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By Edwin Goei
Photo by Tanaya HillsWe Southern folk find the restaurant pickings in Orange County slim for the grub we grew up with: fried okra, shrimp and grits, blackberry cobbler, to name the most missed. So imagine my surprise when a friend sent the following e-mail to fellow southerners:Ode to a Pig
Rumors abound, could it be true
How many times do they claim NC BBQ?
The sauce is of vinegar, you Western tycoons
What do you take us for, savage baboons?
Alas, in my mailbox a coupon appears
The sandwich with slaw, I've been searching for years!
The name is familiar, the land of the dunes.
Should I also expect to hear Skynard tunes?
My friend was referring to Kill Devil's in Lake Forest. I enjoyed the pithy poetry of the recommendation, but I especially loved the joint's name. It refers to Kill Devil Hill, the expansive North Carolina sand dunes where the Wright brothers floated into the history books more than a century ago. Kill Devil Hill is the Mt. Rushmore of the Tar Heel State, a monument and moment that's indoctrinated in the minds of North Carolinians during elementary school the way young Californians learn about the missions. Frankly, any barbecue house with the Southern-psyche insight to name itself after Kill Devil Hill warranted at least one visit from this belle.
But I remained skeptical—I feared the 'cue my friend described was a fraud like so many other local carpetbaggin' efforts before. The following day, though, I received another mass e-mail from yet another southern friend who ate there:What's up, Cack-a-lacks?[a term of endearment North Carolina natives use for one another] I just did some investigative dining at Kill Devil's. I am pleased to announce that someone finally got it right. The barbecue sandwich was legit, one of the best I've had, tender pulled pork with Carolina-style slaw and vinegar-based sauce, to boot. I went at lunch, and the place was jammed, with a line out the door. I was really surprised that Californians would take well to the pork and slaw combo, but I overheard the people in the restaurant raving. I'm happy to go back any time. Just thought you all might like to know where to get a little taste of the South.
That's the validation I needed. I went to Kill Devil's soon after and have rarely left since. Not that the outside environs remind me much of home: Kill Devil's is near the Guitar Center in one of those fancy strip malls that are as numerous in Lake Forest as dogwood trees in North Carolina. Inside, though, there's a welcome diner/ice-cream-parlor ambience: pleather booth seating; a few outdoor tables; and a long counter lined with tall, stainless steel stools. With the Skynard blasting loud and proud, I can close my eyes and imagine an afternoon in Raleigh.
The menu at Kill Devil's is Dean Smith-simple: burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, North Carolina barbecue, and the most delicious French fries I've chowed in years. The burgers are more cow than patty, and each uses a toasted, buttered bun, a Southern specialty that adds a bit of welcomed lard to your diet. For dessert, Kill Devil's specializes in another Dixie fave, frozen custard. A touch of egg in the custard gives it a velvety, more genteel texture than ice cream's harsh crystal slap.
Fine as those victuals are, it's all about the slaw-topped barbecued-pork sandwich for me at Kill Devil's. Back South, we'd slow-roast a whole pig over a low fire and douse it every hour in a tangy vinegar-based sauce seasoned with salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic, nutmeg, brown sugar and even whiskey. When the meat was tender enough, we'd then pull it off the pig, chop it by hand into a fine pulp, then squirt more sauce. We called it pig pickin', and although I've never seen a hog cooking in the Kill Devil's kitchen, their excellent pork suggests they found a supplier familiar with the method.
If I may so kindly make a Southern suggestion, though, those wonderful buttered buns that hug all meat burgers and sandwiches are actually inauthentic. The Southern way is to put the 'cue on a cheap hamburger bun, the kind you get in the grocery store for $1.19 per eight-pack. The bun gets soggy in the sauce, but that's the point: you now have a separate delight. Other than that minor point, Kill Devil's is doing a fine service for friends and fans of the South.
Now, have ya'll ever heard of sweet tea?Kill Devil's, 23842 El Toro Rd., Lake Forest, (949) 462-0690; www.killdevilsfrozencustard.com. Open daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. In a rare display of Southern restraint, no alcohol. Dinner for two, $10-$20, Food only. All major credit cards accepted.