Saturday, March 05, 2011
If you're looking for classic wood flavored North Carolina barbecue, then Wink's of Salisbury, North Carolina should be on your "to visit" list. There are few real wood burners left, since slow smoking pork barbecue is labor intensive, and health department regulations make it difficult to open new barbecue joints with wood fired pits.
I grew up in Salisbury, North Carolina, so I've always gone to Wink's and other barbecue restaurants in the area. This is western style barbecue country. That means that our barbecue is pork shoulders (versus the whole hogs done close the beach of North Carolina), and the sauce is vinegar base with some red (no red in eastern barbecue sauces). "Red" is, by the way, some tomato like a little ketchup. The barbecue sauce just has a little more flavor and a slightly sweeter flavor.
When I moved to Texas for a couple of years, I was rather shocked to get a plate of sauced ribs when I ordered barbecue. I really didn't know our barbecue was such a small niche - just the piedmont and beach areas of NC. While I've come to love all styles of barbecue, I must confess that North Carolina barbecue will always have a real special place in my heart.
My earlier memories of Wink's were of the old restaurant which was a road over from where they are now. We'd go there when they had bluegrass night. The place would be packed and running over, and you shared your table, because it would be a real shame for anyone to have to go home and miss the barbecue and bluegrass.
Wink's now is at 509 Faith Road, Salisbury, NC 28146-7011 (704) 637-2410. If you take the Albemarle exit off I85, you need to fork up past the Lowe's and Tinseltown complex. A little past that shopping center (a block or so), you will see Wink's (just a couple of minutes drive). This is about 20 minutes from the north edge of Charlotte if you're not from the area. You can stop right off the exit to get help. It's a friendly town. People are good about helping out.
You can get a variety of foods at Wink's, but they are most known for the wood smoked barbecue and then the fried fish. I, of course, go for the barbecue.
The most common way to order North Carolina barbecue is by the tray. You get a combination of chopped pork barbecue and red slaw (made with the barbecue sauce rather than mayonnaise - so zippy). Some people eat it with a fork, but locals will usually put the pork and slaw on the barbecue bread (thick sliced bread in the basket) or on a bun (need to ask for one - unless ordering a barbecue sandwich). You'll also get some hush puppies which is common at barbecue joints. The Wink's hush puppies are good, but I like the sweeter ones up the street at Blue Bay Seafood better.
There are a number of classic southern side dishes on the menu. My favorite is the fried okra. The guys love the macaroni and cheese and French fries (fries are the frozen steak cut - but served hot and not real greasy).
I'm not a heavy eater. I eat with gusto but not a whole lot at one time. I've never had a dessert at Wink's (no room after barbecue), but the guys say the banana pudding and cobblers are great. They do look good. Some day I will stop by and just get dessert.
Other favorite dishes at Wink's are the biscuits (good breakfast pick) and the pimento cheese sandwich (classic southern lunch option).
In terms of service, everyone is relaxed and friendly. They don't go overboard with the southern shtick. Boy, I hate places that get all over that "honey" and "sweetie" thing. You'll just get treated like a real person, and if you ask questions, you'll get honest answers. They're always on top of it at Wink's, and that goes across decades now.
The Democratic National Convention will be in Charlotte, North Carolina this year, and Michelle Obama already said she wants to try local barbecue. She won't get classic barbecue in Charlotte, but she can drive 20 or 30 minutes and find it in Salisbury. Wink's is an excellent pick.
If you're in the area for the convention or any other reason, the drive is worth it.
I'll try to get some more Salisbury barbecue joint reviews up soon and maybe some travel pieces on Fun Things to See and Do in North Carolina blog. If you're looking for suggestions, just drop me a comment or email.