I'm not from the South. I'm not from Kansas City. I'm not even from as far south as Kentucky. But I will always crave good low-and-slow traditional barbecue. And thanks to the folks at Old Carolina Barbeque Company, you can actually find this traditionally southern cuisine right here in northeast Ohio. Currently they have two locations, one in Massillon and one in Norton Canton. They are looking to add a third location sometime soon a little further north at Chapel Hill mall in Cuyahoga Falls.
OCBC is an odd conundrum. It is a locally owned and operated company but has a chain feel to it. I can't verify that everything is made from scratch on-site, but much of it is. When you enter the restaurant, the daily specials are listed above the cashier. To the left on the wall is the menu. All your favorites are there from pulled pork to brisket to smoked chicken and more. Most items can be ordered individually or as a platter (which would include two sides).
Today I was in the mood for a pulled pork sandwich, so I ordered that as a platter with what are billed as "Simply the World's Greatest Baked Beans" and the "Southern Style Mac-n-Cheese". After ordering, the cashier will write your order number on the back of your receipt and you are free to seat yourself anywhere. The soda fountain and sauce station are self-serve, so while you are waiting for your order, take care of that little detail.
At every checkered covered table, you'll find a condiment station containing ketchup and a vinegar based dressing:
When your order is ready, an employee runs it out to you. Here is a shot of my entire platter:
And a close-up of the sauces I selected:
The sauce to the left and rear are the same, the Piedmont No. 5. It is a tomato/vinegar/molasses based sauce that has a nice tang and a capricious amount of black pepper heat. The one on the right is the Original Gold, a mustard based sauce that has less heat and more sweet to it. There are also several other sauces (5 in total) to choose from, so you can mix and match to your heart's content.
Now for the eating! First up, the Southern Style Mac-n-Cheese:
I'm not sure if the crispy bread crumbs on top make it "southern style", but this was a lovely side. Creamy, crunch, a bit tangy, this definitely felt and tasted homemade. The bread crumbs must be toasted ahead of time because the macaroni (or penne in this case) and cheese wasn't dried out on top.
Next up are the baked beans:
Now, what makes these the "World's Greatest"? For one thing, these beans aren't vegetarian. There is actually pulled pork mixed in with the baked beans. The sauce itself is really tasty. It is your classic ketchup/brown sugar based sauce with notes of mustard, cumin, black pepper, and coriander. Tangy, sweet, and spicy. The trifecta of good southern fare. Do *I* think these are the world's best? Best would be a bit much, but they are damn good.
Finally, the star, the pulled pork sandwich:
One thing you will NOT go away from OCBC is hungry. This sandwich is literally loaded with luscious pulled pork. In fact, I normally have to eat about 1/3 of the meat with a fork in order for the sandwich to be insertible into my mouth. This pork was smoky, sweet, and unctious. The only criticism I had was there were several larges pieces of fat (not a little piece that would blend in with the rest of the meat). Once I picked those out, I added my sauce and was in pulled pork heaven. The bun was both traditional and perfect, being slightly buttered before adding the meat.
Finally, I mentioned earlier that OCBC is that rare conundrum of locally owned and chain-esque. The food definitely feels mom and pop. However, the store, the signage, and the merchandising rack that was next to my table made the entire affair feel like I was in a marketing blitz for TGI McChillabee's.
Everything is for sale, from the bottled sauces (which, sadly, do use High Fructose Corn Syrup) to the t-shirts and more. I realize that in this tight economy, you need to have a multi-pronged approach to generate revenue, but this just feels so out-of-place. Eh, no matter, it doesn't do anything to detract from the food.
I would definitely recommend checking out Old Carolina Barbecue Company if you are in the position of needing a good "Q" fix. I've also had the brisket, and while good, I don't think it is quite as good as the pulled pork. Be sure to go hungry though, because you get a LOT of food for the price.