heads. Then the recipe for Atlantic Beach Pie showed up in a copy of Carolina Country, a magazine we devour together each month it’s released by North Carolina’s energy cooperatives.

So we made it, just like Bill Smith does at Crook’s Corner. I don’t know if it stacks up to his or the pies served up in the restaurant, but the flavor and texture in ours were extraordinary. The filling was smooth, slightly tart and perfectly sweet. The crust was crackly, slightly salty and very buttery.

As if that wasn’t enough proof to support my argument that Atlantic Beach Pie is the best lemon pie, the popular Our State magazine included Atlantic Beach Pie in its February 2018 cover feature on The Legendary & Landmark Pies of North Carolina. And a slice of Bill Smith’s Crook’s Corner creation adorned the very cover of the edition.

Can you see by now that you must make this pie, no matter where you live but especially if you’re a North Carolinian? When you try it, let us know what you think! Is it the best lemon pie?

Here’s the recipe, with complete and praiseworthy credit to Bill Smith. (If you Google “Atlantic Beach Pie,” his name will be attached to most all of the search results anyways, and rightly so!)

Atlantic Beach Pie

Ingredients

1 ½ sleeves saltine crackers

1/3 to 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons sugar

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup lemon or lime juice, or a mix of the two

Fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt for garnish

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands.

3. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough.

4. Press into an 8-inch pie pan.

5. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until the crust colors a little.

6. While the crust is cooling (it doesn’t need to be cold), beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients.

7. Pour into the pie crust and bake for 16 minutes, until the filling has set.

8. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced.

9. Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Our Search for the Best Chicken-Cheese Biscuit

Time-Out Biscuit

In a happening university town in central North Carolina, we discovered a dynamite chicken-cheese biscuit we just can’t stop thinking about. Each bite of this biscuit delivers a combination of soft and buttery bread, plump and seasoned chicken, and melty cheese. It’s a huge sandwich for one equally huge appetite, or for several friends to share.

You can get your hands on the “Chicken n’ Cheddar” for $5.49 on the “Oversized Biscuit Sandwiches” menu at Time-Out, a 24/7 diner on East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. But that’s just our trouble: We can’t make a regular three-hour, one-way drive from our home in western North Carolina to get our mitts and mouths on this Southern specialty. So we decided to do the next best thing and explore the available chicken biscuits at fast food restaurants in our town, asking each to add cheese to the order.

We developed a grading scale of 1 (lowest possible) to 5 (highest possible) in the categories of Chicken, Cheese, Biscuit, Overall Freshness and Price, for a total of 25 possible points. Based on the delicious Time-Out biscuit, we laid out desirable criteria for each category. To get a perfect score in each category, a chicken-cheese biscuit needed to meet every demand with the same zeal as Time-Out’s Chicken n’ Cheddar.

With the chicken, we wanted seasoning, size and cooking perfection. The cheese needed to be melty, plentiful and flavorful. In each biscuit, we sought a crunchy outside and soft inside. Ultimate freshness meant a hot biscuit sandwich that wasn’t too hard or crumbly. And price, well that’s obvious. We’re a couple of foodies always on the search for a great meal and a great deal. So we didn’t want to pay too much for any one sandwich, and we ordered the cheapest possible chicken-cheese biscuit available on each menu.

It’s important to note that we surveyed Bojangles, Chick-fil-A, Hardees and McDonalds in this search because those are the common fast food establishments in our town that serve a chicken biscuit we could buy. This search did not include local, one-of-a-kind restaurants, which are our normal preference for any kind of meal.

Without further ado, here are our findings. We hope you enjoy, and we encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences with chicken-cheese biscuits in the comments or via social media @FoodieScore on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Chicken-Cheese Biscuit

Eating Through a Weekend in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Regardless of your college sports allegiance, the central North Carolina city of Chapel Hill offers plenty of reasons to visit. From its tree-lined driveways and iconic main street named for Benjamin Franklin to its incredible culinary and arts scenes, there’s plenty to see and do without having to think about sports and mainstream entertainment.

On a recent visit, Molly and I had a chance to enjoy some of the best in vintage local fare. There are plenty of upscale, chic restaurants to try in Chapel Hill, but on this trip we stuck with some of the specialty joints known for their history and/or their simplicity. Here’s what we discovered and recommend if you find yourself in Orange County’s iconic city. And as a special tip, unless you have a friendly local place to park, check out the parking garage on East Rosemary Street, if you’re staying a while and walking around. It might eliminate any search for a metered spot on the streets.

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Time-Out

Open since 1978, this place is exactly what you’d expect of a 24-7 joint in a heavily populated and heavily hungry college town in the South. As if the hours didn’t already tell you this joint caters to the up-all-night youth culture, just glance at the menu. You’ll find a collection of Southern barbecue, chicken, biscuits, casseroles and pies. The most notable menu item: the “Man vs. Food Special,” named for the restaurant’s appearance on the Travel Channel show several years back. The special offers a gigantic (seriously) biscuit with a piece of boneless fried chicken topped with a slide of cheddar cheese, along with a generous side helping of macaroni and cheese and a drink. Come late. Come hungry.

Time-Out

201 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, N.C.

timeout247.com

 

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Sutton’s Drug Store

When you Google this restaurant, the information that first appears under the name says, “A Destination.” That’s been true since way back in 1923. This place is special. You can get burgers, hot dogs, breakfast, or you can sit at the counter and enjoy a vintage soda or shake. And if you’re in a hurry, stop just inside the door and select from a shelf of dozens of vintage sodas in the bottle. If you’re a regular or a celebrity, chances are your photo is on the wall. If you’re a visitor and have time to sit down and eat, take in those photos and breathe in the atmosphere.

Sutton’s Drug Store

159 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, N.C.

suttonsdrugstore.com

 

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Al’s Burger Shack

If you like fresh, hip, boutique burger spots, you’ve got to make a pilgrimage to Al’s Burger Shack, which is on the west side of Chapel Hill headed toward neighboring Carrboro. Al’s was the exception to our “longtime fixture” rule on this trip to town, as it’s only been open since 2013. But this place – which we saw in a New York Times travel piece on Chapel Hill – has a special burger selection every day the doors open, and the regular menu includes options for burgers with a wide variety of toppings, from guacamole to Cheerwine BBQ sauce, from spicy pimento cheese to onion jam to a roasted garlic aioli. And you can get any burger in two sizes: the Al size which is large, or the “buddy bite size,” which allows a hungry eater like me to try two burgers for a good price in one visit. Molly particularly enjoyed how this place folds its buns around its burgers to keep everything in your sandwich from sliding around. And don’t turn your nose at the idea of crinkle-cut fries: these are topped with a delightful rosemary seasoning that will please your tastebuds. Expect to sit outside at Al’s as indoor space is limited, but there’s a canopy covering the patio seating.

Al’s Burger Shack

516 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, N.C.

alsburgershack.com

 

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Merritt’s Store & Grill

Since 1929, Merritt’s has served the local community, and today you get a very specialized back-in-the-day, regular-kinda-place feel when you walk in the door. In other words, this is not your average restaurant, and they don’t serve your average sandwich. Nope, this place is known for its BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato), and with good reason. You get a generous helping of bacon, fresh vegetables and your choice of fresh bread. There are even topping options like guacamole. Your sandwich comes neatly wrapped in thick, plain wrapping paper, held together with a piece of masking tape. Those are your signals this place is unique for its time now. You can expect a short line to order and a long line to receive your food and find a seat (limited inside, more out front, don’t miss the seating out back) at Merritt’s. But it’s completely worth it. You also have your choices of chips and drinks to accompany your sandwich, but let’s be honest: This place is about getting a superior BLT.

Merritt’s Store & Grill

1009 S. Columbia St., Chapel Hill, N.C.

merrittsstoreandgrill.com