DBBBBQ: Chapter 2

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At the North Carolina Visitor Center

Out of the Deep Fryer, into the Pan Pan
When food writers are handed the assignment of barbecue, they turn here. It’s an easy choice: small towns, southern hospitality, and a state-making history of Q whose only real rival for attention seems to be college basketball. While Memphis, Texas and Kansas City are all better established and more popular centers of the smokehouse, North Carolina has emerged as the gourmet choice of those enamored with the idea of authenticity. After spending three days criscrossing the state, I was fully convinced of its status as such, if not of its superiority to rivals due West.

Before achieving porcine enlightenment, however, I had to deal with the downside of tradition. Because I had launched this trip at the end of December, my itinerary was dealt a double blow of inconvenience by the religious schedules of the region. In North Carolina, Sunday means family time, as does the winter holiday. I thus pulled into town on Saturday the 30th knowing that few doors would be opened in the next 48 hours. I compensated for this on Sunday morning by finding a highly acclaimed soul food lunch buffet only a ten minute drive from my headquarters in Chapel Hill.

Pan Pan Seafood - Durham, NC Pan Pan Seafood - Durham, NC

Pan Pan Diner was an all-night operation off of I-85 until it became a victim to eminent domain. Recently re-opened in a Durham shopping mall, Pan Pan Restaurant could easily be the death of me if I lived at least half an hour from its crispy, southern fried folds. Every standard was present, but not every item was delicious. The greens and yams were unremarkable, suffering the fate of many a buffet dish given no chance to shine in the kitchen and left to melt away on the steam rack. Most of the other sides seemed fairly standard, but the slightly crisp, slightly buttery cornbread squares did bring home a pound of satisfaction. I sampled the ribs on principle but shouldn’t have wasted the stomach space, because Pan Pan’s money maker was every single fried meat on the table.

Fried Shrimp and Fried Catfish - Pan Pan Seafood - Durham, NC Fried Chicken - Pan Pan Seafood - Durham, NC Collard Greens and Candied Yams - Pan Pan Seafood - Durham, NC

It began with a couple of chicken wings. The meat slid right off the bone with a slight tug, batter and skin gliding with more grace than a Baptist steakhouse. This may not have been the best fried chicken I’ve had, but it was the best fried batter experience I’ve ever had. Crisp, juicy, fluffy and flavorful without a trace of grease, Pan Pan’s deep fried mithril of gluttony could stop the heartbeats of The Dwarves with the lightness of a feather. I immediately went back for two plates of fried shrimp, chicken and fish and blisfully discovered that the enchantment was not some passing hallucination. Six weeks after this meal, I still wouldn’t felt the pull for more fried chicken. A few hours after leaving Pan Pan, however, I did feel the pull for barbecue.

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