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Tourists who visit Buxton Hall BBQ in downtown Asheville might be pleased with the fare, but you can’t really get out of the place without spending 30 dollars per person for a full meal with tip. Very good barbecue, but eight dollar pie? It’s a trendy place in a beautiful building, but trendy is usually expensive.
My favorite alternative for daily barbecue is the truly local Little Pigs Bar-B-Q down McDowell Street on the way to the Biltmore Mansion. It’s a bit further out of downtown itself but not by much, a rectangular all-brick building with the old-time pig-emblazoned blinking sign that has been around since 1963. You can often see the 90-year-old owner, Joe Swicegood, talking to locals in a booth and smiling and waving. It’s Asheville’s oldest spot for BBQ.
Matt in the red shirt greets me by name and throws in the biggest broasted chicken breast (which is essentially fried, but there’s something new about it, as if you were eating baked chicken with a perfectly crisped skin) into a small silver bag. “How you doing, Mark?” he says, and actually listens to my reply.
Hush puppies are a savored bite: crusty, then soft. There are two tasty sauces, but the pulled pork can be savored on its own. Barbecue plates are reasonably priced, and sometimes I only spend $5 on a sandwich or chicken and I’m full. Beans and cole slaw come with an eight dollar plate of barbecue that’s plenty filling, especially with the hush puppies.
And since you’re in the South, you know that iced tea would have to be on the menu, with a gallon of sweet or unsweetened iced tea selling for just $5.
What I love about the place is that I walk by it nearly every day, when I go up the hill to teach at the college. Broasted chicken aroma fills your nose for blocks and suddenly you’re in line wanting a piece or two. Construction workers and hospital employees can be seen coming and going with many older couples enjoying themselves.
One afternoon, the cashier pulled me aside and said, “You have to try the pie.” So I was turned on to the two-dollar slice of lemon pie. Being the only dessert on the menu, it is almost easy to miss. Oh boy. Thereafter, I have always had this tangy treat with a graham cracker crust. It cleans the meat off the palate without being too rich or heavy.
No knocks to Buxton Hall; it’s a different experience and I like the place a lot, along with Okie Dokies Smokehouse out in Swannanoa, but for my day-to-day barbecue needs, my top choice in Asheville is Little Pigs. One of the cooler signs in the city too.
It feels like home in there. Go all the way into the back room and you’ll see an old 1963 hand-painted menu on the wall—and you’ll know what I mean. Don’t forget to take a look at the two pig-head statues on the mantle, either.