The night before I’d had the chance to try Lexington Barbecue #1 and Barbecue Center. And after judging at the BBQ Capital Cook-off, how could I eat another bite. Yet, I hated to leave the Lexington area without visiting at least one more barbecue spot. Hearing from more than one of the local judges that Speedy’s was inconsistent these days, I was going to flip a coin to choose a place. Instead, I was lucky to meet newly minted CBJ, “Porky LeSwine” of BBQJew.com at the competition and could ask his advice. He put in a good word for Smiley’s and gave me the tip to order the cornbread sticks.
So off I went to Smiley's Lexington BBQ as my last stop before leaving this barbecue capital. This site has been a barbecue restaurant for more than 50 years, nine years as Smiley's.
By now I’d finally gotten the Lexington lingo down to order with more confidence and competence. I went for a small tray, $6.25 of coarse chopped with outside brown and asked for fattier and darker cuts. Adding skin for 75¢ is also an option here. These larger chunks of meat had a rougher texture but not dried out, and were more tender than Lexington #1’s. I especially appreciated the high proportion of flavorful, smoky outside brown that imparted a sweeter almost nutty taste note. The dip’s on the spicier side and I didn’t feel a need to add any Texas Pete. It was not as sweet as Barbecue Center’s and a little less spicy than Lexington #1’s. Slaw had a lot of crunch to it, cut into coarser bits and not so pulverized. Dosing the slaw with a splash of extra dip brought it close to the redder hue and taste of Lexington #1’s.
And, I picked the cornsticks over hushpuppies or rolls. The slightly sweet cornbread sticks were delicately crisp on the outside, then tender and moist in the middle. Having suffered through too many tough, hard examples dried out under a heat lamb, these made my day.
The stop at Smiley’s was also my chance to try Cheerwine. Not sure I can describe it well: more fruity and red-berry flavored than cherry coke, and not as spicy and deep as Dr. Pepper. Here’s a link to the wiki.
As far as service, granted, it wasn’t busy in the middle of the afternoon, still three different friendly and very attentive waitresses checked in with me more than once. My water and Cheerwine were refilled and then filled again in to-go cups for the road. Less crowded and cramped than the more well-known places, the dining area and especially the restrooms are cleaner and less shopworn. Smiley’s has a pair of restrooms inside and another pair outside for the curb service customers.
Paying my check at the cash register, I stopped at the pass-through to the kitchen to peek at the pit. The owner invited me into the kitchen to take a closer look. He’s proud that Smiley's cooks over hickory wood and he uncovered this set of mahogany-colored butts so I could smell the smoke. Porky LeSwine’s other tip about Smiley’s is that whole shoulders are a deal here. At $4 per pound for whole BBQ shoulders (vs. $8.50 per pound for chopped), I was sorry this was not the end of my trip when I could grab one of these beauties to carry-on the plane.
Many thanks to Porky LeSwine for pointing me to Smiley’s Lexington BBQ and the road less traveled. I’m in total agreement with him that Smiley’s more than holds it’s own with the more famous places and deserves more love. The cornbread sticks alone are reason to check it out.
Photos from Smiley’s
900 N Main St, Lexington, NC 27292
Smiley's Lexington BBQ
917 Winston Rd, Lexington, NC 27295
100 Smokehouse Lane, Lexington, NC 27295