Two James Beard Award-nominated chefs team up to make North Carolina’s Eastern-style barbecue in Asheville at Buxton Hall BBQ.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Step into Buxton Hall BBQ and you’ll find a good time vibe hanging in the air. That might be ghost of birthday parties past, because this restaurant is housed in a former roller skating rink.
“Wouldn’t it be fun if the servers were on skates?” I half-joked to my dining companion.
“I’m sure they’re grateful they’re not,” she said.
Besides, food is taken way too seriously here for such a gimmick. And it’s too good to risk dropping a bite. This is the sort of food that makes you smile and come back for more.
Buxton Hall BBQ opened in August 2015 as a partnership between Chef Elliott Moss (who was nominated for Best Chef Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2013 while at The Admiral Restaurant in Asheville) and Chef Meherwan Irani (who was nominated twice by the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast for his Chai Pani Restaurants, which launched in Asheville). Buxton Hall is already a favorite with the locals who’ve discovered it, but it’s new enough that not everyone in town knows about the place (so you may still get a table): Our friends at 1889 WhiteGate Inn & Cottage first heard about it from us over breakfast.
In North Carolina, there are two styles of barbecue, according to my dining companion, Buxton Hall’s website, and the Washington Post. “Eastern style is whole hog spiked with a thin vinegar-pepper sauce…. The meat is cooked slowly over coals from hardwood (usually oak, but sometimes hickory) incinerated in a burn barrel by a pitman who shovels the embers 16 to 20 inches beneath the meat,” notes the Washington Post.
Buxton Hall cooks up Eastern-N.C.-style BBQ, though Asheville is in Western North Carolina. The chefs at Buxton Hall pit smoke whole hogs for 18 hours at a low temperature over hardwood coals, infused with “vinegar mop,” based on Chef Elliott Moss’ family recipe.
The hogs are all pasture raised from local farms. The name of the hog currently on the menu is written on a chalkboard near the kitchen, as is the name of the guest chef if one happens to be working in the kitchen; don’t confuse the two.
The “whole hog” concept is arguably what’s most unusual in these parts. But, in my experience, once you cross the state line into North Carolina, good luck finding any barbecue sauce that isn’t vinegar based. It’s not only a state favorite, most fans of the sauce are avid, die-hard, in-your-face fans of the stuff—the sort who can’t understand how and why you might not share their enthusiasm for sour tartness. Here at Buxton Hall, this North Carolina-style barbecue sauce is not—fortunately, if (like me) you don’t like vinegar—the only sauce on tables. Among the bottle lineup there’s also South Carolina-style mustard-based sauce (Chef Moss was raised in S.C., after all) and an Alabama-style white sauce for chicken. But where is Georgia-style sauce? (If you don’t already know, Georgia-style barbecue sauce is tomato based and typically a balance of spicy and sweet flavor notes.) Georgia-style is available at Buxton Hall, but it’s a secret sauce: You have to ask your server for it, s/he won’t mention it otherwise. (It’s kept warm in the kitchen. We discovered its availability accidentally and are tipping you off so you don’t miss it.)
We started with smoked pimento cheese ($7). “It’s the best pimento cheese I’ve ever had!” said my dining companion, who lives in Asheville. “And everyone I bring here says the same thing.” It is darn good, and is served with crackers, pickles and fruit preserves.
The buttermilk fried chicken filet ($11) is served on a toasted bun with bread & butter pickles, white barbecue sauce, pimento and American cheese. It’s arguably one of the world’s best chicken sandwiches.
A plate of the pulled whole hog barbecue ($14) comes with slaw plus a choice of two sides. (Additional sides are $3.25 each.) You cannot go wrong with chipotle black eyed peas, Brussels sprouts “cooked under the pig,” root vegetable mash and gravy, and/or spicy collard greens. The meat is smoked to perfection.
Save room for dessert, because a slice of the butterscotch cream pie ($7) is worth the calorie splurge. It’s got a vanilla wafer crust, creamy butterscotch filling and is topped with vanilla whipped cream and salted pretzel toffee. The concoction is certainly one of the world’s sweetest treats.
Buxton Hall BBQ is destination dining at its locavore best.
Buxton Hall BBQ
32 Banks Ave.
- Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m.
- In addition to daily specials, every Sunday features fried chicken and every Thursday features St. Louis-style ribs.
- Odds of Encountering Children: High, but it doesn’t matter. The atmospheric volume in this place tends to muffle the chatter from neighboring tables, though thankfully you can still hear your own dining companions easily enough. Plus anyway the food is too good to miss.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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