by Evan Hatch
Just one more addition to our month-long celebration of North Carolina Barbecue! We couldn’t resist Evan’s eulogy to his favorite barbecue memory. ~Deborah Miller, Editor, NCFood.
This love letter is long late. J & G Barbecue, formerly of Haw River, North Carolina has left this earth. On December 22nd, 2012, after two fires, two locations, and two separate groups of owners, J & G moved on. Opened and operated by Mr. George Overman, it was a staple. Of course it has a lot to do with memories. J & G occupied a whitish cinderblock structure on North Church Street since the late 1970s. There was nothing else around. The landscape was desolate-saving the skeleton of a drive-in movie theater looming sad across the street, suggesting the two businesses had once worked in cahoots on busy Friday nights. We frequented J & G from the early 1980s when we moved to Burlington. We mostly called in, picked up, and drove out, choosing to eat with The Incredible Hulk and JR Ewing. It was a Friday night tradition.
The dining room was fine. Large picture window with the hand painted sign facing Church Street. (And if memory serves me correctly, not even a cute mascot pig in an apron hawking itself to hungry customers). Grungy (but clean) floors. Kinda wiped down table tops flanked by curved, hard, red, plastic booths. J&G’s vinegar sauce was on the tables, but it was rarely needed-foodies take note. The pick up itself was simple. A package of 8 Bunny buns steamed in a warmer, condensation fogging the bag. And the pink coleslaw. Dad and I ate it on the sandwich, mother and sister took a little on the side to be polite. Chopped fine and uniform, we called it ketchup slaw, but the wider exposure to BBQ, and a sharp tang makes me believe now it was J&G’s Barbecue Sauce.
And so the pork years since I had it, but I still remember it to this day. Butts and shoulders I guess, smoked on site. Dad always got two separate pounds. Mom and sister loved the chopped. It’s got all of that good fat and flavor chopped up in it. But the men loved the sliced. Not sliced deli meat. It must have been pulled. These tender pieces, still loosely attached like paper cutout dolls, tendrilled out deliciously. A well applied light mystery rub clung to the pieces. Each hunk of love weighed heavily in hand, pulled hot from the Styrofoam container with thumb and forefinger, eaten before it ever hit bread. There was no fat (at least visibly). Shreds of golden pork in a light peppery vinegar sauce, dressed before it ever left the kitchen. God, I miss J & G.
A famous food scholar once said that barbecue is like the champagne of the south. It differs greatly region to region, but it is all good and makes you pretty happy. Barbecue- the south’s greatest offering to culinary tradition. But everybody knows where the best barbecue in the South is. It’s their place. Where they went. But if that is the case, they never had J & G.
Evan Hatch is a folklorist currently working with the North Carolina Folklife Institute in Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson & Scotland counties. Since 2002, he worked in Middle Tennessee documenting traditional musical and material culture. He was producer at Spring Fed Records and served as President of the Tennessee Folklore Society.