When people ask me where I’m from, I tell them Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This makes it easy, ’cause if I told them where I actually was raised – a little place called Pittsboro – I’d have to follow it up by saying how my hometown is about 2o miles away from that famous college, known for those NCAA ass-kickings and a mean ol’ bitter basketball rivalry with a small school that graduated one or two famous folks since way back in the day. Just seems like too much trouble to go into all the details. It wasn’t anything fancy – just a sleepy little Southern spot, mostly good for passing through.
But, you know, if there is one thing to say about the sticks along those Southern backroads, it’s that ya’ll never tasted better Southern food, nowhere.
And this is why I’m troubled by Mattie’s Southern Kitchen.
Look here, I’ve gone on and on about tea-smoked duck and – on my wine blog – I’ve run my trap about kosher wines for all them Jew holidays. I know I can talk city when I want to. But Momma knows her collard greens and her grits, honey. I’ve been dying for Carolina BBQ like nobody’s business. In my world, fried chicken has its very own food group and, I swear, it’s up at the top of the pyramid – right there by the biscuits.
When I found Mattie’s, I was beside myself with joy. I ordered me a lunch plate, and I kept it simple: A piece of chicken, a serving of BBQ and a biscuit. Let’s be honest here, these are the things that matter most.
Oh, Lordy, Lordy. Such a shame.
Now, the chicken was good. It felt near to home as I’ve had out here. The same crunch, the same texture on the breading. The seasoning was tasty – although too salty. If I had ordered sides with my lunch (which I chose not to do, since a biscuit, BBQ and fried chicken already contained more fat and calories than my drawers could deal with), it would’ve run me $11. Feels a bit high, in my book, to spend $11 on a plate and only get a chicken leg. But maybe that’s how folks got to do in the big city.
The biscuit. Heaven help me. Doughy. Not light and buttery. When someone pulls apart a biscuit, it should separate into two soft halves of flaky, pillowy deliciousness. It ought to be somewhat crumbly. The consistency needs to be porous enough to allow creamy pats of butter and slow, golden rivers of honey to saturate the eager sponge of calorific magic. This biscuit was not that. This biscuit was thick and heavy. It was the Wynonna Judd of biscuits, compared to a yeasty version of her sister Ashley. It’s enough to make a girl cry.
And, finally, the BBQ.
Out here in Los Angeles, seems to me that when most folks talk BBQ, they’re thinking about Texas Q or Kansas City style. They mean that thick, brown sugar sauce that works so well on ribs, but was never intended to go on pulled pork. The flavoring for that – the way God intended – is a traditional East Carolina tart and tangy apple cider vinegar and pepper sauce, and the meat (generally a butt or shoulder roast) is slow cooked and so soft and tender that it just melts in your mouth.
Mattie got the sauce right. Bless those little truckers, it tasted like home. But there was nothing right about the consistency of the meat. For comparison, I must show you this photograph, taken by the talented Alaina B., from flickr fame. Her meal was from Allen and Sons – hands down – the best East Carolina Q there is.
Go ahead and scroll up, sugar, I’ll wait right here for you to finish.
You see what I mean?
Now, I know people on a truck can’t slow-roast their pork over a wood fire like they do down at the Allen and Sons, but it really ought to be have a similar texture. And tough and stringy just won’t cut it.
I love that Mattie’s is named after chef Chris Rattican’s Momma and Daddy’s housekeeper, who taught him how to fix her recipes. Gracious, I’m not saying he doesn’t mean well.
He just doesn’t have good food.
And ’cause of that, Mattie’s truck peoples, ya’ll just totally broke my heart.