Bullock’s: North Carolina Barbecue, Butter Beans, and Brunswick Stew
If you have spent any time in Durham, North Carolina, (and if you have you were probably a student at Duke), you know Bullock’s. It’s an institution.
It is a plain looking single-story brick building on Quebec Street near Hillsborough Road and La Salle. It’s been there for years.
When you go to Bullock’s you will be greeted by, “y’all follow me” as you are led to your table or booth. The décor is non-descript 20th-century Southern cafeteria. But the food….
Bullock’s is one of the local homes of North Carolina barbecue which bears no resemblance to what we eat in Texas. Texas barbecue is often beef with a tomato-based sauce. It is more sweet than tangy. North Carolina barbecue is pork only and can be pulled (shredded) or sliced and its main ingredient beside pork is vinegar. It is served at Bullock’s with Brunswick stew, a tomatoey concoction of corn, potatoes, and beans, creamy (and sweet) cole slaw, French fries that should be avoided, well-cooked green beans (butter beans), and, if you are wise and get the all-you-eat dinner for $17.95, the best fried chicken in town—crispy and moist.
Bullock’s is a tradition in my family, but my craving for Southern cooking did not start at Bullock’s. It started in 1966 at AB’s Cafeteria right next to the tobacco factory in downtown Durham where I first tasted these Southern delicacies for $1.99 (one meat, three sides plus teeth-rattling sweet tea and unlimited hush puppies) as long as I was willing to eat in a segregated dining room and smell the sweet tobacco fumes from across the street. That was 1966 North Carolina where the Ku Klux Klan still marched, just without the hoods covering their faces. Two years later I was denied a rental house with two of my fraternity brothers because one of my brothers was Black. My white brother and I met the renter. Sandy, our Black brother, had class at that time so the renter met with two of us and asked us point blank if the third tenant was white. When we got over our shock and said no, he said we were ineligible to rent from him. Some bad vibes came with the good food in 1968. I knew that when I attended a rally for George Wallace who was running for President and saw the Wallace signs being held high on heavy wooden poles that could be converted to weapons if a riot ensued. We got out of there fast.
Since then, my family has been back to Durham many times. We have seen one son graduate from the undergraduate school and one from the Management School at the Fuqua School of Business. We have five Duke diplomas in our family plus two fellowships and a residency. We bleed Duke blue.
But when we come back to Durham, our first dinner is usually at Bullock’s where I marvel at the fact that half the diners are Black and the line for take-out is long and also multicolored, a sight unlikely in 1966.
It’s a different Durham than it was in 1966. All for the better. But, the food, unlike the culture, doesn’t change. And that’s a good thing.
“Y’all come back now, y’hear.”