By Chelsea Vollrath
Venturing off of Highway 64 onto U.S. 321 in Lenoir, you are overwhelmed by a sea of franchise-restaurants: Wendy’s, Papa John’s, Bojangles, Long John Silver’s. For those who know there’s more to offer in Lenoir than the chain restaurants, Hannah’s BBQ is a favorite.
When you pull into Hannah’s parking lot, the restaurant’s sign, paling in comparison to their chain-restaurant counterparts, advertises meal deals and reminds diners, “Jesus is Lord!” Religious conviction is pervasive in the restaurant; when you walk in, you are again reminded “Jesus is Lord” on the door under the notification that they’re closed on Sundays and have the opportunity to refresh yourself on the Ten Commandments, which are hung like artwork. The religious document is accompanied by decorative pieces, including a multitude of ceramic pigs and pictures of Bobby Q, the restaurant’s stately swine mascot. The wooden chairs and tables and worn faux-leather booths, in addition to the wall hangings, contribute to restaurant’s homey-feel.
When Paige and I walked in, the small restaurant was packed; we figured that signified we were in for a good meal. Seeing a USA Today article hanging on the back wall, which identified Hannah’s BBQ as one of 2004’s 10 Great Places for ‘Best of Zest’ Cuisine, supported that assumption.
Hannah’s offers entrees and sides typical of most barbecue restaurants. The front of the menu boasts the restaurant’s featured dishes: “Slow cooked mouth watering hickory smoked pork and beef, fall off the bone chicken and country style ribs… homemade BBQ beans, made-from-scratch slaw, hush puppies, and Brunswick stew.” To dress the smoked pork and beef, ketchup, hot sauce, and three kinds of barbecue sauce are left on the table for diners use. The Western ketchup-based barbecue sauce is in a ketchup bottle; the two other kinds of barbecue sauce are vinegar-based Eastern style barbecue sauces that differ in the amount of pepper flakes.
I ordered a plate of pork with a side of hush puppies and Brunswick stew, and Paige ordered barbecue chicken with a side of baked beans and hushpuppies and a sweet potato. Minutes after arriving, our food arrived: served on Styrofoam plates and in Styrofoam bowls. After taking the first bite, the food’s presentation was unimportant to me. It was all delicious. The hush puppies I ordered met my expectation as being the perfect BBQ side. Paige made the same claim of the baked beans she ordered. They were cooked with shredded pork, which neither Paige nor I had ever seen before. They were so flavor, assumedly because of the pork; we agreed they were the best baked beans we’ve ever had. The barbecue chicken was very moist and also very flavorful. We won’t ever find out why though. When we asked the waitress about the barbecue sauce on the chicken, she wasn’t as open to discussing it as she was with the sauces offered for the pork. She told us it was a secret, laughed, and walked away.
I was still curious about the different kinds of barbecue sauce offered, so I divided my meat into three sections on my plate, and dressed each section with a different sauce. Of the two eastern sauces, I preferred the one with more pepper flakes, probably because I am partial to spicy food. Though I am used to the Western style barbecue sauce, after using the eastern style, the western style seemed very heavy and overwhelmed the dish. I continued to experiment by mixing all three sauces together. It was the perfect combination. I doubt that would ever be common practice in a state divided by differing opinions on barbecue, but I’d recommend it.
After we finished eating, we went to the counter to pay for our very reasonable but very good meal. As we waited, I noticed pictures of who looked like family members and friends hanging from the cash register, which further solidified the at-home feel that overtook us when we walked in the front doors. Considering how positive our experience with the food and atmosphere was at Hannah’s, I’d certainly make a point to stop there again if ever passing through Lenoir.