Oink. Oink. Yum!
Sparks, NV 89431
My brother, sister, girlfriend and I just spent a week in the South visiting family for the holidays. We drove from Atlanta across rural Georgia and Alabama to my grandmother’s house in northwest Florida. On the drive, I noticed innumerable signs depicting animated pigs enthusiastically brandishing forks with perverse, cannibalistic desire. “Southern BBQ!” the signs read. We didn’t try out any of those restaurants, but all those images of swine-on-swine crime, both cute and macabre, left me oddly mouth-watered. So, on our return to Reno, the four of us paid a visit to Carolina Kitchen.
The Carolina Kitchen logo is a determined and hungry-looking pig, holding a meat skewer in one hand and waving the North Carolina flag in the other. He’s wearing a hat that reads, “Got Pork?” This perfectly fulfilled my desire for violent porcine imagery seeped in the Southern tradition.
The restaurant is like a portal running from industrial Sparks directly to the rural South. It’s like a big, boxy barn inside, and the folks there are paragons of the famous regional hospitality.
Business was slow on the weeknight we visited, but they say it picks up for the all-you-can-eat fried catfish dinner on Friday nights.
After we sat down, my sister, Brenna asked, “What’s with all the trophies with the pigs on top?”
“Barbecue contest prizes,” I explained.
“Oh, I was hoping it was for pig wrestling ….”
We ordered the family dinner rib pack for $30.75 complete with 14 ribs, three pints of our choices of side orders and cornbread. We went with Southern favorites: hushpuppies, coleslaw and fried okra.
The girls were going to leave my brother, Cameron, and I largely alone on the task of rib-stuffing. My sister ordered a couple of extra sides, including macaroni and cheese, which was $2.99 for a medium, and fried dill pickles for $3.99. Sara ordered the barbecue salad for $6.99. The barbecue salad was your standard salad covered with barbecue pork. She ate all the good stuff and was left with enough iceberg to sink the Titanic.
A strange thing about the food: Though the ribs themselves are quite good—they had clearly come from some fat and happy porkers, as they were mammoth and meaty—the sauces were disappointing. The bottle labeled “hot” was the best flavor and actually spicier than the bottle labeled “nitro.” And the ribs didn’t quite have that meat-falling-off-the-bone quality that I favor.
The side orders were hit-and-miss. The hushpuppies, spicy little balls of fried cornbread, were excellent. The fried okra was also good, and the fried pickles were even better. All this great Southern fried fare had a nice contrasting quality: crunchy on the outside, deliciously squishy in the middle. The mac and cheese, on the other hand, was just one big lump of nearly flavorless noodles.
Despite some minor complaints, we had an all around quality stomach-full of Southern food at Carolina Kitchen. I’m generally a fan of any restaurant that encourages so much messiness and overeating.
We left Carolina Kitchen feeling just as happy as pigs in shit.