Lexington, North Carolina: the country’s home for delicious barbecue. Lexington is known for its vast history of barbecue since the town created its own preparation style. “Piedmont-style sauce is not tomato-based,” says Katie Quinne, a writer for Our State, North Carolina. “It still uses lots of vinegar but has a slight touch of ketchup that makes the mixture sweeter and redder, but not thicker.” Going forth, we knew that Lexington’s distinct, vinegar taste had always been in somewhat of a “battle” with their Eastern, ketchup-based counterpart. How could there be so much argument about barbeque? we thought. Could we even tell the difference?
We arrived in Lexington on a cloudy, Sunday morning with empty stomachs and a desire to learn more about what made this town unique. After our hour-long ride, we pulled into a deserted downtown Lexington. Sunday does not seem to be the day for explorations of a small, southern town. The town was quaint, cute, and looked like it had the potential to be a thriving scene on a weekend night. The walls adjacent to different stores were painted in muted greens and cream colors, looking like the perfect canvas for future wall art. There were flower beds still peeking out of window boxes due to the unnaturally warm autumn that had graced all of North Carolina this year. Soaking in the silence of the normally-thriving town, we got back in our car to visit (what we heard was) the best barbecue in all of Lexington, North Carolina.
We entered a scene that was far more ecstatic than the downtown area we had just left. Smiley’s Restaurant was filled with post-church diners, some with large families and some eating in solitude. They were all there for one purpose: to enjoy the best of what Lexington has to offer. We took our places and each ordered the specialty: sliced pulled-pork sandwiches. After our first bites, we instantly knew that Lexington barbecue trumped any other kind we’d had before. The sandwiches were garnished with sweet, apple-based cole slaw that perfectly fused the sweet and saltiness of the tart vinegar-base. The buns were toasted to perfection, there was no need for any extra sauces, condiments, or even a side dish. After our meal, our waitress approached us and stated that we “simply could not leave without trying the house-famous banana pudding.” We obviously gave in to that temptation and split one three ways.
As we exited the restaurant, we could not grasp the attention of any of the employees to ask our questions; Sundays were busy and each waitress and waiter were occupied. So, we poked around the restaurant to see what diversified Smileys from the rest of the barbecue restaurants in the area. One wall was plastered with newspaper clippings displaying the multiple occasions, people, and places the restaurant had catered to. The most eye-catching was a newspaper article from Lex ington’s local paper which described Christmastime in Lexington. “It’s a local tradition in the barbecue capital of the world,” said James Romoser, a reporter for the paper. “And for the people who prepare the meat, it means that the days before Christmas are a sleepless marathon of cooking over a smoky barbecue pit.”
Though it was a small taste, we classified Lexington as one of the most barbecue-savvy towns we had ever visited. We left Smiley’s with full stomachs and a newfound appreciation for the ancient process of seasoning meat.