Waking up in a hotel room in downtown Charlotte was awesome today. We felt like we had just gotten off a rocking ship after 8 days of RV living. True to nature, Brian and Ben couldn’t resist getting out early to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Drew and I happily stayed behind. But one last BBQ adventure was left and the power of twitter brought a great last expedition to life.
With the timing set, bags packed, and all in the car, we set off for Bridges BBQ Lodge in Shelby, NC. You have to know that over the past visits to well known joints, the obligatory Brian pic in front of the sign embarrassed the boys ( there is so much more that they were embarrassed by but they’d have to write their own blog if they cared enough to share) As we took pictures in front of this classic restaurant, built in the 50’s and a local hotspot, a gentleman walked up to us and said ‘You aint from around here I take are you?’ The nicest man, we ended up having quite a long chat with him, hearing the whole history about Bridges. Once inside, he ordered his food to go and stopped once again to say goodbye.
In the meantime, Andrew and his wife and darling daughter joined us. It’s amazing how the love of good teaching and technology can connect people from different parts of the country in ways that would have never happened in the past. It was great to get to know Andrew and his family face to face. As much as I appreciate the connections tech can bring, nothing beats gathering around a table.
Our food arrived, and to our surprise, our order of pulled pork sandwiches and hushpuppies was quadrupled. The sweet man from the parking lot, wanting us to sample it all, purchased beans, chicken, onion rings, and potato salad for us! We sampled it all, just a taste, I seriously think I will be full for the next week. This was the last kind of BBQ we were waiting to try- Western BBQ- chopped pork with a vinegar/tomato based sauce- not the thick sweet kind you would think. It also is well known for it’s red cole slaw. Diced cabbage with more of the vinegar, tomato sauce. Put it altogether and it was a combination that was incredible. The boys loved the hushpuppies and gladly took a doggy bag of the leftover ones for the airplane ride home.
Making connections, trying new things, seeing new places….this trip was not just about eating. It was about showing our boys how others live and the places they call home. It was about slowing down, spending time together and seeing a side of the country, explored through the culture of BBQ. We did eat a lot, plans of salads and workouts are already filling our heads as we go back to our busy, calendar driven lives. The memories of the places we explored will undoubtably stay with us forever. We went in search of great BBQ, and found it, but also found great people and connected in a way that technology can’t do. This was our first family vacation since my parents had gotten sick and passed. Maybe it was a greater journey of sorts, to see some family roots, regroup, and remind ourselves what our place is and how are we connecting with each other and those around us every day.
We woke up this morning to 28 degrees outside and 40 degrees inside- the heater went out! Im not sure if that made it harder or easier to get up and get packing. It was time to end our tour and get the RV back to it’s home in Charlotte by 11 a.m. But that doesn’t mean the road trip couldn’t continue- just a change in vehicles and drivers.
When we started the whole voyage, I hadn’t shared photos of where we picked up the RV, I think I was in shock when the taxi dropped us off here, thinking what did we get ourselves into. Now after 8 days traveling around the south, it was kind of bittersweet to see it end.
Then we got over it, hopped in the new rental car and set off for Chapel Hill to visit University of North Carolina, a school that Ben dreams of playing lacrosse for one day. We tried to ignore the 2hr drive, really, when else would we have the opportunity to do this? It was time well spent.Oh, plus a detour to Kannapolis to see Dale Earnhardt’s memorial statue. (I can’t believe we just happen to drive past that town)
The campus was so beautiful. Old historic buildings, a cute downtown, and lacrosse fields right next to the dorms. It was instant love for Ben. (Granted he’s in 8th gr, but he is a planner like his folks!)
We waited, not eating all day for the BBQ experience we had to go after now that we were in East Carolina. I can’t believe how much I know about all of this now. First of all, they are not called restaurants- it’s either a BBQ joint or place based on the size of the eatery. East Carolina BBQ is whole hog- they use everything but the snout and serve it with cole slaw and a vinegar, red pepper sauce. (It is a runny liquid, no tomato!) This is the pulled pork that I grew up on, my dad spent years perfecting his sauce and he was an amazing BBQ master himself. This was the BBQ experience I was waiting for and Allen & Sons, in Pittsboro, just outside of Chapel Hill delivered. The whole joint was everything you would imagine Carolina BBQ to be- small, no frills, with very few things to order.
Listed on the menu was ‘BBQ dinner’- being the CA rookie I am, even at this point, I asked ‘What meat does that include?’ The college student waitress looked at me perplexed and said ‘It’s Pig’, like duh lady. We went with the pulled pork sandwiches, Ben had to go no bun, and hushpuppies.
They serve the sandwich with amazing cole slaw with lots of black pepper and a bottle of vinegar sauce on the side. Honestly, the best pulled pork of the entire trip, and for only $4.25. It is amazing how food can bring back such good memories as I felt like my dad was right there with us!
We made the 2hr trek back to downtown Charlotte for a night stay at a hotel. Warm, showers, relaxing, and a huge culture shock compared to where we were just 24hrs prior.
Tomorrow, Ben and Brian are off to explore the NASCAR hall of fame and as much of a team player as I am, I’m really happy to be taking a pass on this experience. I do think Brian has just one more BBQ joint in mind before we board our 5:00 flight back to reality. My last post will be the official road trip awards.
Every day we travel to our next destination, seeing great small towns as we go, with Google Maps guiding us faithfully. We look up RV parks as we go and seem to have the routine down now- just pull into a spot and pay in the morning. Last night was quite a ride- maps took us the backroads route. It was pitch dark at 6pm, no street lights, just woods…oh and no cell service.
We absolutely had no idea where we were, yet Google maps kept talking to us. We were so grateful to finally find the RV park and the nicest man to welcome us at the gate. He obviously wanted to chat it up with someone and I just wanted to listen to his awesome southern drawl as he described his New Year’s dinner of Black Eyed Peas and Collard greens. He went on to share about the bathroom issues he will pay with later…hilarious and calming after such a blind drive.
The storm continued on all night, pounding on this dinky RV, and in the morning, we awoke to a beautiful sight- we were right on Lake Tobesofkee in Macon, Georgia.
Sadly we are on the last legs of the trip as we head back towards Charlotte by Friday. Our last stop on the road in the RV is Maurice’s Piggie Park in Columbia, South Carolina.
Maurice is famous for pulled pork sandwiches, but not the kind my west coast friends may be thinking of. These shredded pork sandwiches are tossed with yellow mustard BBQ sauce, served on a bun, and that’s it. It doesn’t look so pretty in the picture, but it does taste good. If you like mustard, this is a win. I’m a big fan of this sauce and can’t wait to try it on our own version of pulled pork at home. We tried their famous hash, served with rice, and well, we tried it. Hushpuppies are always good around here!
We were all so full from a week of eating, it was hard to finish anything. Maurice’s is a great option for those on the go- a fast food BBQ joint with 14 locations around the Columbia area. Plus, it’s located right down the street from the first RV park we stayed at- The Barnyard! It is blowing out there tonight- huge storm coming in!
We survived New Years in New Orleans! We were awake at midnight celebrating in the RV, with a mix of fireworks and gunshots going off well into the morning hours! We had a long day ahead of us, so we set off early to make it to Ocean Springs, Mississippi to the Shed, the 3rd of the big three visits we had to make.
For this portion of the blog, we recommend listening to this song since it has never been so fitting as it was today:
The Shed Barbeque and Blues Joint is one of the most unique places I’ve seen this entire trip. I wish all my Chico friends could have joined me here, y’all would LOVE this place.
The owner started it by piecing together scraps of wood, and literally just kept going. It is like a big fort with so many eclectic memories added everywhere you look. The ground inside is gravel, you sit at long picnic tables, and food is served on cafeteria trays. There are stages, gathering spots, and more tables all over the property that we were imagining filled with college students and bands all summer long- along with the heat and lots of mosquitoes!
Oh, and the BBQ…. well, again compared to what I normally get to have in CA. this was outstanding, but we’ve been to some of the best places in the country and just saying, the competition is tough. If you like a wet rib, sloppy, ‘fall off the bone when you pick it up’, then this is the rib for you. The sauce was amazing, the meat was tender and there wasn’t one of us complaining but…… they were not our favorites. Of the Big 3… we are split between Big Bob Gibson and Memphis BBQ Co. still reigning as champs. The sausage and pulled pork were really good, lots of sauce on them!
I loved the location, the vibe, and we enjoyed some of the best BBQ we’ve had here, but it was time to set off on a very long day of driving! 6 hours to Macon, Georgia and we still don’t know where we are staying. Gotta love the multiple devices and wifi hotspot in the RV!
Ah, a brief departure from BBQ as we made our way south to New Orleans for New Year’s Eve. What perfect timing to be in such an amazing place! We left Slidell, not impressed, it was a park and sleep stop for sure, and headed into the city to the most interesting RV park of them all.
We were perplexed with what to do with the RV (The Bulls Eye, as Brian has nicknamed it) in the city- parking was a major challenge, leaving it was asking for issues…then we found Jude RV park, 15 min. outside of the French Quarters. Driving in, we could see it was a rough neighborhood and the park was just a long narrow lot full of parking spaces, with a big iron gate to lock us in at night. But one thing this trip has taught me, looks can be deceiving- a place is all about the people and the owners w ere so nice to us. They shuttled us to and from the French Quarters, made sure the RV was safe all day, it may not have been the Ritz, but it was perfect for us.
This was our first trip to NOLA after years of wanting to visit. We ended up walking the whole French Quarter, up and down the streets exploring shops, watching people, and of course trying some good creole cooking. Taking the boys down Bourbon street was quite an education- the Sugar Bowl was being played on the 2nd and many ‘Bama fans had begun filling the Quarter. The best was taking the St. Charles street car down to the garden district, going through the French Market, and of course Cafe Du Monde.
We ate at Deanie’s where we had the best BBQ shrimp I’ve ever tasted (it’s a theme), Crawfish Étouffée, gumbo, and catfish. When you sit down, they serve a plate of boiled potatoes- seriously need to make these, trust me, boil 10 min. in crab boil till soft. Seems like many people are talking about them also! Of course more local brews for New Years!
We had to get back to the RV by 9, our shuttle was not going past then, it was raining, and crowds were growing. Once back, the boys couldn’t wait to go out back to the train tracks to light their fire works. Good thing we stopped and got those! You can only imagine where we were at this point- something we will always remember for sure! This is one city I need to visit again, maybe next time with just adults and a hotel….who’s in with us? Happy New Year everyone!
Waking up next to Graceland was all I needed for that bucket list item, no tour necessary, but getting to the Civil Rights Museum was must before heading out of town. We woke up to snow- not enough to get the boys to wear pants though
The Lorraine Motel, the location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, has been preserved to commemorate such a great man. I had no idea the impact the setting would be until walking around the block to the front of the motel- it was silent except for the recording of Mahalia Jackson singing “Precious Lord” over a loud recording. Everything else was quiet.
It was very a very moving tribute, but I have to say, what added to the experience for us was talking with Jacqueline Smith, a protester of the sight for almost 26 years. Jacqueline was the last resident at the Lorraine Motel, evicted because they were closing it to build the memorial. Her point is very clear- it’s wrong to make money off of his death and not continue with his work. The whole area around the motel used to be affordable for the poor to live, now million dollar apartments have taken over pushing the poor out again. Jacqueline was very kind, passionate, and amazingly dedicated to be committed to this cause for so long. Her website has a lot more detail: http://fulfillthedream.net/pages/mlk.jsmith1.html
As we were talking to her, the buses carrying the Mississippi State football team, in town for the Liberty Bowl pulled up. ( I did tweet out Brian’s awesome welcome video, did you see it? Classic Brian!)
We wanted to be able to take a drive through Jackson, Mississippi, another town I lived in during the 70’s (we moved 13 times!) but it was too far away and we had a long drive ahead, but first BBQ! The Memphis BBQ Co. owned and operated by Melissa Cookston.
You might have seen her on BBQ Pitmasters. She’s a legend and one of the Big 3 of our roadtrip. (Big Bob Gibson, and The Shed-still to come are the others) Southern hospitality was at its finest here as we had to talk to everyone, gleaning BBQ tips where ever we could. From one of the pitmasters outside, in the snow, pulling ribs out of the smoker, to a visit from Melissa herself.
We started with pork rinds (no thanks) , and cheese fritters- so good, sitting in a honey dijon sauce.
Then we had the ribs, smoked with pecan wood which is more subtle than the traditional hickory, so it doesn’t overpower the meat with smoke. The sauces were not too sweet and not too spicy in order to bring out the flavor in the meat. Because of this, these were Brian’s favorite so far. The platter (we shared 1) also had amazing sausage, and brisket which had great flavor and a perfect smoke ring. Since this trip is about sampling food (we cant eat all this food btw, we have this down now- order one plate, then one of their specialties to share)
Melissa personally recommended we try to donut burger, a huge hit in the restaurant. Who knew that was a thing, but I have to say the salty and the sweet combo….an amazing bite for sure! The BBQ spaghetti was just as it sounds- spaghetti with BBQ sauce. The boys have liked sampling Mac & Cheese the whole way as well (everything comes with 2 sides!) and this one was great. After more sauce, rub, and t-shirt purchases. We were on our way to the longest drive yet- 6 hrs. straight through Mississippi to get to Slidell, just outside of New Orleans.
We have hit an all time high for crazy BBQ food consumption today. We are after all in Memphis, Tennessee and with so many choices and so little hours in the day, we had to make it work!
We woke up to the sound of gun shots this morning…duck hunters. Ah, to be on the waterfront in Alabama. It rained all night which was interesting in the RV, especially since the top vents leaked and the ground was pretty swamped and muddy. Needless to say the RV is not so clean anymore.
As we started our drive to Memphis, we made an 8 mile detour to Florence, Alabama- the town I lived in briefly in the early 70’s. I fell in love with the cute town and the beautiful homes, thinking my parents must have loved living there. It was more emotional than I expected, still missing my mom so much, but it felt so lucky to get to be there for just a brief visit. If you haven’t seen the Instagram video I took- check out, I’m lhighfill on Instragram.
Ken Hess, @Hossbbgbbq, from Big Bob Gibson’s recommended we go to Gus’s Fried Chicken when we got to Memphis, and when a pit master says it’s good, well you have to go there. It was unanimous, we LOVED this chicken. It was unlike any we had ever tasted before- peppery, spicey, crisp, moist, and hot. Since this was just a sampler, we just shared a couple of pieces and some fried pickles, well because you have to right? Why can’t Gus come to California? We are seriously missing out!
Next up was Jim Neely’s Interstate BBQ. This was a joint that I pictured all of our stops to be like, no frills, down home cooking. We again just got some ribs to share- they were wet, fall off the bone delicious (but too wet and too fall off for our preference) They did come with some of the best cole slaw and baked beans ever. I really need to learn how to make the beans.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on Beale Street in Memphis.(Parking our obnoxious RV was not an easy task- we really stood out like a soar thumb- some guy flagged us down and said he’d watch it in his lot for $5- we gave him $20 and our trust) So much history, cool places for beverages, and amazing music. I felt as if I’d stepped into another world walking down that street. I could have easily spent a few evenings in many of those famous clubs.
My favorite shop was A. Schwab’s Dry Goods. It was an eclectic assortment mixed with historic and unique items to purchase. I spent most of my time upstairs getting lessons on Voodoo, Hoodoo, Mojo hands and other good luck charms. (You do know I’m extremely superstitious!)
And if that wasn’t enough food for one day, we had to go to the top rated BBQ in Memphis, Central BBQ, just past the most beautiful houses in the historic district of Central Gardens. We waited in line to order, not able to resist some Memphis style ribs and their famous pork nachos. The verdict was split on the ribs- 1 loved, 3 ok. Don’t get me wrong, they are way better than anything I’ve had West of the Sierra Nevadas, but they were not Big Bob Gibsons. The nachos were the big hit of the night. BBQ sauce, cheese sauce (not canned) shredded pork, and cheese and amazing tortilla chips. Another ‘must make at home’, that is after months of BBQ detox.
Brian and I made one last effort to get a night cap in the one and only Heartbreak Hotel, yes we are staying in the Graceland RV park, right across from Graceland. (Of course we are, when in Memphis right?!) We aren’t going on the tour though, is that wrong? We still need to get to the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated and which now hold the National Civil Rights Museum. Then we are off to travel all the way through Mississippi. ( I got Brian to skip the 17 mile tour through the Vicksburg Civil War Park- phew!) Who knows where we will end up. Feel free to tweet any suggestions (preferably near the Gulf Coast!) to @lhighfill or @brianhighfill .
Normally I would start off with what we did today. But the highlight today was the BBQ, so it deserves to go first. In downtown Decatur, Alabama you will find a treasure- Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ http://www.bigbobgibson.com/ . Chris Lilly @ChrisLillyBBQ and Ken Hess @Hossbbgbbq are the Pit Masters in this traditional BBQ joint. You may have seen Chris on many BBQ shows as a contestant and judge- his numerous trophies and awards displayed as you walk in.
We ordered a combo platter to share (getting smart about this) including ribs, pulled pork, sliced brisket, ball tip brisket chunks, smoked chicken, and smoked turkey. It was all amazing, really beyond any BBQ I’ve ever tasted (us poor CA folk),
but I have to say, the best part was trying all of their amazing sauces. It was hard to choose between the champion competition red sauce, and their world famous original white sauce (tangy and peppery).
Then Ken, who was so nice to spend time with us, brought out the Habanero red sauce, and the Mustard sauce- amazing! I just kept trying different combos of meat and sauce not able to settle on a favorite.Biggest surprise- the smoked Turkey- not kidding, it was amazing, especially with the mustard sauce. We ended up with an entire case of sauces and rubs to take home with us! A wonderful birthday dinner at a very memorable place.
We did have an adventurous day, driving from Cartersville, Georgia, up north through Chattanooga, Tennessee then down river valley and over to Huntsville. We tweeted our way through the drive (@lhighfill or on Instagram- lhighfill), as the boys went crazy over the multiple fireworks stores where they sell fireworks, beer, and gas. I can’t believe we stopped, and purchased! I am so outnumbered on this trip!
In Huntsville, Brian got the experience he was waiting for- the US Space and Rocket Center- from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. http://rocketcenter.com/ As if the fireworks were not enough, we got to see all the big guns and rockets. It was a great place to explore, not on my personal bucket list, but hey, this is the #highfillfratroadtrip now isn’t it.
So as I sit here in the dark, listening to the rain beat on the rv, again, I have no idea where we are since we arrived in the dark after dinner, down a long dirt road, full of potholes. At least it’s warm in here! I thought I’d share the view as we pulled in (updates to follow in the morning!)
I love how we pull into these obscure RV parks that Google Maps takes us to after dark, having no idea where we are, only to rise in the morning to a surprise location. The Barnyard RV park just outside of Columbia was just what we needed.
Off we went to Stone Mountain Park in Georgia about 30 min. outside of Atlanta. Have you heard of this place? The largest high relief sculpture in the world of famous confederates – Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and President Jefferson Davis.
It gave a chance to get a hike in, the quest to touch Stone Mountain was a must do this trip.
A Stone Mountain selfie… that is the tram straight up!
Ben and Drew are sort of tolerating my camera, but later at the BBQ place, I was being an ’embarrassing tourist’.
We left Stone Mountain in search of Atlanta’s best BBQ and did we ever find it. I was just sorry to be driving there in the dark through the little five points area, amazing homes in a beautiful area. For all of you going to #iste14 in Atlanta this year, somehow you have to find your way to the Fox Brothers BBQ.
The wait was worth it, we soaked in the sights and smells having local brews- Sweetwater Festive Ales
There were so many great things to try here that we ordered the big sampler and shared. Smoked dry ribs with a side of sweet,spicy sauce and indulgent chicken fried ribs were amazing hits. The boys loved the chicken wings the best, and pulled pork, although amazing was a close third to the ribs. Good thing we shared!
We all sampled Frito Pie- brisket with chili and Fritos…it was ok, we actually left most of it because we were so full!
So the rankings so far:
Drew-1. Hudsons 2. Fox Bros Ben- 1. Fox Bros 2. Hudsons
Brian- 1. Fox Bros 2. Hudsons Lisa- 1. Fox Bros 2. Hudsons
We drove off north of Atlanta getting to see lots of the downtown as we went and now we are down for the night somewhere in the dark with no idea where we are! (I still need to get this heater working, it’s freezing in here!)
Tomorrow, off to the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
For those that know Brian and I, we are very planned people- love to research, coordinate, plot our every move. For this trip we are making a very conscious effort to ‘wing it’ and go where the road takes us. We made it to Charlotte without fail, took a taxi to the RV rental location and we were on our way. The amount of devices in this rig is ridiculous- two laptops, one Chromebook, an iPad, four iPhones- good 4g and a wifi hotspot. Ok, so spontaneous is taking another form….we are planning as we go? Seriously, I love Google Maps. It is saving us!
So on to our first BBQ experience…..
Hudson’s Smokehouse is a true Southern Carolina hotspot just outside of Columbia in the small town of Lexington. In a state known most for their mustard vinegar sauce, this proved to be a win for the Highfills.
You can sort of see the RV peeking out from behind the smokehouse, where Brian seriously wanted to hang out for awhile. They specialize in ribs, pulled pork, and are well known for their traditional side dishes.
It was Thursday rib night! $0.99 each. We showed restrain ordering just one wet and one dry order. Best wins for the night were the hushpuppies, the pulled pork with mustard sauce, the catfish, and the wet ribs.
Bummed that they were out of sauce for sale, we will be emailing them when we return for sure.
We did plan ahead for a place to stay tonight just a few miles away, pulling the lovely Cruise America vessel into a spot in the dark with no idea where we are except for what Google Maps has told us. So far the tight quarters are quaint, and cozy. We spent the rest of the night teaching the boys how to play cribbage. Of course they won, beginners luck.
Tomorrow is going to be a great day as we head to Atlanta for lots of adventures.
For years we have talked about traveling across the country in an RV in search of great BBQ. It was always concluded with someday….Well it appears that day is here! We are about to embark on a journey from Charlotte, NC to Memphis TN exploring great BBQ masters, historical sites, some college sports, and maybe even some Nascar.
For those that know us, and the frat house I live in these days, it has been a year full of some great highs and lows. It’s definitely time for us to have some fun. I tried for the beach resort/ relaxation trip which got shot down. This road trip is my teenage boys’ + one older boy’s idea of a dream vacation, and if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. So here we go!
For my part, I’ll be exploring many ways to share this experience using lots of digital tools and media….always a geek. Follow along to see where the road takes us!