NC barbeque is one of those Southern, regional favorites that has to be treated with some respect. So I was excited to hear that Chef Ben Adams (formerly at Piedmont Restaurant) was opening up a new barbeque joint in northwest Durham. I had high expectations and always found his food at the Piedmont to be subtlety delicious. Great ingredients prepared with some talented hands and I was curious to see what Picnic would bring to barbeque. Unfortunately, Picnic’s location in a slightly remote corner of Durham meant it was going to require a special trip to sample his cuisine but where there’s a will, there’s a way! I had a great excuse for an early dinner (or really late lunch) and shot over to Picnic at 4pm on a Saturday. Here’s how it went down.
First thing to note is that Picnic sits right at the intersection of Cole Mill and Rose of Sharon roads and it’s a bit tricky trying to get in. Coming from the south, I had to drive by, do a u-turn and take a right into the first entrance (or do a semi-legal left across a double-yellow). The second entrance at the intersection had been chained shut. Out front, Picnic presents a classic barbeque restaurant store front: white-washed, old-school bulb signage with a covered patio. Even at the odd 4pm time, there’s quite a few folks in there. I imagine it must get crazy busy during prime-time hours. Picnic’s interior has a modern barbeque joint feel with an open kitchen counter and window to the left, bar to the back and small dining room up front for maybe 50+ people.
The staff is decked out in plaids, t-shirts and baseball caps, super casual and a bit hipster. My waitress shows up pretty quickly and you can tell she’s a pro, moving with efficiency and not missing much. I grab a seat front and center so I can check out the space, Picnic’s menu is short and tight with Southern standards like barbeque, fried chicken and fried fish. Picnic’s meats are supplied by Green Button Farm and it’s sustainable meats so no guilt necessary here! I quickly order up the combo plate of que and chicken along with a starter of the well-discussed deviled eggs. There’s a small list of beers and wines on the chalkboard in the dining room, it also looks like Picnic has a full bar which is a bit different.
My deviled eggs show up pretty quickly, two paprika-sprinkled halves with some translucent onions atop. I take a bite and the egg is excellent. Dense whites with a creamy and tangy yolk, they hit you with some citrus flavors followed by the mellow base flavors. A decent deal at $3 for the app, definitely work these into your meal!
My entree shows up and it’s a LOT of food! A good-sized portion of que, two pieces of fried chicken (wing and breast) along with two sizable cups for my sides (bacon braised collards, sweet potato puree). When I get a plate like this, I usually start with the sides and jump into the cole slaw! Super finely shredded, the slaw at Picnic is very fresh and light to the tongue, a good palate cleanser. Really love both the tender collards and sweet potatoes which are covered with roasted and chopped pecans, excellent. And finally the hushpuppies! Elongated with a crisp crust, the meal is finely ground and perfectly fried.
Moving on to the barbeque, Picnic goes with a longish shredded pork with a hint of spice and vinegar. It’s a really mellow que, I can pick up the smoke and the meat quality is excellent. I dab on some pig whistle sauce from the table for a bit more spice and flavor. I’m saving the fried chicken for last, it shows off a dark crunchy and thick crust. Spiced up with some paprika, the chicken is nicely cooked and even the white breast meat is moist. An excellent version of fried chicken that smacks of Southern goodness. A light hot sauce on the side makes for a great dipping sauce!
Service and ambiance at Picnic is casual but professional. The prices here aren’t expensive but probably a bit pricey by que shack standards. But with the quality ingredients used and the very subtle gourmet touches to the food, it still makes Picnic a very worthwhile visit. And I have to believe there’s a line for this place on a regular basis. Picnic reminds me a bit of what the Pit used to be when it first came out: a slightly gourmet and upscale take on Southern and North Carolina culinary classics, enjoy!