04 March 2011

Raleigh Day 3

Day 3 spent in Raleigh found us a little rushed. Class ended at 4:30 and Clyde Coopers Barbecue closed at 6pm. Luckily that day we got out of class on time and we had enough time to drop our stuff off at the hotel and walk one block to Coopers.

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Besides one or two locals, we had the entire joint to ourselves, but the atmosphere couldn’t be beat. Now THIS was a barbecue joint. Too bad they don’t serve real barbecue, but more on that later. Being manly mens we were quick with our orders. I’m usually very indecisive, but when it comes to barbecue I know what I want. I ordered the ribs and chopped barbecue platter with Brunswick Stew and I allowed our server to select my second side, requesting whichever she thought was the best. She chose the coleslaw. Giddy up.

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Moments later she returned with a little basket of joy for our table. Joy, in this case, is freshly fried pork rinds and without a doubt the best hush puppies I’ve ever tasted. Giddy up again.

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These puppies blew my hush puppy loving mind. I’m used to the crusty on the outside doughy in the middle freezer bag balls they give out at all-you-can-eat crab places on the Eastern Shore. These puppies had prestige. This was a purebred Greyhound to my usual disease-ridden back alley mut with a gimpy leg. The funny thing is, when I raved about them to the waitress she mentioned they were just a pre-packaged mix you can find in any local grocery store. Who knew?

The cracklins were also the best I’d ever tasted, but honestly this was my first time having them when they weren’t out of a bag purchased from a gas station at 2 in the morning. These were crispy and not semi-spongy like the bagged variety. And they actually tasted like something other than dying, they tasted like pig. Speaking of bagged, they actually sell them by the bag, as can be seen here:

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I’ll be honest though, I’m not huge on pork rinds, so I tried one or two, then went right back to the pups. One complaint I had was that she didn’t provide us with any plates, so we had to use the table and napkins. That was very odd to say the least.

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Before we knew what hit us, big piles of piping hot meat arrived at our table. I have to be a nitpicky barbecue guru for just a second and say that the ribs were just slightly overcooked. They required no effort whatsoever and basically fell right off the bone when I picked them up.

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I know, I know you’re all thinking that’s great, but true perfect smoked ribs should have a slight resistance to the tooth. Again, I’m being nitpicky, they really were quite good. The rib sauce was good, having a very strong tomato flavor at its core.

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The chopped barbecue was extremely moist and thankfully seasoned. The vinegar-based table sauce only emphasized the flavors of the pork. The sauce itself was very thin, mostly vinegar, with a slight hint of sweetness and heat from the crushed red pepper. This was definitely going to give The Pit a run for its money.

The Brunswick Stew was also fantastic, much thicker than the versions I’d had previously. The flavors were developed nicely, the veggies were the star, as they should be, while the shredded chicken played a fine supporting role. The coleslaw was slightly under-seasoned, but luckily a few shakes of pepper really brought it up to par. It was good, but nothing I haven’t had before.

So we all had a chance to discuss the finer points of barbecue with the owner and I was shocked to learn that all of their barbecue is cooked on two electric pits located upstairs. There is no smoke whatsoever. I was really surprised since I could’ve sworn I detected hints of hickory in the chopped barbecue. He said that he also recently switched to baby backs from spares. They’re rubbed for 24 hours and cooked in the pits upstairs. The smoke flavor came from the liquid smoke in their rib sauce. The funny thing is he mentioned that he used to smoke the ribs at home every day and bring them to the restaurant in large hotel pans, but it just became too much of a pain in the ass.

So the bottom line is Coopers is damn good, but if you’re looking for real deal smoke barbecue, you ain’t gonna find it here, ya dig?

One member of our party consumed too much pig so he had to retire to the hotel, but the remaining two of us still wanted to wash down our que with some beverages. I had the perfect place in mind. While researching places to eat in Raleigh I’d read great things about Foundation Bar, but I dismissed it since it was just a bar and not a restaurant. Well, now that was exactly what we were looking for wasn’t it?

Foundation Bar is actually located underground along the glitzy strip of Fayetteville Street. We walked down the concrete steps and were immediately transported to hip underground bar atmosphere of off the beaten path Brooklyn.

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The interior, while dimly lit, was quite awesome.

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There was one couple at the bar, and the bartender, that’s it. We sat at the bar and I inquired about a drink I’d read about on Yelp. That drink was the Maple Old Fashioned. As I perused the beverage menu, I noticed they offer a variety of intriguing cocktails. This place warrants a repeat visit!

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Watching this kid craft my beverage really felt like something special, he really put some showmanship into it, an artful display of skill and passion. I especially liked the flourish at the end where he twisted the orange zest garnish and lit the juices, sparking little flames which created quite the intoxicating aroma. So how did it taste? Friggin’ fantastic!

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I was worried it would be too sweet, but I could just barely detect the essence of the maple syrup. It only served to highlight the finer nuances of the bourbon. It was quite strong indeed, and went down a little too easy.

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Needless to say I killed it in about 3 minutes and decided it was my time to retire as well. I swore I would limit myself to one round, and I did just that. I bid farewell to the bartender (who said he only works the Tuesday night shift, so if you want to stop by I suggest you do it then) and took a brisk walk back to my room, contemplating trying to perfect my own Maple Old Fashioned when I returned home.

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Clyde Cooper's Barbeque on Urbanspoon
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