Bar-B-Q King Drive-In

Bar-B-Q King Drive-In, Charlotte, NC.

I passed through Charlotte, NC today, and a sudden, smokey, urge for BBQ filled my mind. So, I whipped out my cellphone and Googled to find the best BBQ in Charlotte. Bam! It came up with bright lights and good reviews – Bar-B-Q King!

The next few minutes were filled with off-ramps, traffic lights, left turns and doing exactly what the lady in my GPS ordered me to do. BBQ King was happening, and it was happening NOW. I imagined the slow cooked, fall-off-the-bone, perfectly seasoned, smokey meats I was about to devour. After all, with a name like “Bar-B-Q King” what else could I expect?

I pulled in to the restarant and was imediately drawn to the lines of parking spots with menus, speakers and trays. The place looked like an old airport toll plaza turned into a restaurant. But who am I to sneer? Some of the best meals I’ve ever had came from shabbier places.  Besides, I have to admit that I’ve actually never eaten at a drive-in, and as I parked in my lane under the red roof, the whole concept seemed very entertaining.

I rolled down the window and took a gander at the menu. Po’ Boys, Sandwiches, Salads, Seafood… Seafood? At a BBQ restaurant? Ok.. I must be missing it, let me keep looking, I thought: Fried chicken, (fried chicken?), Ah here we go, BBQ Dinners. Something was suspicious about this menu. The word “Smokey” was nowhere in sight. There was seafood on the menu. And the dated photos showed images of meals you are more likely to find at a diner, or fried chicken place.  Where was the BBQ that I had been dreaming about for the past seventeen miles?

With some hesitation, I pressed the little red button on the speaker, and when the man asked me what I wanted, I ordered the closest thing to BBQ – the Pork and Chicken BBQ Combo. Surely, this would be what I was looking for. I mean, look at the sign out by the street, it says “Bar-B-Q”. Chickens and pigs are BBQ’d every day across America, so what was I worried about? Maybe I was being silly.

In a few minutes my meal was brought out to me by a hip old guy with a strut and swagger that only decades of self-confidence and gold earrings could build. He handed me a hot white cake box. I thanked him, put it on my lap, rolled up my window, and rubbed my hands together. This is it! I could feel it (I couldn’t smell it) but I could feel it! There is BBQ in this box! Smokey, tender, juicy, delicious BBQ! This stuff has probably been sitting in a warm smoker all day just waiting for me.

In 1986 I asked Santa for a real Megatron action figure that you put together from a bunch of smaller Transformer-like-action-figures, and what I got was a cheap, solid, plastic robot doll vaguely resembling something Japanese. It was clearly not Megatron, and I threw it off my balcony. Opening this box reminded me of Christmas in 1986.

Inside my BBQ King box were french fries, coleslaw, two fried hush puppies, and a pickle slice – all within BBQ regulations. The pork and the chicken, however, were not.. Not exactly. The pork was chopped and possibly fried, and the chicken was doused with all-purpose seasoning,  tossed in flour and deep-fried. They were both tossed with ketchup, vinegar and hot sauce. It was clear that these animals had never in their lives seen a smoker, or a grill. This was not Megatron!

Yes, I know that you can put BBQ sauce (or some semblance of it) on something and call it “BBQ” – referring to the fact that you put BBQ sauce on it – But I was expecting real barbeque, smoked, slow-cooked, juicy, and delicious.  Was I wrong to expect this?

It might make you happy to know that I did not toss it off the balcony (or out of the window). The hip older guy would have probably kicked my ass. I did eat it, and while I wouldn’t call it bad, I also would not particularly call it good,  and I definitely wouldn’t call it BBQ – I’d call it fried chicken and cooked pork with ketchup. It was just barely OK. The chicken was meh, with ketchup, and the pork was about as exciting as the chicken. Reminds me of something my high school cafeteria would have served with fries and brown gravy on the side.

While this did not elicit a positive review on my part, the experience left me with a growing curiosity of what the rest of the BBQ scene in Charlotte is like, and I plan on returning in a few days to see if I can find a real Megatron in a city that should be known for BBQ.