Old City Barbeque in Williamsburg
Just a few miles away from the popular tourist attraction of Colonial Williamsburg, a seemingly unassuming restaurant sits on York Road in Williamsburg. Away from bustling Richmond Road, Old City Barbeque is a hidden gem in the historic city serving up some of the area’s best barbecue.
With Virginia just north of the Carolinas, Virginia often gets overlooked as a barbecue powerhouse. However, pit masters are putting the Commonwealth on the map for serving up grilled, smoked and barbecued meats that are more than worthy of praise.
A crowd-pleasing favorite in Hampton Roads, Old City opened during the summer of 2017 and gave diners in the Historic Triangle another place to satisfy their barbecue craving. While there are other barbecue restaurants in the Greater Williamsburg area, Old City specializes in nose-to-tail cooking.
Truly celebrating the whole hog, Old City’s menu features traditional fare including pulled pork, pork belly and ribs, as well as less common menu items like the crispy fried pig ears.
Menu items are made from scratch with many ingredients from local sources. Heritage Farms, in Goldsboro, North Carolina, supplies the pork, while other ingredients come from the regional vendors like Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina.
Old City uses smokers fueled by hardwood coals as part of its barbecue process. Everything from the pulled pork and pulled chicken to the brisket is cooked using this process that Old City takes great pride in.
In addition to the variety of meaty options, Old City also serves southern staples like macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and pickled vegetables. Their offerings also include Brunswick Stew, sandwiches, tacos and a couple of salads.
Walking into the restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised at how spacious and modern the interior was. Typically, picnic tables provide seating in barbecue restaurants but Old City’s style is upscale while remaining rustic and comfortable.
I was in the area for a business meeting. As always with our business meetings, I knew I’d be eating a lot. We started with five appetizers to begin our epic lunch: the Heritage Farms Fried Pigs Ears, Pickle Plate, Fried Green Tomatoes, Smoked Pimento Cheese and Duroc Pork Belly Bites.
I’d never had pig ears, fried or otherwise, so I was very intrigued. I channeled my father, who grew up in the South eating all parts of the pig, as I grabbed one of the thinly sliced ears. I was glad to see that it is only the cartilage of the pig ear that is served and not the entire ear. The outside was crispy while the inside was soft and fatty. The pig ears are served with two dipping sauces, a buffalo sauce and bleu cheese, to add some flavor to the mild-tasting dish.
The Pickle Plate, a more familiar face, consisted of pickled seasonal vegetables like red onion, green beans, jalapenos and two types of pickle chips. I learned that pickling a jalapeno does NOT knock off much of the heat. My mouth was blazing after attempting to eat a whole slice.
Perfect for summer, the Fried Green Tomatoes were served with pimento cheese and a bacon-charred red onion jam (that I wanted to eat on its own). The green tomatoes were firm and juicy with a light fry on the breading.
As if serving pimento cheese couldn’t be southern enough, Old City serves the snack in a mini cast iron skillet. Around the creamy smoked cheese spread were Ritz crackers, pickles, smoked ham (a Virginia must-have) and hot sauce. You could make yourself a mini sandwich with just the accoutrements.
Now you already know I didn’t let the Pork Belly Bites far out of my sight. Using the Duroc pig, an older breed of pig, these pork belly bites were tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce. There was a light fry on the pork belly, perhaps from a pan fry, that gave the outside a slight crunch while preserving the pork belly’s fat. As much as I love pork belly, sometimes all that fat can wear me down. That was not the case with Old City’s Pork Belly Bites. I couldn’t stop eating them. I loved their pork belly so much that I had to order the Pork Belly BLT as my entree.
As enticing as the meat platters were, I was getting full after those appetizers so a sandwich seemed like the perfect way to end my meal (or so I thought). My first bite of the Smoked Pork Belly BLT had me doing a little happy dance in my seat. A slice of their smoked Duroc pork belly is accompanied by Bibb lettuce, heirloom tomatoes and basil mayo, served on sourdough bread. While the pork belly on the sandwich did not have the delectable sweet and sour sauce that the pork belly bites did, the basil mayo gave the sandwich a little sweetness to balance the saltiness from the melt-in-your-mouth pork belly. I could’ve eaten the slices of juicy tomato on their own or as a simple tomato sandwich. My sandwich came with the choice of one side so I ordered the Poblano Mac & Cheese. Still skittish from the pickled jalapeno, I was relieved to discover that the poblano is not an especially spicy pepper. The macaroni, swimming in a sea of rich cheese sauce, actually had a delightful smoky flavor that I’ve never tasted in macaroni and cheese before.
Just when we thought the meal was over, our server brought us small bowls of banana pudding. Usually, I don’t like banana pudding since pudding on its own gives me the heebie-jeebies. This banana pudding, however, was light and airy—almost like whipped cream. Mixed in with the pudding were slices of sweet, caramelized banana. Despite how full I was, I refused to let this dessert go to waste.
It’s been almost a week since my visit to Old City Barbeque and I haven’t stopped thinking about the food. Old City has given me a reason to journey across the tunnel so I can over indulge again in traditionally-crafted barbecue.
Old City Barbeque is located at 700 York St., Williamsburg.