If you’re anything like me, you’ve noticed for all its historic landmarks and world-class dining, Charleston suffers from a major lack of one thing — great barbecue.
I know, it’s not something locals like to talk about, but it is definitely a problem we need to recognize. Luckily, the good people at Arby’s have stepped up to fill Charleston’s meat hole with a new line of smokehouse favorites. Only around for a limited time, the fast-food saviors are offering brisket, pork belly, and turkey sandwiches — or, you can get all three meats piled together on what they call the Smoke Mountain. Yep, that’s right. Can’t make up your mind about which savory meat you want to feast on? Well, you can simply indulge in all three.
So, in order to acquaint those in Charleston unfamiliar with barbecue, we headed out to sample a few of these new offerings that are sure to knock the city’s meat elites off their feet with a brand-new taste that can’t be beat.
Starting with the new pork belly sandwich, it’s important to pay attention to the marketing surrounding this new delicacy. “Hard to be mad at bigger bacon,” Arby’s says, and they’re right. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if these ads set a new trend for other products.
“Eggs: The ovums you can eat.”
“Toothpicks: They’re like small boards for your mouth.”
And “Long Pig: The meal that speaks for itself.”
With that out of the way, let’s take a bite into the new pork belly sandwich. Made with crispy onion strings, the palest of mayonnaise, cheddar cheese, and “Q Sauce” as smoky as the meat, it’s a meal that takes me back to my childhood on the farm. I remember the days when Pa would walk us out into the squealin’ fields to pick out a fresh pig. Pa would have us name it and care for it. We’d make it clothes and let it sleep in the family bed. That pig would become like the brother I never had. Then, just before the big family cookout, Pa would have me read Of Mice and Men to my pig-brother before they headed out to the smoke shack. The next day, as we sat down to eat, Pa would say grace, explaining to us how pig-brother had been accepted to college upstate and we’d never see him again. It’s memories such as these that are rekindled by the tangy sweet and savory taste of Arby’s new pork belly sandwich.
Then we have the Smoke Mountain. Although it’s been almost 30 years since I first opened my eyes and looked upon this world, I never truly considered myself a man until I took a bite of Smoke Mountain. With turkey, pork belly, and brisket all piled high on a star-cut bun, this sandwich moves beyond the common culinary measurement of mouthfeel — exposing the eater into what I call “mouth confusion.” As one sandwich, it is almost too savory, too smoky, too monumental for the human sense of taste to understand. But for me, Smoke Mountain again returns me to the darkest day of my youth, more specifically my last day on the farm.
Pa had been drinking more since Ma took ill with a bad case of the meat sweats and pig-brother left for school. One night, I sneaked out of the house to find Pa drunkenly staggering over to the de Spain family’s barn with a bottle of whiskey and a can of kerosene in hand.
“Don’t do it, Pa. Don’t burn the barn,” I shouted out, but the cry of the cicadas was my only response.
I waited on the porch until an amber glow from the de Spain farm licked the night sky. The sound of gun shots rang out and eventually, through the smoky haze, I could see Pa approaching. Clutching his gut, Pa collapsed just beyond the edge of the field. Running to him, I kneeled at his side and took his hand.
“Is that you, boy?” he asked, his vision fading.
“Yes, Pa. What is it? What have you done?” I begged.
Looking out into the night sky, he pulled me closer and said, “Make me a promise.”
“Anything, Pa. I promise. I promise,” I answered as tears ran down my face.
“Tell me you’ll find it. Tell me, no matter what, you’ll find Smoke Mountain.”
And with that he was gone. Resting his head on the ground, I stood and began to slowly walk away. Away from Pa. Away from the burning barn. Away from the farm and the only life I had ever known. But over the years, my father’s final wish was never far from my mind. And now I can say he’s finally at rest. Thanks, Arby’s. Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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