Backyard BBQ Pit (Durham, NC)

I know barbecue joints can be divey – you almost expect that – but it can add to the personality of the place in a positive way.  Not so with Backyard BBQ Pit, a small roadside restaurant in bustling Research Triangle Park.  This place, it must be said, is just kind of dumpy.  Below the food counter, where servers load up your plate from cafeteria style metal trays, the yellowed wall is scrawled all over with marker.  This feature bears an unfortunate resemblance to a gas station bathroom stall.  Combined with the dated decor, it gives an overall impression of neglect that is not very inviting.  In fact, I nearly turned around and walked out upon entering.  But I pressed ahead, in hopes that some good food would distract me from the ambiance.

The menu is straightforward in a classic bbq joint sort of way.  I ordered a chopped pork bbq plate ($6.49), which comes with two sides.  None of the sides looked particularly appealing, so I opted for mac&cheese (for my daughter’s sake) and green beans (to get some veggies in).  I think the mac&cheese has a different price than other side items (as the restaurant’s website claims), or else the coleslaw I also asked for raised the total price a little, but regardless it was definitely an inexpensive way to feed the two of us.

The food was just so-so.  The barbecue was good enough, but pretty unexciting.  It was pretty coarsely chopped, which I like, but it wasn’t terribly smoky, though they reportedly cook over wood.  There are a variety of sauces you can add if you choose.  I was not a fan of the bland, super-finely chopped coleslaw.  The hushpuppies (it came with three) were large and sweet but had likely been under a heat lamp for a while.  The macaroni and cheese was cheesy and and a little greasy.  I let my daughter eat most of that; she certainly had no problem with it.  The green beans actually would have been quite good if they hadn’t been heavily oversalted.

So yeah, I crossed it off my list of local bbq places to try, but I really doubt that I’d go back.  If I did I might try the ribs – a lot of people seemed to be ordering those.  One thing is for sure: I would insist on getting take-out.

Danny’s BBQ (Cary, NC)

Here in North Carolina, people argue passionately about barbecue.  Is it cooked over wood or gas, is whole hog or just the shoulder, is it sauced with a tomato or vinegar-based concoction?  I appreciate the attention to detail, but in the end, for me, it doesn’t much matter.  I like it all.  While Eastern-NC style is what I’m most familiar with, I’ll happily consume just about any variety of tender meat and flavorful sauce.

Which brings me to Danny’s bbq.  Located in a nondescript strip mall off of Tryon Rd, it’s not your typical southern bbq joint, and it doesn’t serve your typical Carolina style bbq either.  I read somewhere that Danny’s was something closer to Florida style, but I couldn’t tell you the first thing about what that might signify, or whether it’s even remotely true.  I can tell you that I’ve had something similar to Danny’s in Buffalo, NY (at a place called Kentucky Greg’s, of all things).  So, if you can figure out where Danny’s falls on the bbq map, let me know.

Danny’s serves  its meat relatively unadorned.  This is good and bad.  The good is that you can choose from the four sauces that adorn your table, including a sweet dark red sauce, a spicier version of that (though not too hot), a mustard-based concoction, and a simple vinegar-based one.  The bad is that the meat itself, while smoky, can be a little bland and dry, and requires a good bit of sauce.  But add a bunch of that sweet dark sauce and it can be mighty tasty.

The other area that Danny’s suffers a bit is with side items.  Apart from their baked beans, which I find delicious (if overly brown-sugary sweet), everything else I’ve tried is pretty average.  French fries, hushpuppies, and cole slaw are particularly unremarkable.  Speaking of hushpuppies, Danny’s does not offer them automatically, as many traditional southern bbq joints do.  Still, I’d rather order some of those hushuppies than the default giant slice of Texas Toast white bread that comes with most meals

Thankfully, prices are in line with classic down-home bbq joints – a bbq sandwich and side is only $5.50.  Danny’s also does ribs and smoked turkey, and they’ll cater events.  So while it’s definitely not close to being my favorite area bbq, and the NC bbq purist might cringe, for the less discriminating bbq eater like me, Danny’s is worth a try.