Dillard's Bar-B-Que

3291 Fayetteville St., Durham (919) 544-1587

I probably should have taken it as an omen. When Alec said he knows his way around Durham like the back of his hand, I should have known that something wasn't exactly right. I mean, I have seen life-long residents of Durham get lost in Durham. You can see them spinning endlessly around the downtown loop, trying to figure out the best way to get to some place with an actual nightlife.

And I should have realized that if I hadn't heard of a local barbecue shack after living in this area for as long as I have, there must be a reason for it. Damn. I was really hoping for a new backyard barbecue Mecca, but Dillard's isn't it.

Not that Dillard's doesn't have a few things going for it. First, it's one of the few black-owned barbecue places in the area (the only other place that comes to mind is Pan-Pan, but that's a diner that happens to serve barbecue); it's close to N.C. Central; and the building also houses a storefront church. This combination makes for a really weird eating experience: You sit in booths that seem to have been bought second hand from a McDonald's, surrounded by bits and pieces of country kitsch and pennants from the different local colleges, while honest-to-God live gospel music comes wafting in from the other side of a door labeled, "Not An Exit" (and I do believe that little parablesque phrase is "wholly" unintentional). In addition, the staff there is mighty friendly. I got the feeling that if I talked with the guy behind the counter much longer, he was going to try to convert me to whatever denomination it was that was singing behind that door.

But the food, the food. If only the vittles lived up to the decor. Dillard's is in fact a cafeteria, so you pass your tray by what look like a whole bunch of tempting eats, and anything you order gets piled onto a styrofoam tray, ladled into a styrofoam bowl, or poured into a styrofoam cup. Condiments are served in individual packages. These folks are not environmentalists.

There I go, getting sidetracked by mis-en-scene again. Anyway, the barbecue was really a disappointment. On the bad side of tender, the sacramental swine at Dillards is a mushy, indistinguishable mess that has been soaked--drenched--DROWNDED in a slightly spicy but none-too-interesting sauce. I tried to compensate for this taste dillema by squeezing out a packet of Texas Pete onto the pork, but even this hot sauce of the gods couldn't help that poor, drownded pig. To make matters worse, the cole slaw was boring and the hush puppies were merely average. The mac and cheese was okay--better than the other sides, but not the heavenly perfection it is claimed to be by that framed restaurant review on Dillard's wall. The one saving grace of my meal was the peach cobbler, a generous portion of sweet, tasty goodness. Oh, and speaking of generous--Dillard's isn't. I have eaten better barbecue for less money.

So, is Dillard's worth the trip? Maybe. The place has some real charm, and maybe--just maybe--we came on an off-pork night. I'm willing to give it another shot, but the next time I'm jonesing for barbecue and I'm driving aimlessly around Durham, I'll probably try to figure out how to find my way over to Bullock's. --The Mayor

This place is cafeteria-style, soul food barbeque. I like it. The sauce is truly great; I think The Mayor put Texas Pete on before even trying the meat: fatal mistake. The founder (now retired) left his sons in charge of the restaurant, and the daughter makes the sauce, which is called simply "North Carolina Barbeque Sauce" and is sold to other restaurants and to grocery stores. If you do your own cooking, get some!

The food wasn't as good as it could have been, but I think it's because we showed up late in the evening, when the food had been sitting under the hot lamps for too long. The sweet tea is to be avoided at all costs, though: it tastes like Nestea, not the real Southern stuff.

And The Mayor: What denomination could the back-room church possibly be... but Baptist? This is one BBQ place you can go without worrying about running into anyone from the Klan. --Alec

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