OK, I've been holding out. When I made a swing by a couple of Statesville stops last week, I was actually on my way back from an early lunch in Lexington. Statesville is not usually on the way back from Lexington, but Tom-Tom makes many fine drives possible.
And in this case, the best was the first.
I've been hearing about Brandon Cook at Cook's BBQ for a couple of years. I had just been waiting for an open travel day to check his place out. The son of barbecuer Doug Cook, who owns Backcountry Barbecue in Lexington, Brandon opened his own place and decided to forego modern shortcuts like electric or gas cookers and go back to all-wood cooked barbecue.
Does it make a difference? Apparently so: he's had to expand his little restaurant, tucked away in the country outside Lexington, a couple of times. Draw your own conclusions on this, too: When I pulled up for an early lunch at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, there were already two patrol cars with officers waiting to eat, and two more had joined them by the time I left around noon. Maybe it's like following truckers - Lexington police officers know good barbecue.
And amazingly good barbecue it is. I ordered a chopped pork plate and opened my notes. But after the first bite, it was several minutes before I could order my brain to write more than "oh my lord." Moist, tender, with just enough outside brown to give the whole pile texture. It was like pork raised to a higher purpose.
It came with just enough vinegary sauce already mixed in. In fact, I reached for the sauce bottle once and draw back my hand. It's good sauce, vinegary with just a little heat, and they take the time to serve it warm. But it seemed like a sacrilege to cover that pork with anything.
The $6.29 plate came with red slaw and a basket of terrific hush puppies -- round and as small as shooter marbles, but buttery and crisp. The waitress brought fries by mistake, but I held out for the baked beans. They had an apple flavor that was almost reminded me of pie filling but was on the right side of too sweet.
Cook's BBQ is a simple place, very country style, with a big dining room. There are other things on the menu, but with chopped pork like that, I'm sure I'll never get around to trying them. It's tucked back off a country road, about an hour from Charlotte, but it's not that hard to find: From I-85, take N.C. 8 (Exit 91). Turn left and go about 4 miles, to Rock Crusher Road. Turn right and follow it back about a half mile. Turn left on Valiant. It doesn't look like there will be a restaurant back there, but there is -- just look for the smoke. Or the patrol cars.
Cook's BBQ, 366 Valiant Drive, Lexington. 336-798-1928. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 3:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.