Editor's Note (June 2019): Sweepin' the Clouds Away

The air is a little sweeter in our barbecue community


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AROUND OUR PICNIC TABLE sat a father and his two daughters, three couples (two of them neighbors turned best friends), and me. Ten strangers, sitting under a red umbrella on the front patio of Sweet Lew’s BBQ, talking about our favorite restaurants, the best brisket in town, and Game of Thrones.

We all live in different neighborhoods—Starmount, University, uptown, Optimist Park—and we’re all transplants from different places like South Carolina, New York, Maryland, and Delaware. But we all like barbecue, which is why we were at Sweet Lew’s QC Cookout on a Sunday evening in late April. The event raised money for Bryan Furman, a pitmaster from Charlotte who lost his Atlanta-based smokehouse in a recent fire.

Once we got our trays of ribs and brisket, the table was silent. Almost everyone bobbed their heads, a nod that translates to, “This is damn good food.” The nodding continued as the band started to play an instrumental version of “Sunny Days,” the Sesame Street theme.

“Oh! It’s Sesame Street,” the woman next to me says. She sings along, “How to get to Sesame Streeeet.”

A few weeks before, I was at Moo & Brew Fest, a craft beer and burger festival at the AvidXchangeMusicFactory. Charlotte magazine was a sponsor for the event, and we set up a table to pass out magazines and talk to festival-goers. I asked each person who approached, “What stories do you want to read?”

More stories about the LGBT community, said the first person I asked.

Guns, said the second.

Whew.

There’s a lot to disagree about nowadays, especially in a new Southern city like Charlotte. We straddle the line between progressive north and traditional south, but those different perspectives help build our vibrant city. Though viewpoints vary, the fact that Charlotteans are outspoken in their beliefs means we all have something in common: We care.

We care about the safety of our city. We weep when tragedy strikes our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends, the students at our local university. We cry out for change.

In April, when I spoke with Charlotte-based writer Amber Smith about her upcoming novel, she said something that resonated with this larger idea. “Our differences are amazing, and they make us who we are, but there are things we all have in common. We all know what it feels like to have to find ourselves and rebuild our lives.”

Furman has faced not one but two fires during his time in the barbecue business. He rebuilt after the first and now has to do it again—with help from familiar faces in the city’s dining scene, like Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s, Greg Collier of The Yolk and Loft & Cellar, and Keia Mastrianni of Milk Glass Pie, who donated their proceeds from the event to Furman’s rebuilding efforts.

When you talk to the people behind a barbecue joint (and we do, starting on page 50), the arguments around the tradition-laden meal seem superfluous. Is eastern- or Lexington-style barbecue better? Is it BBQ, barbecue, bar-b-que, or barbeque?

Just like our city, barbecue’s variances based on taste and region only strengthen the dish’s legacy. Like the different backgrounds of the strangers around our table at Sweet Lew’s, which only made our conversation that much better.

The morning after the cookout, I Google the lyrics to “Sunny Days.” “Sweepin’ the clouds away. On my way to where the air is sweet.” I spend the next 24 hours humming the song in my head, bobbing my head with nostalgia.

Barbecue has the same effect.

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