Make no mistake. I’m partial to Texas style barbecue. Nothing compares.
But when in Rome, or in this case Asheville, N.C., it’s O.K. to be venturesome.
We weren’t disappointed. As we walked into Buxton Hall Bar-B-Cue just after 2 p.m. on a recent weekday, we immediately got a glimpse of barbecue as performance art.
Workers lifted half a pig off the pit and put it on a cooling table with the other half.
“As a customer it was weird to see them pull a pig out of the pit as we were sitting down at the table,” Posse veteran Sherry Jacobson said. “You were face to face with half of a pig and you usually don’t see that in places.”
The happy pig — that’s what Buxton Hall calls them — had been on the smoker for about 14 hours. An hour or two of rest and it would be ready for pulling. Almost everything gets pulled. Even the cheeks.
Buxton Hall, named the ninth best new restaurant in America in 2016 by Bon Appetit, specializes in pork — not beef. More specifically pulled pork, though at night the place also offers pork ribs.
That means sauce, which in Texas can sometimes seem like a four-letter word. In North Carolina it isn’t. Buxton’s red spicy sauce was a hit with both Sherry and Raoul Gagne, who joined us with his wife, Veronica.
Sherry had the pulled pork sandwich, Raoul the Whole Hog Pulled Pork Plate. I had the Pulled Pork Plate, too, with a more mild, vinegary sauce.
As you see from the before and after photos of my lunch plate here, I must have liked the food.
Elliott Moss is the pitmaster, chef and an owner of Buxton Hall. He wasn’t in the house during our lunchtime visit but his gourmet influences were prominent. A smoked pheasant and dumplings dish was the special of the day. Smoky fried North Carolina catfish and pit smoked chicken were also on the menu. The buttermilk fried version of the chicken gets rave reviews from food critics.
The side dishes here go beyond normal barbecue-joint fare. Raoul and I loved the mashed potatoes in hog gravy. Sherry and Raoul praised the green beans, which are cooked under a pig on the pit. “The green beans were almost smokier than the meat,” Sherry said.
Raoul and I liked the coleslaw, but not Sherry and Veronica, who said it was too coarse. “They need a new coleslaw recipe,” Sherry said. “It lacked flavor and was poorly chopped.”
The staff was very friendly, answering questions and allowing barbecue aficionados — there are a lot us — to take photos in the cooking area. They even gave us a peek in the cooler where the hogs were hanging.
The long pits Buxton uses are different than we’re accustomed to in Texas. Wood coals burn on each end, not directly under the meat.
Jordan Lance was head of the house during our visit. He said the place cooks one to four whole hogs a day, fewer mid-week, more on weekends. The pigs come from small farms. “They really treat their pigs well and I think you can taste it,” Lance said of the suppliers.
At the end of our lunch, Buxton Hall got four thumbs up from us. “It’s a fun place to go and the food is good., maybe better than good,” Sherry said. “The food is excellent.” Oh, yes. For all you disciples of Texas barbecue, on occasion the place does serve brisket.
Bruxton Hall Barbecue, 32 Banks Ave, Asheville, NC, 82–232-7216. Open seven days a week, check website for hours.