Driving North: Barbecue Stop, New York City Tenement Museum, & John’s Pizza

Whenever we drive to and from Georgia to visit the parents, we stop for barbecue. On our way south this year, our efforts were thwarted. We stopped at one place that had gotten high ratings but was pretty much mediocre and, inconceivably, was out of ribs. Then we stopped at Smithfield’s based on Yelp ratings again, but we somehow didn’t process that this chain is mostly about fried chicken. The fried chicken was delicious, but it wasn’t the bbq we were seeking.

Finally, on the way back north we hit the motherlode at the Backyard BBQ Pit. The ratings on Yelp had been terrific, and it was hardly out of the way for us at all. In fact, as we were driving their, M kept saying, “Wait, are we driving out of our way? How much extra time is this taking?” She’d harassed us about that when we went to Monticello, too. She’s not a fan of driving, as you know, and so she’s vigilant about making sure we’re not wasting her valuable time. She’s a BBQ ribs maniac, so she was grouchy and suspicious about going anywhere after the earlier disappointment.

Oh, man, it was good. If you go anywhere near Durham, North Carolina and you are an omnivore, you simply must go there. I am not a huge hush puppy fan, but they were the best hush puppies I’ve ever eaten. We tend to buy a few dishes to share around, and after we found ourselves fighting for the pulled pork, we got back in line to get more.

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The macaroni and cheese was as delicious and greasy as reviewers had advised. The pulled pork made you not want to swallow because then it was over.

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M said that she’d happily drive out of the way again, and J, who usually doesn’t love much at the barbecue joints, decided she liked just about everything. Which was especially surprising because her usual complaint about ribs is that they have a little bit of barbecue sauce and these were drenched in sauce. The only drawback was that the floors were so slick and sticky–especially in the bathroom–that it was pretty yucky. For some, this might raise concerns about the overall cleanliness of everything. Luckily we ate before we went to the bathroom, so we were already deeply in love. Cute W argued that it was part of their we’re-not-fancy-we-just-make-great-food schtick. I don’t care. All I know is that it’s a good thing that this place is hundreds of miles away because otherwise I would double my weight by summertime.

Continuing up the eastern seaboard, we planned to make it to the New York metropolitan area by lunchtime on Saturday, so we scheduled ourselves for a tour at The Tenement Museum. Cute W and I had visited this museum back when we lived in New York, and we loved it. It was fascinating. The museum is actually a tenement building at 97 Orchard Street with a museum shop and other facilities a few doors down the street. In order to visit, you must schedule a tour and walk around with a guide, and the tours fill up, so it’s good to purchase tickets online a few days ahead. We chose the Sweatshop Workers tour, mostly because it’s one of two recommended for ages 8 and up (several others are for ages 12 and up).  Our tour guide was knowledgeable and articulate and the girls thought the whole visit was pretty interesting. Sigh. But Cute W and I were both disappointed. I feel like the museum has become a victim of its own success. They do a great job of coordinating the tours so that multiple groups are moving through the building at the same time, each focusing on a different topic. But what that means for visitors is that they see less of the actual tenement space. With kids, they want to see as much as possible, and at a pretty rapid clip. For our tour, we focused on two tenement apartments and spent a long time talking about sweatshops and the garment industry in general. I wish that we could have had more of an overview designed for families. In fact, while I’ve been writing this paragraph, I received a pop-up  notification of an email asking for feedback on our visit, and since they don’t have space in the survey for a big long comment, I’m just going to put it here. I think it would be amazing if, once or twice a month, they offered tours that were an overview/highlights tour. The guides could just follow each other on a delay (like we did during our other visits at Monticello and the birthplace of Juliet Gordon Low during this trip–both of which also get many visitors). I understand the impulse to do multiple topics, because it encourages repeat visits and allows the guides to explore topics more deeply. But the first visit is crucial. When we visited the first time and saw more of the museum with a terrific tour guide, we came out thinking that it was awesome and we had to tell everyone we knew to go visit. After this visit, which included an excellent tour guide, the consensus was “pretty interesting.”  Maybe part of the problem was that our expectations were high. However, I could easily drop a couple hundred dollars on books at the gift shop, which had an excellent selection.

After the 1:50 pm tour we were on a hunt for “linner.” At this point we started to feel like tourists. The truth is that we’ve been out of the city for almost eleven years now (sniff). Even then, we’d lived in Park Slope and usually went out to eat around Brooklyn. After a bit of wandering (it was a gorgeous day), we ended up at an old reliable: John’s Pizza. We knew the kids would be happy, and at this point I was intensely craving a detox salad, and I’ve always loved their basic-but-delicious house salad.

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As we waited for food, J decided to leave her mark on a bench. She pretty much lost interest before making a permanent mark, but in any case, don’t worry. It’s what people do there.

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And finally some pizza. Usually I’m able to hold the family back for a minute before we all start eating, but after a long walk, we all dived in right away.

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So good.

5 Comments

  1. Claire

    I love the tenement museum. But, it’s been years since I’ve been there. I’m sorry to hear that some of the changes aren’t for the best.

  2. @Carol, sadly, my father hasn’t made pulled pork for me lately. But I WILL be sharing the recipes for his shrimp and grits and crabcakes later. During the book festival Jane leaned over her Shrimp & Grits at Vic’s and said, “Dad’s is much better,” and now I know that she was absolutely right!

  3. @Claire, I do think that part of my problem is that I remembered it as so great. And of course that was pre-kids, so that shifts the perspective, too.

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