(4-29-13 update: With Mayor Foxx being tabbed to head the Department of Transportation, the sections below on public transit and public space investments in Charlotte mentioned below are even more relevant!)
It’s really not possible to come to a place like North Carolina and avoid BBQ altogether. So in a firm commitment to meat, I put out the bat signal and started soliciting recs from various circles. Fortunately, twitter came through again, this time with a function I didn’t know existed. Thanks to a man named Craig, one of the partners in a business I came to know as Queen City Q, our first foray into Carolina BBQ was going to be an interesting one.
Before I jump into the food, it’s worth exploring just a bit how my new friend Craig knew I was in the hunt for BBQ. For all you business owners who think Twitter is a time suck that can’t be productive for you, listen up. I consider myself fairly twitter savvy, but this one even caught me off guard. I use twitter, a lot. I use it to discuss civic issues, to gets links to news stories, to engage (and follow) people whose thoughts I find interesting. And I use it to find great food and craft beer. Apparently smart businesses also use twitter to find me. Here’s how:
There is some mechanism on twitter to get alerted if someone is talking about key words that matter to your business. I’ll use the real world example here. Nearing the end of my trip to NYC I started my search for food in Charlotte – where dear friends live and we’d be spending Thanksgiving. North Carolina is known for BBQ, so I tweeted something like
“Anyone have recommendations for good BBQ in Charlotte?”
Now, usually I just hope between the people who follow me and some of the people who follow them I can squeeze out a couple good recs. But this time I got an almost immediate tweet–from a restaurant I’d never heard of in a city I’d never been to! What is this magic that delivered a customized notification straight to my mobile phone? Well, I guess the wizards at twitter corporate have stumbled onto yet another way to monetize their free service. Here’s the tweet I got in reply
“Come join us! Best BBQ in town and 40+ taps & over 80 bottled beers.” Short. To the point. Relevant.
Two things are worth highlighting here. First, twitter’s keyword function allowed this local business to track people on twitter who use Charlotte and BBQ in the same tweet (brilliant). Second, the owner sent a message that appealed to my specific interest in local craft beer. Again, brilliant. We did get a recommendation from a local for another spot, but when push came to shove my knowing that they had several taps of locally brewed beer was the deciding factor as between two otherwise quality purveyors of meat. Plus, the somewhat personal interaction from that one tweet made me invested in giving it a shot. Craig, and his business partner Bryan–who tweeted to check on my meal afterwards–have this exactly right. Craig even dropped by to say hello early in the meal to thank us for dropping by.
Here’s what’s true. If the food was bad, that’d be the end of this story. But it was good (more on that shortly),and Craig created a competitive edge with a bit of extra service. 3 minutes of effort by him led to a $120 (with tip) sales conversion. And even more important, our friends in Charlotte and their neighbors will both now try this spot at our recommendation. Craig and Bryan will likely make at least $300 on 3 minutes of effort. Not a bad ROI for using a free service with minimal time investment. Enough about the business, you say? How was the actual BBQ? Well, lets get into that.
The good thing about eating in groups is you increase the amount of things to be sampled at any one meal. Wife and I are big fans of variety, with quantity being kind of a distant third after quality. As the lead photo suggests, I went straight for the kitchen sink approach. The “Big Q”, as my plate was aptly named, included all of the meat in that photo: pulled pork that had been slow-roasted for 16 hours, St. Louis style ribs and Texas brisket. The pulled pork was moist without being the overly soggy mess I sometimes find, it had great seasoned flavor and a background of smokey goodness that led to several lingering forkfuls that didn’t need any sauce. I know ordering the Big Q contradicts my ‘quality over quantity’ spiel, but the variety of it all won out. But speaking of the sauce, these were sitting on the table
A mustard sauce was there, too, but I found it less than thrilling. Yet somehow that is the one I got in the photo. I meant to include the other traditional sauce (not pictured, but tasty). The PoPo, a somewhat sweet tomato based sauce, was my favorite. Wife was partial to the Eastern, which was more vinegar based and combined with red pepper flakes to give a nice spicy kick. Not my thing for BBQ, but she was pleased.
Commendable focus on public transit and public spaces
I need to interrupt this food review to commend Charlotte for doing a lot of things right. Just outside the restaurant I saw this
Heck, while we’re at it, Charlotte even found the resources to put in one of these.
All these things cost money, so I’m not just championing transit-friendly, pedestrian-oriented uses blindly. In San Diego we need a mechanism to pay for this stuff and a realization that not all of San Diego even wants these things. But the fact that Charlotte sees the value in creating transportation alternatives that improve people’s experience of where they live is noteworthy. That it put a public park–without water unwise grass–is a smart choice that we could learn from. I’d love to take a look at Charlotte’s finances to see how they paid for it all, but having aspirational goals is a good thing even if our city needs to focus on short term financial stability for a few more years. *climbing off my increasingly fragile and worn down soapbox*
Back to the food
Turning back to the BBQ, you’ve already seen my plate but I’m not sure how well I described the ribs or the brisket. Not being a connoisseur of BBQ, I can’t really be sure if the smoke ring was the right color or width on the brisket or if the ribs were rubbed with the right angle for the appropriate length. What I can tell you is that both items were quite good and I’d order that same dish if I went back. I can also say that this big mound of hickory that they put in the smoker makes a major difference.
The hickory was on these big pull carts inside the restaurant. I took the up close photo because I thought it was more interesting. Before I leave my experience, I’d be doing this restaurant a giant disservice if I didn’t mention the shockingly good baked beans we had as sides.
Yes, the greens and hush puppies were good, but the baked beans? Oh man. A bit of brown sugar, smokey flavor and small pieces of someone named Neicey’s sausage were mixed together to yield a better than should be possible side of baked beans.
What I left out of the conversation was the very good (even by San Diego standards) selection of craft beers on tap and by the bottle. I’ll do a separate post on Charlotte’s craft beer scene, but from what I can tell, The Q represented well. Between the four of us we tried five local beers, all brewed in our near Charlotte. NoDa Brewing Co. appears to be a really fantastic local brewery set in, not surprisingly, a North Park-esque artsy neighborhood called NoDa (short for “north of Davidson” street). The craft beer was a nice complement to a tremendous meal.
Local Sourcing and Socially Considerate Businesses
Before I wrap things up, I should mention I did ask the server where they source their meat. She had no idea, and probably thought I was crazy for asking, but thankfully she went and asked and came back with the answer–Smithfield Foods via Cisco. I don’t know for sure how to evaluate their practices, but this report on helping hungry homes and this one on sustainability in farming seemed like a good start. In the future, I plan to make it a point to focus more attention on restaurants who treat their staff well and make the effort to secure food from channels that minimize harm to the earth. It is the type of non-governmental, market-driven solution to wanting more organic and more humanely raised and sustainably farmed food that I think can make a difference. *crashing back to the ground under my now broken soapbox, sorry*
Please feel free to ask your server next time, too. Even if they aren’t doing it now, maybe the inquiries will start getting owners to think about alternatives. In any case, if you make your way down to Charlotte, the Q really is a place you should pay a visit–and use the bike share to get there. Thanks for dropping by.