All Signs Point to BBQ
Big ups to my dad for introducing me to Gary's Barbecue during our recent drive from Roanoke, VA to Athens, GA. Gary's is a western North Carolina barbecue institution that is located just off Interstate 85 about 30 miles north of Charlotte.
When my dad mentioned stopping at a random barbecue place for lunch during our trip, I was skeptical. He said it had been around forever and was the sort of place that wouldn't have a website, and I was worried it would be a greasy spoon, making it painful to sit in the car for the next three hours. My impression didn't improve much when we pulled into the parking lot. There were plenty of cars, but the exterior had a "blue collar/working class" vibe and I figured this was going to be a "Man vs. Food" style restaurant.
My impression changed when we walked in. I don't think the staff at Gary's would disagree that they serve barbecue and cookout style food for any type of clientele, but the atmosphere is awesome. Although we went during the busy lunch hour, you seat yourself and we were able to find a table in their huge dining area. They have three or four different rooms with dining tables, and all of the rooms are decorated with classic signs from different eras of the 1900s. It took me a while to look at the menu because I was too busy checking out all the awesome signage on the walls. It's like Cracker Barrel on steroids. To go along with the signs that provide a vintage look, they also have a room with old 1940's & 50's convertibles on display.
BBQ Sandwich, Slaw & Hush Puppies
The food at Gary's is simple. It's good, old-fashioned barbecue served on paper plates with plastic utensils. While it may be lacking in presentation, there is nothing lacking in flavor. I ordered a barbecue sandwich with a side of coleslaw, and we shared an order of hushpuppies. The barbecue on the sandwich is served without sauce because they have different bottles of sauce available on the table. I topped mine with the "Sweet & Smoky" sauce and thought it tasted great. And I thought the coleslaw was excellent! It was chopped very fine and tasted very sweet, just the way I like it. I put a generous amount of coleslaw on my sandwich and also used it to dip my hushpuppies in. The hushpuppies didn't have much flavor but tasted better when mixed in with the slaw. I tried my dad's order of brunswick stew and was very impressed with that as well.
The service at Gary's was very friendly and efficient. Our waitress was the classic, sweet southern woman who called us all "sweetie" and "honey." After placing our order, it probably took her no longer than 3 or 4 minutes before she returned with our food. Tasty food that is reasonably priced and served by friendly staff is a great combination in a restaurant. Throw in the great atmosphere and you can understand why Gary's has become a landmark. So, if you're looking for an authentic North Carolina barbecue experience while traveling along I-85, stop in and give Gary's a try.
620 U.S. 29, China Grove, NC 28023