Mick's Picks: We first met Zack Goodyear of Sauceman's at the TWC BBQ & Blues Festival in September. Their cinder block competition pit was unlike anything we'd seen before and Zack took plenty of time to discuss the finer points of pit-cooked pigs with our BBQ correspondent Craig George. The 200+ lbs. Hogzilla they smoked earned Sauceman's 7th place for whole hog. That's a fine showing for their first go 'round at the largest BBQ competition in the Southeast. With such a great introduction to his BBQ methodology, Restaurant Traffic was eager to make a trip to his restaurant which was already lauded by the local food writers.
Amidst the industrial hinterlands between South End and the 'hood, Zack runs a productive little restaurant off West Boulevard. Hog-themed graffiti covers the slats of the fence framing the gravel parking lot and alludes to Goodyear's passion as one the next generation of Pitmaster delivering our beloved state specialty. That lot was full of cars and the line nearly poked me out the door and into the autumn drizzle. As with any great Carolina BBQ restaurant, the heavenly-scent of hickory and tender-cooked pork entices you before you get a glimpse of the menu boards posted up above the restaurant. The close quarters confines and limited seating lends a lunch counter feel to Sauceman's and I was pleasantly surprised to find OMB and a couple other regional brews on tap.
As I found out from Zack after I finished eating, their best at the basics: chopped pork plates, platters and sandwiches served with plenty of options for sides ranging from fries, slaw,sweet potatoes, sweet potato fries, salads, and hush puppies big as Whiffle Balls. There were about ten other menu options ranging from salads to a variety of sandwiches.
In hindsight I should have stayed a purist and kept to the basics but the Dixie Cuban with pimento cheese and fried pickles sounded too enticing. Don't get me wrong. The sandwich was awesome and a nice mash-up of perennial Southern comfort foods. A heavy smear of pimento cheese covered the thick slabs of Texas toast, which wasn't overly-buttered and grilled golden with a touch of flavorful charring. My jaw dropped when I saw the two hunks of pork sandwiched between the bread, encasing the savory chips of crispy fried dill pickles.
At Sauceman's they let the meat shine and don't presume to know which style of sauce their customers prefer with the pork so each table comes with bottles of the homemade sauces. Love & Smoke was a solid, tomato-based Western Carolina sauce and the Queen City Vinegar Style did Charlotte and Eastern Carolina proud with a light and tart sauce that packed a nice zing. I pulled a couple forkfuls of BBQ off the sandwich to test the sauce and can honestly say I enjoyed both equally even though I tend to gravitate toward a vinegar-based sauce when given a choice.
My fries came up a touch short because they were nearly cold but I could tell by the seasoning that a fresh batch out of the fryer wouldn't have disappointed me. I can't remember the last time I sent something back to the kitchen and after putting myself into a food coma with that monster of a sandwich, there was no need to request more.
Zack popped in and out of the kitchen frequently during the time I ate to mingle with his customers, run food and clear tables. Normally I'd never approach an operator during the lunch hour but he obviously wanted to make himself accessible even before I introduced myself and he saw the SLR in my hand. He's a big, friendly Southern boy with an easy smile and he wanted to send me home with some hot fries-an offer my bulging beltline obligated me to ignore, but he immediately turned to the kitchen and told them to be sure the fries were good and hot before plating any more orders.
As far as I'm concerned Zack could strip down his menu to just platters, plates and pork BBQ sandwiches along with their assortment of sides. Without a doubt, Sauceman's will need to graduate to a bigger location in the near future. As news spreads I expect the demand and the waiting time for their Queen City BBQ to increase twentyfold. They could easily pack out a location the size of Mac's on South Boulevard. Goodyear told me all he could ask for were diners in Charlotte to add them to their rotation when trying to decide where to spend their food dollars. Take it from the Restaurant Traffic team that it'll be worth your while to stop by Sauceman's the next time you're craving pork BBQ and be sure y'all tell them Restaurant Traffic sent you.
Have you been to Sauceman's? What's your favorite BBQ joint? Please let us know in the comments section or via Facebook and Twitter.