Today marks the 21st anniversary of my graduation from Duke, and the 14th anniversary of Fred’s graduation from library school at Chapel Hill. We’re back where we started; we’ve returned to the scene of the crime; we’re on the old stomping grounds. And as a bit of a commemorative move, we went to Bullock’s for lunch.
When I was a student, my friends raved about Bullock’s, legendary in Durham for its barbecue. The place is your basic vinyl-boothed, gum-chewing-middle-aged-waitress, cleaner-than-average Southern meat and three, located off the intersection of I-85 and 15-501 in a forest of strip malls and warehouses. The decoration is circa 1985. There are photographs of Italy on the wall (perhaps because spaghetti appears on the menu?). But . . . .
Well, one thing has not changed in 21 years, and now I’ll put it in print: Bullock’s is just not my favorite North Carolina barbecue joint.
The barbecue itself is certainly decent. We both ordered the hand-pulled pork. The meat was tender, and the sauce is unique: spicy, rich, with a little more tomato and less vinegar than your average Eastern NC ‘cue. I’d characterize it as a cross between Buffalo wing sauce and the classic Eastern Carolina barbecue. (The sauce borders on Western NC barbecue, I think, though for once I will confess that I’m not yet well-versed enough in the difference to offer an opinion.)
Where Bullock’s falls down is in some of the sides. The black-eyed peas Fred ordered seemed to be canned, and so did the beets. The turnip greens were flavorless, even with salt, vinegar and Texas Pete added, and the collards were similarly unremarkable. And the Brunswick stew tasted as if the corn and lima beans were canned–the stew had that flat taste I associate with places that don’t use fresh or at the very least frozen vegetables.
The slaw, though, is a perfect complement to the barbecue, and I love its finely chopped texture with just the right amount of mayonnaise. And the hush puppies, though smaller and less crisp than I normally like them, are perfectly seasoned.
Still, J.C.’s Kitchen remains my favorite barbecue in Durham.