Even after living in the Chapel Hill area for two years, I never made it over to the NC barbeque icon, Allen & Son. I had to move out to Raleigh before I made this porky pilgrimage, go figure. And after my first visit, I understood why, Allen & Son is pretty hard to find! No website online, when you're a classic eatery you don't really need one. Head north up on Route 86 and watch out for a weathered and worn, low-slung house to your left. Trees shield Allen & Son until you're on top of it and the only real signage is well-hidden. However if you cross the railroad tracks you've gone to far, the main thing to look for is a slew of cars parked out front. Once you're able to find a spot in the gravel lot, head on inside to this classic Southern eatery.
Out front, Allen & Son has a long, narrow dining room, my guess is that it was once a porch. Inside, it's country simple with knick-knacks and antiques. Waitstaff will find a table for you and slap down some plastic covered menus . And it's a pretty basic menu: Eastern NC barbeque, ribs, and some country sides. Order up some sweet tea and you'll get a small pitcher of sweetened sugar water so you can mix it to your exact tastes, very cool. I've tried quite a bit from the menu: barbeque, ribs, slaw, brunswick stew, potato salad and hushpuppies.
The barbeque is definitely the way to go, I'd recommend the que sandwich, hushpuppies and maybe some brunswick stew. The ribs here are beautiful, they come out well-browned with a nice glaze. But I have to confess, they look great but are a bit fatty and not the leading star. The que at Allen & Son is tender, lightly smoked, pulled to a medium consistency with a hint of vinegar and pepper, really tasty and well-done. Believe it or not, I like the que better at the Pittsboro location but man does not live by meat alone. What really makes Allen & Son - Chapel Hill a great eating spot are the wonderful sides. The hushpuppies are large with a thick cornmeal crust. Just the right amount of sweet, onion and crunch. The coleslaw is amazingly good! Finely chopped, crisp and a mixture of sweet and tang, the perfect accompaniment to the savory, barbeque. The potato salad is yellowed and made of red-skinned potatoes. And the brunswick stew? A nice melange of tomato-base, beans and corn, really satisfying stuff.
And if you can make it to dessert, try one of the home-made cobbler with ice cream, a perfect ending to your meal. Luscious fruit and pastry along with the cool sweetness of home-made ice cream, delicious! I've always wanted to do an Allen & Son pie but it always seems a bit excessive after all the other calories. Allen & Son is not cheap by barbeque standards but portions are large and hearty. Service is effective but a bit more brusque than you would expect at a Southern restaurant. But this place is usually b-u-s-y so I can understand why.
While I will definitely make the effort to come here from time to time, Allen & Son can be a bit inconsistent with the food and service. My first visit was like pork nirvana but my subsequent visits have been a bit mixed. I can't exactly put my finger on it but there's always enough goodness at Allen & Son to make it worth the effort. So thank you Mr. Allen and a thank you to your Son. I'm not sure if you still exist but thankfully your barbeque still does. Just make sure to check their hours before you make the trip, since they can be a bit odd. And if you're looking for other great eats in the UNC Chapel Hill area, check out my earlier post for visitors to the area. So bon appetit, y'all, don't miss out on this que classic tucked up in north Chapel Hill.
Allen & Son
1801 Millhouse Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27516