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Carlile's Barbecue

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Papa Joe is my mom’s daddy and one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.  He learned how to prepare dental equipment in the navy and eventually owned a dental equipment repair business.  He’d take me with him on service calls, which meant two really good things for me as a young teenager.  One, I got to meet all the pretty technicians at the dentist offices.  They’d say how cute I was and dog Papa about how I didn’t get any of my looks from him.  It was the same comedy bit at each office but it was fun every time.  Second, we’d usually eat lunch out, which was a real treat for me since we didn’t eat out a lot growing up.  Other than fast food the only place I remember him ever taking me was Carlile’s Barbecue.  I didn’t truly appreciate it then, but if there was any doubt that Papa was a genius, my return to Carlile’s after 35 years fixed that.

Going back was a bit of a nostalgic trip, but I didn’t really know what to expect.  Carlile’s was established in 1945, which usually means you’re doing something right.  The brick chimney faces the parking lot and was puffing smoke when I walked up.  That visual and the smell of smoke took my anticipation up a notch.  Step inside and I imagine it’s looked that way for most of its existence.  The pit is open to view, tongue and groove boards cover a portion of the walls, the rough-hewn wooden trim is painted red, and the booths have green and tan vinyl seats.  You can feel the building has seen a lot of history and continues to appeal to people.

One throw-back item that delighted me was the ketchup.  It’s silly to think about until they bring out Heinz ketchup in the glass bottle.  I tried to pour some and ended up slapping the bottom of the bottle with my off hand to get it to come out.  Growing up that was Heinz’s selling point, thick and rich.  Having to work for my ketchup took me back to the difficulty of pouring ketchup as an unskilled youngster and how effortless the old guys made it look.

The first thing that hit my senses was the smell of those fresh cut fries; skin on, salty, soft on the inside with a delicate crisp on the outside.  They’re totally legit.  I don’t know what type of oil they use but I could eat those fries until I became comatosed.

If backyard has a taste, the pork at Carlile’s is it.  Nothing fancy here, just smoky goodness. You can tell it’s cooked in a well-seasoned pit by a master because there’s a nice bark but it’s still moist and full of natural flavors.  It’s served chopped but it’s not pulverized, so every few bites you get a nice, big chunk that just melts in your mouth.  Uh, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

The pork comes topped with a brown sauce, which is really unique.  It’s a bit tangy with a hint of acid that hits the sides of your tongue.  The overall flavor is mild so it complements the pork and lets the natural flavors come through.  There is also a red sauce which is much sweeter.  It’s good but for my taste the brown sauce is much more balanced.

The baked beans are sweet, tender, and full of meat.  Check out the picture of the chunks that can be found in your serving.  I couldn’t identify all the flavors, they're just smokey, meaty heaven.  This was an old school plate of food.  No culinary voodoo, tricks, or techniques, just flavor from folks that know how to make simple food extraordinary.

If you’re looking for value this is also the place for you.  A plate with 1/4lb of pork, two sides, and a fried bun is $10.99.  These days it’s hard to get a plate and two sides for less than $14.  Then you consider the quality of the product for the price and it seems like Carlile’s is the one being ripped off.  If you feel guilty, leave an extra tip for your waitress.  Mine was constantly hustling and knew just how much to check in with me.

As I was leaving, I had two experiences that describe Carlile’s.  While paying I told the lady at the register that this was my first visit in at least 35 years.  She said, “Well, nothing’s changed.”  Then as I turned to exit, the man leaving in front of me with his take-out said, “See you next week.”  When we got outside I asked him about that.  He said, “Yeah.  I come here a lot.”

Papa Joe was right in taking me to Carlile’s.  I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to come back.

Bonus points for:

Coke products

Fountain drinks

Sauce on the table

TV with sports

Exceptional baked beans

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