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Whenever I'm in North Carolina, my stomach tells me it's time for some barbecue -- specifically, some Eastern-style barbecue at Allen & Sons near Chapel Hill.

A little history lesson: In North Carolina, the word "barbecue" refers to just one thing: slow-cooked pork that's been marinated over time with a thin, tangy sauce made with vinegar and red pepper flakes. Once the meat is tender, it's chopped up and mixed with more of the vinegar sauce. Simple and delicious, it's the time-honored way it's been done there since the late 1600s.

Now there is a competing version in North Carolina called Lexington-style (or Western) barbecue that evolved around 1909 when the Heinz company began marketing cheap ketchup with a long shelf life. Starting around that time, some pit masters began adding ketchup or tomato paste to the traditional vinegar sauce. You may be one of those people who put ketchup on everything from eggs to steak, but sometimes we need to respect the wisdom of our ancestors. Besides, as one critic put it: "People who would put ketchup in the sauce they feed innocent children are capable of most anything." But I digress; back to my stomach.

My work lately has kept me traveling to Raleigh, which has allowed me to engage in my love of said Eastern Carolina barbecue. The restaurant called Allen & Sons is a no-frills affair, with no booths or counter. There is a pick-up window in front, but you can walk around the side, open a screen door and eat in a small dining area there. It's cash only. You order your chopped pork, and there are side dishes of homemade potato salad, coleslaw, hush puppies and Brunswick stew (Google it). For dessert, there is banana pudding. Paradise.

On my most recent trip there, I had two bankers with me and had carefully choreographed our time to include lunch at Allen & Sons. As we pulled in shortly after noon, the owner himself came out and said they were closed that day to install a new hood in the kitchen. Masking my disappointment, I ask him where else we could go nearby for the real thing. He scratched his head and said, self-effacing, "Well, I don't rightly know." Just then a man drove up in a weathered old pickup truck with the window rolled down. "Hey, Joe!" he called out to the driver. "Where could these men go get some good barbecue?" Without missing a beat Joe grinned and said, "Jimmy, what about here?" Seeing my chance, I interjected: "Joe, he won't serve us, and we drove out of state just to eat here!" Suddenly the owner slapped his knee and said, "What was I thinking? I made a mess of barbecue for the workers. They've already eaten, and there is a lot left. Come on in, and you boys help yourself on me."

Well, call me what you want but just not late for lunch. We walked in, and there were two large pans of the finely chopped pork, rolls, bowls of coleslaw and Brunswick stew, and two large containers of iced tea. Thirty minutes later, we stumbled out of there and tried to press some money in his hand. "No, boys, it's my treat. See y'all next time."

This just goes to show you that while there is still no such thing as a free lunch, sometimes, just sometimes, there is free barbecue.

NAN Our Town on 01/23/2020

Print Headline: Sometimes there is a free lunch

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