Restaurant Review: Lewis Barbecue

Texan-style barbecue meets the Holy City

Lewis%27s+classic+%22Get+Your+Meat%22+sign+makes+sure+that+customers+know+exactly+where+to+go.

Lewis's classic "Get Your Meat" sign makes sure that customers know exactly where to go.

Introduction (Davis)

Always in search of high quality, low nutrition food, Jack and I decided to take our talents to Lewis Barbecue, one of Charleston’s best-known casual restaurants. Located at 464 N Nassau St, Jack and I drive by it every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon on our way to Meeting Street Academy. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the aromas of smoked pork brisket to attract us inside. We were greeted with a large menu posted on the wall as we walked in. Fellow Talon writer Katherine Ray greeted us and proceeded to take our order. If not for anything else, Lewis should be considered for its amiable staff and efficient service.

 

Food (Jack)

Over the course of our first season of Restaurant Review, Davis and I have tried a wide variety of Charleston’s most renowned eateries, each with its own unique flavors and feeling. Of course, we couldn’t end the decade without heading to a classic Southern barbecue joint, and not surprisingly, Lewis did not disappoint. As Davis mentioned, the aroma of succulent roasted pork greeted us even before the host staff even had a chance, which was more than good sign right from the start. Unfortunately, however, the smell just couldn’t do Lewis’s brisket justice. Although I’m no barbecue connoisseur, I can safely say it was the best d**n meat I’ve ever tasted. Words to describe the flavor? There’s nothing in the English language that can perfectly describe it, but probably something along the lines of luscious, piquant heaven. My mouth is quite literally watering as I write this, no joke. Melt-in-your-mouth pork cooked to absolute perfection, with house specialty barbecue sauce and fresh greens, all contained within a single feather-weight bun. For sides, the classic Lewis Mac n’ Cheese was salty, sizzling hot, and absolutely incredible, as well as the Tex-Mex style Green Chile Corn Pudding that was stuffed full of traditional Southwestern flavors and spices. In short, Lewis more than deserves its number 5 spot on Southern Living’s top 50 best barbecue joints in the United States.

Food Scores: 9.8 (Davis), 9.7 (Jack)

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Service (Davis)

Lewis opts for an order-at-the-counter style of service. As the name suggests, the dining experience is streamlined and cuts out the lethargy of servers and ticket times. In the span of five minutes, we stood in line, ordered, paid, and sat down at our table, ready to eat. This impressive speed is accomplished through Lewis’s unconventional system for food prep. Brisket is smoked for twenty-four hours and falls off the bone before you as you order. All sides and additional meats are similarly prepared beforehand. The result? Hot, delicious food in record-breaking time. 

As we ate our food, general manager Ben Garbee came to speak with us about the brisket smoking process. He even offered a tour of the smokehouse. Naturally, we obliged. We crossed the courtyard and entered the smokehouse to the sight of converted oil containers turned smokers. Each smoker was crafted by John Lewis himself, shipped across the country, and lifted with a crane into the smokehouse. To put it simply, they are indestructible.

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Each piece of meat is smoked for a whole day. Only after they are hand felt for consistency and texture can they be moved to the food line. With the amount of care given to each piece of brisket, the quality of the food is unparalleled. 

 

 

We also sat down with senior Katherine Ray to discuss employment at Lewis.

 

Why did you choose to work at Lewis?

Stella told me I should apply because I worked at a nursing home before I worked at Lewis, and I didn’t like it. I asked for an application, got a call the next day, had an interview, and then got the job.

What trade secrets do you have for future customers?

If there’s a long line on Saturday and you aren’t ordering cut meat, just go to the bar because they have everything else. They have sides and sandwiches. Also, nachos are a bar item, but you can order them in the line if you know about them (but we might glare at you).

What’s your favorite item on the menu?

The nachos. I really like the nachos. They have chopped brisket, queso, pico, and jalapenos on them. They’re just really good. Everything is house-made.

Have you had any funny or awkward experiences while working?

One time, a little kid ran across the back of the food line, under our legs and stuff. We get a lot of angry women. They’re mad about the wait times, but they see the line as they come in, so it doesn’t make sense to me. The longest wait I’ve seen is about two hours, standing. Last Saturday, there was a three-day Phish concert, and the line was out of the door, into the parking lot. One man had to wait for an hour and forty-five minutes.

 

Service scores: 9.8 (Davis), 9.2 (Jack)

Setting (Jack)

As we learned at all the places we visited this season, the setting can truly make or break the idea of a restaurant. Lewis stays true to its Texan roots and boasts a vast, soaring ceiling, minimal and yet elegant decor, and an extraordinary service counter that has a wall of what I like to call “meat vaults” as a backdrop. In order to keep things fresh, Lewis stores all of its exquisite cuts in 200+ degree hot-boxes, which ensures that the meat is kept piping hot throughout the day. This singular design is what sets Lewis apart from other local barbecue joints in terms of design, and adds a simultaneously modern and aesthetically pleasing touch to the already 5-star restaurant. Lewis combines effective and efficient design language with the casual nature of classic Southern barbecue restaurants to create an icon in the world of Holy City barbecue. And let’s not forget the massive, indestructible, and incredibly exceptional custom-built smokers that fill the bellies of Lewis’ customer from behind the scenes. I mean, how much better can it really get?

Setting Scores: 9.2 (Davis), 9.0 (Jack)

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Conclusion and Rating

It was no surprise to us that Lewis has been ranked among the top ten barbecue restaurants in America for the past few years. A true icon within the bustling Charleston food scene, its flair, and unique qualities, in tandem with their simple and yet immaculately crafted recipes, have established Lewis as on of the United State’s foremost traditional barbecue joints. With the attention to quality and taste of each menu item, Lewis should not be overlooked as one of Charleston’s best casual eateries. 

 

Rating Breakdown

Food: 9.8 (Davis), 9.7 (Jack)

Service: 9.8 (Davis), 9.2 (Jack)

Setting: 9.2 (Davis), 9.0 (Jack)

 

Overall: 9.45