I was intent on finding real barbecue on my way back from North Carolina. I checked my consultant for suggestions along I-95 and with a rating of 4 grease stains, I settled on Bill’s BBQ in Wilson, NC.
Bill’s is a barbeque complex. One building buffet, another a drive thru and take-out, and then a convention center. Off site, there is the Bill Ellis Pig Farm and also a portable complex of Bill Ellis tractor trailers to deliver the experience to you.
I decided to do a run-through of the buffet building first, analyzing the daily specials then browse the buffet. I bypassed the front gate, explaining my OCD to the cashier despite our dialect barrier; it wasn’t drawl but twang that was my hurdle. I went in and the offering seemed like a good racket with customers merrily hustling back and forth for Carolina Q. Then, because I need to know every option, I walked over to the drive-thru and take-out to survey their menu. It was bustling and everyone was all smiles, but this time on a mission. The prices were comparable to a single buffet sitting, but these were most likely orders meant to split and take home rather than chow in their car, I didn’t see any feasts in the parking lot. But for me, no options had the combination of ribs, pulled pork, fried chicken, biscuits, corn sticks and sweet tea, so I paid my respects and returned to the buffet building.
The first plate I piled high. I knew I’d be back, that there would be no drought, as this buffet is relentless – but still, that’s the way it’s done. In general, the food was on the drier side, unless you count some of the sides swimming in hot water like sweet potatoes and string beans. Let’s jump to the finish line and say this: the fried chicken was the most outstanding in my opinion. Lots of friedness, crispy crunches extending the pieces of skin outwards nearly an entire inch. The pork skin was not as good as I’m used to in various Spanish renditions, but one or two chips wasn’t overkill. And I got my secret grease fighter, a beet. Beets are so dark, you know they must be good for you. I also jumped at their sweet tea, but because it’s so sugary, the cold sweet tea won’t clean out your system. You need an artery cleanser for this type of meal, the bodily glop is so thick from this buffet, only a cholesterol rake in the form of a beet will get the job done.
The one room is large, at least 100 feet deep, which makes the buffet look deceivingly small. This only reinforces the tendency for someone to stack large or use multiple dishes on each pass. It must be an art. Or at least a skill. The three next to me, as they brought themselves down must have had 15 plates and bowls clattering onto the table. They were well dressed, and eventually would discuss portions of the Bible, refuting back and forth happenings and situations for thought most likely brought to the surface by a recent church meeting. These conversations could go on forever – it’s a big book.
Every course of their’s was taken care of from the outset. This is a planning I am incapable of at a buffet. I like to wander, one stacked plate at a time. Even my drink I get on separate trips. I need to move around, it let’s my intakes a chance to find a cubbyhole in my stomach. On this afternoon, I would last 3 platefuls. This is standard for me. Minimal dessert and doubling up on 3 items max. It’s a formula I’ve found comfort in.
The barbecue and baked chicken were good,
but not as outstanding as the fried chicken
Corn sticks are a welcome newcomer to my palate. When fresh, they are fully embraced. With a soft sweetness and a hard shell. Not a bad palate cleanser, but the biscuits were far more appreciated. These were crisp, with some fluff no flake and a butter crust – as great as I hoped they would be.
In an unfamiliar land, condiments are always an area for mishaps and confusion. These strange sauces come with no instructions, no pointers for what goes where and usually only bottle color denoting it’s contents. Here, I drizzled something on my fries. I thought it was malt vinegar, but it came out like a sundae topping. I thought I just made an embarassing faux paux of putting chocolate syrup on my french fries. And when I sat back at the table, I was sheepish about my chocolate covered fries, hiding my plate from the church-going onlookers. I tried one and it turned out it was delicious! It was like a thick, sweet vinegar dressing. I have no idea what that was, but it destroys ketchup.
In a later plate, I got a red hot – something I’ve only seen these in picture books. In person, they are jarringly red. Even these pictures, I think my Canon Powershot mistakenly color corrected the photo. In reality, they are nuclear colored. They taste similar to Ballpark franks, very porky. spammish, bologna-like. Not bad, but i would’t pay more than 50 cents for one. And for curiosity’s sake, I ate one, but they are truly a waste of stomach real estate in a buffet like this. No wonder they were generally untouched by other buffeteers.
It didn’t give me the sense of a hot dog, the whole experience seemed like I was eating from a toy stove with plastic sausages rolling on top.
It’s nearly a theme restaurant in there. Every day is a holiday of some sort. Travelers from all over dropping in and familys finally breaking into conversations. My table neighbors mostly kept to themselves, but were pleasant. I think they were surprised when the Northerner said for them all to have a nice day as he left.
This complex gives no reason to complain, as we realize life is plentiful and what problem can we have when fried chicken and sweet tea are always renewed? In the end, with regards to actual enjoyment and satisfaction, it’s wisdom which separates who wins at the buffet and who throws in the towel.
Bill Ellis Barbecue
3007 Downing Street
Wilson, NC 27893
Bill Ellis Barbecue
is a good woman.
Everything I could ever want
in a barbecue.