(Column appeared in Ffld Citizen News 2/9)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
It was early afternoon on a recent Sunday and town residents were taking a little breather between pummeling snowstorms. The sun was streaming down and the skies were a Carolina blue. It seemed only appropriate to two-step over to Wilson’s Real Pit Barbeque at 1851 Post Road.
Situated across from Hemlock Hardware, the shack-like corner restaurant was pumping out heavenly smells from an exhaust fan adjacent to the back parking lot and a small lunch crowd was enjoying the shop’s fare.
Fairfielder John Wrobel, his son Mark, 6, and daughter Christina, 4, were among the diners, and seated at a corner table.
“We come here once in a blue moon when I’ve got a hankering for barbeque,” Wrobel said. “It’s local and authentic, and the food’s not drenched in sauces. You can taste the flavor of the meat. And the mac and cheese and fries appeal to the kids. The atmosphere’s cozy, with a rustic feel. You can kind of get lost in here with its atmosphere.”
The self-dubbed “Proprietor and Pit Boss”, Ed Wilson, 61, was on hand chatting with customers and spoke about the restaurant’s inception.
“At age 50, I started entering barbeque competitions around the country,” Wilson said. “After five or six years of that, I decided, because there are very few barbeque joints in the northeast, to open a place on the lot here that I owned. The concept was well received.”
Wilson’s officially opened in March 2005. “We had a rocky start at first due to logistics and how to run the place,” said the owner. “I was in real estate for 30 years prior – this was really different. The ‘chef’ that I’d hired really didn’t know how to handle the mechanics of portion control and getting food from the oven to the plate. It took me 18 months to figure out and solve the issues. I was lucky I owned the building as I was struggling.”
Wilson has a definite position about barbeque and seeks to offer only the best food products. “In the South, barbeque is a cuisine. In the North, it’s an event. I fly my sausages in from Texas, my brisket has beaten Texans’ brisket, and my pulled pork and Carolina sauce have both won competitions.”
Wilson views his business as an extension of home entertaining. “I’ve always been a backyard cook. When my kids were young, I would do a cookout twice a year for about 100 people. I’m a pretty traditional barbeque guy. I know how to cook a whole hog.”
Jeff Dondregan, 40, and Derek Delorenzo, 39, were visiting the area as Fairfield University alumni and had heard about Wilson’s from a Food Network episode, and decided to check it out.
“I’m having a beef brisket sandwich that is just phenomenal,” said Dondregan. “I like the vinegar-based sauce the restaurant uses versus tomato-based sauce.”
“I’m having the pulled pork with Eastern Carolina sauce. It’s really good,” Delorenzo added.
They agreed that the stop had been memorable. “We’ll be back… with the kids… and the wives,” said Dondregan.
Besides the popular brisket, sausage and pulled pork offerings, Wilson’s serves up free-range chicken, ribs that are dry rubbed and slow smoked, BBQ sandwiches and a host of sides including collard greens, baked beans, mashed sweet potatoes and a tasty black-eye pea salad.
Wilson’s skills were learned from his mother Mimi, who loved to cook and use spices and would put her home cooking in front of anyone who showed at meal time. But Wilson’s childhood in the South may also have been an influence. “South Norwalk, that is,” Wilson joked.
As he coached a customer on a good sauce pairing for her meal, I gathered up my belongings and stepped back into the snow, the smell of Southern-style home cooking still tickling my nose.