I’m not going to wax eloquent about a BBQ joint. O, heck, who am I kidding? I’m totally going to go overboard about a place with as much character as the Skylight Inn.
Should you find yourself in tiny Ayden, North Carolina, (and really, why would you find yourself there? – go!), you’ll discover an old downtown suggesting past glories. The brick facade beauties of many a coastal plain town still stand, some repurposed as gun shops and hair salons. You’ll even find Bum’s Restaurant, but I suggest heading out west of town where you’ll find a long building topped with what the rotunda on the US Capitol would have looked like if it had been made by your local tinsmith.
You’ll smell the place before you see it, though…and it smells good. Stacks of wood line the back lot, feeding a perpetual fire to slow-cook whole hogs because, as the sign says, “If it’s not cooked with wood, it’s not BBQ!”
Despite the fancy name, the Skylight Inn is a no-frills operation and has been since it began in 1947. Bring cash because their not going to take your confounded credit cards or checks. Prices include tax and most are rounded to the dollar so that you won’t have to mess with change.
Just get in line, (there will be a line – even if you arrive at 1 o’clock on a Monday afternoon like I did), come up to the counter and make your order. If you’re lucky you’ll get a tray. If not, you’ll get a piece of butcher paper and you’ll be grateful. Then, if you ordered right (you could have ordered chicken but…why?), they will load up a cardboard container with pork that has been chopped in front of your eyes, cover it with a slab of dense yellow cornbread, and serve it with a side of cole slaw.
We can quibble about the slaw. I’ve had better. But save your arguments about where you’ve had better BBQ. They’re no good here. We’re not talking Texas brisket, Memphis ribs, Alabama pork with white sauce, South Carolina mustardy, or Western Carolina tomato-ey. This is the distilled essence of a long tradition served up with no fuss that sings with the soul of the east Carolina soil it grew up in.
Bits of crunchy cracklin are chopped in with the meat. Vinegar-based sauce is there if you want it. Drool if you have to. Take some home if you’ve got a cooler for a long ride.
Ayden, North Carolina didn’t used to be on the route from Virginia to Texas. But trust me…now it is!