by Sam Spence
This past Saturday, I had the questionable plan to go stand in line at high noon in the Charleston summer sun for hot, greasy barbecue. It turned out to be a great idea.
The new Lewis Barbecue won't open at Nassau and Isabella Street for a few months, but every Saturday beginning noon this summer, you can find pitmaster John Lewis' Texas-born brisket, ribs, "Hot Guts," and more at Revelry Brewing.
On this particular Saturday, our party of three arrived at Revelry around 1 p.m. and waited about 90 minutes before ordering. Using a more practical metric, that's about four beers. Together, we sampled the brisket, Lewis' "hot guts" spicy sausage, pulled pork, and slaw.
I'll cut to the chase, the barbecue is top-notch. Some of the best I've had. But if you want a taste, you should plan ahead or you'll be stuck in line or show up when it's all gone. Charleston isn't used to barbecue lines like Lewis' hometown of Austin, but I think you'll soften on the idea once you try it for yourself.
(Now, you can plan your trip down to the minute if you want, but unless you really blow it and arrive too late, the worst thing that could happen is that you get stuck standing outside drinking good beer while you wait for barbecue. So, there's that.)
But assuming you're all-in and just want some tips, here's how we'd make a game plan:
When to Get There: Get there early or chance it and try for a shorter line later in the afternoon.
The past two weeks, there's been a line before service began at 12, and it just gets longer from there for the first couple hours. We jumped in behind about 20 others, but the line didn't get much longer than that while we were there until about 3:30 p.m. Lewis had already sold through 35-pounds of beef ribs by the time we ordered, but everything else was well-stocked. By about 3 p.m., we noticed a few wise visitors arriving to a short line. If you want to try this approach be warned: We're told everything sold out by 4:30, so your veteran move of swooping in late may turn disastrous if things move faster that day.
What to Drink: Lean or Fat lager
The City Paper reported a while back that the Lewis crew, along with the Beer Exchange's Brandon Plyler, was working with Revelry on a light, easy-drinking brew that's ideal for hot days. The finished product, an English-style beer with a good citrus and spice tastes, comes through on that promise and at $4 a pint, it's priced for optimal line-waiting efficiency. If Lean or Fat isn't your speed, try the Achtung! Drive-by-Fruiting weisse, Funkmaster Brett IPA, and Welcome, this is a Farmhouse (phishy name, good beer.)
What to Eat: Brisket and sausage are a must
The prime-cut brisket and pulled pork are served by the pound or on a sandwich. Sausage is priced by the link. Lewis estimates a half-pound of meat per person, and after finishing our tray of a pound of brisket and two links split between two people, that's about right.
The brisket, tender and moist with plenty of crust, strong beef and smoke flavors, and lined with a thin layer of fat, can be eaten by hand, no utensils needed. The spicy, all-beef "hot guts" sausage is as advertised, with good heat and juiciness inside a thin casing. We didn't get to try the pork, but are told it's solid as well. Lewis also offers buttermilk bacon potato salad and lemon vinaigrette slaw by the side, pint, and quart. The cool shredded red cabbage slaw goes well alongside the spicy meat with a crisp bite that's only slightly sweet.