Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:There is a recurring fantasy about "downhominess" and "authenticity" and "realness," especially in the category of comfort foods. The required elements seem to be old, wizened folk manning the heating devices, there is a measure of grime / smoky / grittiness and ramshackleness in the facilities, many secrets (especially regarding the sauce), a certain level of "part of the family" feelings, and age.
Old Savannah Highway, Charleston, NC
Review by SuSu, MaceVindaloo, Wraith6, dieFledermaus
None or any combination of these things are guarantees for good barbecue, of course. In fact most "roadhouses" which purport to serve barbecue do not really do that. For a long time, some of us thought that southern style barbecue just meant "decent sauce." The meat was usually not so flavorful. In fact, we suspect much of it was boiled to tenderness, then sauced and maybe grilled. It wasn't good. But hey, maybe barbecue is supposed to be like that? Most of us northerners, what do we know?
If that's true — that barbecue is simply a vehicle for sauce — what's the big deal? Alas, though Bessinger's has the reputation and longevity, our random stop there continues to prove that even the good ones can lack flavor.
It does appear to be a shack, or at least a low-cost converted ranch home and treehouse. The wooden booths are charming, and the place is clean, bathrooms and all. The people serving on the day we were there were blonde females of various ages in good states of preservation, but they were hardly warm or caring. They were rather cold; most of us were clearly "not from here," and we got the distinct feeling that added to the attitude.
Okay, it was clearly between meals, not yet dinnertime, so the place was pretty empty. Still, we had to wait and we spent some time browsing the many nice things the press had to say about this place — they were posted on the walls.
The meat, alas, tasted like they'd been boiled in water before they were seasoned. They might have been finished on the grill, perhaps. If that meat had been cooked slowly in a smoker like it should have been, it wouldn't taste boiled, would it? We can't figure out any other way to get that flavor.
The baked beans were pedestrian. The fried okra had no flavor, and the black eyed peas were mushy, but not in a good way. We can't even remember what the pulled pork tasted like. The cornbread was okay, and they even gave us a hefty edge piece ... and it's supposed to be dry, so we give that a pass.
The service was a combination of fast food ordering and waiting ... they even gave you a vibrating, light-up pager so they could mechanically stimulate you when your order was ready. Now ... if you cook barbecue the way the south claims to cook barbecue, the meat is ready from 3 to 24 hours after it's placed in the pit. That means that there should be no waiting for your food. It's either there already, or it's not available for sale. Why do they make you wait? And we waited for about 15 minutes in a mostly-empty restaurant. Does it take that long to assemble one piggy platter? We even got to bus the tray and drink to a table of our choice.
Maybe the meat was kept chilled or frozen, and it needed to be defrosted? Or maybe it sat around like some places do frenchfries — parcooked and cold, awaiting an order.
Maybe we should have paid attention to the sign outside which touted the cheeseburgers? What's a barbecue place doing pushing cheeseburgers?
Okay, it sounds like we were annoyed, and we were. When we tried the food, we were underwhelmed and it did give us resolve to try and make barbecue ourselves back up north. After all, a place deep in the concrete jungle like Blue Smoke makes better tasting barbecue!
The saving grace was indeed the sauce. The "Original Golden" is a mustard and vinegar based concoction which was not spicy really, and added a sort of browned sweetness and mild bite to the meat. The "Hickory Red" is a thinner tomato and vinegar mix; by 'thinner' we mean it's not thick and goopy like sauces originating further west. We tried to buy a three-pak containing these two sauces and a bottle of "Spicy Golden," but they were out. They did allow us to buy them individually at the slightly discounted price for the three-pak, but without the smart looking packaging.
We loved the sauce so much on our homemade pulled pork and ribs that we attempted to order a gallon of each online ... but their shopping cart wasn't working. They did wisely provide a telephone number, though no one was there to pick it up. We called the next day, and a very nice lady answered and took our order. They only ship out on Wednesdays. Of course, we had called early on Thursday ... but the nice lady said that if she was driving to Fedex-Kinko's, she'd take the box with her to drop off. We're glad she was nice, but we were awfully confused about why any order needed to wait till some allocated day to ship out?
Okay, so this report sounds snarky ... but we were disappointed in the meat. Deeply disappointed, especially considering the reputation of Bessinger's. We did love the sauce. The bathrooms and place were clean and not at all slippery. So if you are in need of a medium-speed type of place, stop at Bessinger's, which is across the street from a caryard called "Grandma's" or something like that. It features a large inflatable old lady standing on the roof. Really. Made us sing the "You Gotta Love Your Grandma" song by Adam Sandler as we turned onto the Old Savannah Highway again.
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