Restaurant Profile: Lawrence Barbecue

Fork-tender brisket and other Lawrence Barbecue specialties are slowly smoked over a mix of hard oak and hickory wood.

Chef Jake Wood knows barbecue.

If you need hard evidence, head over to Boxyard RTP and witness the mass of humanity standing in line for a hearty portion of his Texas-style beef brisket, classic pulled pork, sticky ribs and more.

After several years of planning, waiting, pandemic pausing, pop-ups, collaborations and upfitting, Wood finally opened his highly anticipated eatery Lawrence Barbecue this summer.

Let’s just say it was worth the wait.

RTP desk jockeys, construction workers and other barbecue aficionados line up for lunch from Lawrence Barbecue.

Consider Exhibit A: Sliced, fork-tender brisket slow-smoked over a mix of kiln-dried hard oak and hickory wood. The meat melts in your mouth faster than you can chew it.

“We’re trying to stick to our version of authentic barbecue, whether it’s from North Carolina or Texas or another region,” Wood said during a recent visit. “We want to be a bit more progressive and have our food stand out, so attention to detail is important.”

An Apex native with deep local roots, Wood named his restaurant after his late maternal grandfather Allen Lawrence and his own young son.

“Papa taught me a lot about butchering down primal cuts and whole animals,” Wood explained. “He also taught me how to appreciate the culture of North Carolina.”

Smoked brisket and lots of sides make for a hearty lunch at Lawrence. If the weather’s hot, add a refreshing watermelon slushie.

If Wood’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s been on the rise since his days as chef de cuisine at Raleigh’s now-defunct 18 Seaboard. More recently, he served as head chef in the Capital City’s Plates Neighborhood Kitchen. Perhaps you even saw him on television earlier this year when he emerged on Discovery Channel’s new competition show “Moonshiners: Smoke Ring” and took home a victory.

Despite his previous stints at more refined restaurants, Wood seems in his element at his current outpost. His ultimate objective involves making food that “keeps people not only fed but fulfilled.”

“My background is Southern comfort food, and that’s what I’m passionate about,” he said while smiling and greeting folks as they queued up for lunch. “We’re slinging food and doing what we love each day.”

Several smokers are lined up outside the restaurant. Eventually, a smokehouse will be built on site.

The menu at Lawrence features the essential proteins plus turkey, fried chicken and oysters. If you’re lucky, you’ll arrive on a day when the fast-selling brisket birria tacos are accessible. Among the most popular of the eight various sandos (slang for sandwiches) is The Natural, a juicy piece of boneless fried chicken on a toasted brioche bun.

“This is a reincarnation of my granny Helen Lawrence’s fried chicken, because she’s the best chef I know and has inspired me so much,” Wood said. “It’s called ‘The Natural’ because it’s simple buttermilk fried with all-purpose seasoning, Duke’s mayo, house-made bread-and-butter pickles and some cilantro to give it extra flavor.”

When you visit, consider ordering a shareable platter with brisket, pork, turkey and impeccable dry-rubbed party wings. Accompanying signature sauces include Alabama white, OG vinegar and South of the Border, a blend of Texas-inspired barbecue sauce and South Carolina-style mustard.

Jake Wood, who has worked at several well-known Triangle restaurants, opened his own establishment earlier this year.

Elevated side items are all legit. Choose from deviled egg potato salad, sweet onion-tinged tangy slaw, ham hock-infused cabbage, and an epic three-cheese mac and cheese with voodoo crumble.

“People absolutely love the mac and cheese,” Wood said. “The crumble is made with Zapp’s Voodoo Potato Chips that we found when we went on an R&D trip to New Orleans.”

Wood also conveyed a commitment to sourcing ingredients from in-state purveyors like N.SEA. Oyster Co. situated near the Topsail Sound.

“These oysters are geared to be served in a high-volume setting,” Wood said regarding his transcendent grilled barbecue variety presented on the half shell. “When you try them, it’s like getting hit in the face with a wave at Wrightsville Beach.”

The Natural is a juicy piece of boneless fried chicken, accented with pickles, mayo and cilantro, and tucked into a toasted brioche bun.

So why the pairing of barbecue and oysters?

“I have never seen it done before,” Wood answered. “To me, it’s surf and turf in North Carolina.”

Interestingly, Wood’s culinary career began at 42nd Street Oyster Bar in Raleigh, so you might say he’s come full circle.

Try to save room for dessert, because you can’t go wrong with any of the mouthwatering concoctions whipped up by chef de cuisine Mary Tilley. If the gold-standard peach cobbler or mocha cream pie makes an appearance, you’ll be living your best life.

Fancy Boy Brussels Sprouts come topped with onion, cotija cheese and cilantro.

Wash everything down with a Mexican-inspired beer called Lawrence’s Leisure Land Lager made exclusively by Trophy Brewing Co. or a refreshing salted watermelon “N’ICEE” slushie.

Picnic-style covered outdoor seating provides plenty of space for any size group.

“This is a great meet-up spot,” said Wood. “We’re grateful to be here, and I believe Boxyard will become a real focal point between Raleigh and Durham.”

Oysters might be unusual for a barbecue restaurant, but they fit Jake Wood’s casual attitude.

In the coming weeks, plans call for Wood to open a leisure bar called Lagoon on the second level of Boxyard RTP. Lagoon will offer boozy frozen drinks and cocktails and creative bar fare such as pork belly corn dogs.

“It’s all about good food, cold drinks and warm hospitality,” Wood said.

Lawrence Barbecue is currently open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until the food sells out. Online ordering is available on the website.

Lawrence Barbecue
900 Park Offices Drive, Suite 120, Durham
(919) 593-6923

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