by Donna Byrd
Don’t let the location fool you. The humble storefront at the end of the little strip mall in the heart of Surf City is where you will find the best eastern North Carolina barbecue on Topsail Island and the surrounding mainland! I guarantee you will love it because I’ve had it and I know it’s good!
Yesterday, Bill and I were in the mood for some good ole BBQ, slaw and cornbread. We’d been hearing rave reviews about Surf City BBQ, so we decided we’d drive down the beach road and give it a try. North Carolinians are “funny” about their BBQ. They are very particular, judgmental and yes, even a bit snooty when it comes to the cooking of their pigs over a BBQ pit. We like it cooked “low and slow,” cleaver chopped, and doused with plenty of eastern style, vinegar based sauce. Having an eastern North Carolinian’s understanding of all things BBQ, we parked in front of the store and stepped out of the car and suddenly the aroma of a pig cooking over a fire filled my senses and took me back to my childhood.
I remember going to family “pig-pickin’s” at my Uncle Martin’s house in Tarboro, NC. My uncle would get up in the wee hours of the morning and put a whole hog over a charcoal and wood fire. It would cook for hours and as it did, the smell would permeate the neighborhood. Around noon or so., Uncle Martin would take part of the pig and lay it out on a wooden board and take out his prized possession, his meat cleaver. He’d chop the tender pork up into bits, pour his secret ingredient vinegar based sauce all over it and put it in a big metal pan and place it on the serving table. The adults would let us kids go first in the serving line because we had worked up a huge appetite playing tag and hide and seek. As we got older, we were allowed to actually go to the BBQ pit and “pick” or “pull” some of that succulent meat from the pig. Occasionally, the adults would give us a true prize: a rib! Nothing made us feel more grown up than chewing on a rib bone! Then, we’d go over to the long table and load up some regular BBQ, potatoes, slaw and hushpuppies. If we were lucky, one of our aunts would have made some Brunswick stew in a black iron kettle and cooked it over a fire. We’d top our plate’s off with a big spoon full of that and head over to a sit at a low table with our cousins.
Those days were some of the best memories of my childhood. It’s funny, that stepping out of my car and smelling the wonderful aroma of a pig cooking, brought back some of those memories in an instant. We walked into the restaurant and were taken with it’s southern, country charm. There were license tags, road signs and captions of southern places of interest adorning the walls. We walked up to the counter and as luck would have it, the owner and master chef of Surf City BBQ, Guy Royal and his lovely wife, Rebecca were all in the kitchen getting ready for the onslaught of lunch patrons. We were able to speak with them for a few minutes and ask about what makes Surf City BBQ so special. Food has a way of connecting you to memories and Surf City BBQ certainly did that for me! Royal said his BBQ joint “serves up the pig, the whole pig, and nothin’ but the pig.” When the whole pig is cooked over a pit, he takes it and cleaver chops ALL the meat, not just the cheaper cuts. That way, twelve different cuts and twelve distinctive flavors make up the best Southeastern NC BBQ. Other popular meats cooked for our choosing are apple wood smoked chicken and beef brisket, fried flounder and shrimp. The slaw is perfect because the slaw that is served alongside BBQ must complement the meat perfectly.
There is a chalk board near the ordering station that announces the day’s special. The day we were there, it was a Jambalaya casserole, a rice based dish filled with chicken, pork, shrimp, and cheese. Bill got it so that we could both have some of that and I got a BBQ plate. We both shared that also. It was as if I were a ten-year-old little girl again, back at my Uncle Martin’s house, chowing down on the best BBQ anyone had ever tasted! We were too full for dessert, but I heard they were the best. They make a banana pudding that will set the bar for the rest of your life on how to judge all other banana puddings. I’ve set the bar really high for them on that. I plan to have some next time I’m in there!
Surf City BBQ also does catering. They will work with you for any events. My daughter, Natalie, is getting married here at Topsail in April and she wants a pig pickin’ for her wedding reception. I think I know what restaurant I’m going to depend on to alleviate my stress for that day! A pig-pickin’ is a good choice for a casual, beach wedding and I know Guy Royal and his family could fix us a feast to celebrate that special day. I checked on the Facebook page for Surf City BBQ and noticed that this family also serves food for local charities and their events. I’m always impressed to see local businesses and restaurants serve their community. I don’t mind buying my dinner at restaurants that give to others. When you mix a love for people with BBQ sauce, you get a recipe for success every time!