Where to: Code 1 BBQ in Wilmington.
Why: Home-cooked, no-frills barbecue.
The backstory: It’s a smoldering love story: Erica and Sean Marchant met at the Texas Roadhouse in Everett. She was a head trainer; he was a faithful customer. But they never would have imagined that they’d own their own restaurant 20 years later. Erica attended North Shore Community College to study culinary arts back in the day, but she eventually segued to corporate life. Sean was in the Air Force. (Code 1 is an Air Force term indicating an aircraft that’s in perfect condition.) During COVID, they enjoyed watching televised BBQ battles, and their at-home cooking hobby took off. They decided to try catering.
“We went straight to our Wilmington community and said: ‘We’re going to start a barbecue catering company. Who wants to be our first customers?’ And they all jumped at the chance,” Erica says.
Soon enough, investors suggested that they open a brick-and-mortar, and the couple took the risk, setting up shop in a busy plaza off of Route 38 in January.
“We spent a lot of nights lying in bed, saying, ‘What the heck are we doing? We’re never going to be able to do this.’ And then we’d wake up the next morning and say, ‘All right, let’s go. Let’s build this restaurant.’ How could you say no to that opportunity to try it?,” she says. “I grew up in poverty and homelessness. I didn’t want to live a struggling life, so I just based my work ethic off of that. Whatever dreams I wanted, I tried to go for, whatever the risks were. You only have one life.”
What to eat: Everything is homemade, from sauces to rubs to sides. Most everything is gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free, too. (Erica has food allergies.) Sean is the pit master, and he’s especially proud of his brisket. Ribs are smoky and tender without completely disintegrating off the bone, and chicken thighs have a peppery punch. The barbecue style is grounded in South Carolina and Texas, where Sean was stationed.
The menu is nontraditional: Try a bowl of pork, brisket, or chicken over macaroni or rice, or do what I did and order a pork belly sandwich coated in cheese sauce, American cheese, onions, and pickles, which tastes like a Big Mac only better. I ladled mine with a healthy dollop of their signature Alabama White sauce. It’s creamy, tangy, and calls to mind ranch dressing mixed with Worcestershire and honey. Divine.
Mac-and-cheese is a family recipe that leans heavily on American cheese; Brussels sprouts and collard greens have a welcome ratio of salty bacon chunks to veggies. Mashed sweet potatoes are simple and straightforward; corn bread was a tiny bit stale on my visit — but I attribute it to snagging the last half-dozen. This is very much a small family operation, and sometimes they run out of items. (For instance, chicken wings were unavailable on my visit, despite the menu.) But it’s hard to quibble when most customers are called by name and treated like old pals as they wait for their orders. Dinners start at $25.99; sandwiches start at $11.99.
What to drink: Grab Pepsi products from a cooler while you wait.
The takeaway: An unpretentious little spot with a few tables, a chalkboard menu, a loyal local following, and Alabama White sauce worth driving for.
211 Main St., Wilmington, 978-248-8185, www.code1bbq.com