Keaton's BBQ near Statesville, N.C.
In August 2003, I ate the best chicken of my life at Keaton’s BBQ on the last evening of a North Carolina vacation. Were Keaton's open on Sundays, I may have stayed in the area overnight for another meal or two of their remarkable and unique chicken. One may as well order a half chicken at the start. Even that won't be enough for most roadfood types.
During my visit, Kathleen Murray, the busy owner and niece of the founder, took a break and talked with me about the business. A few minutes later a young Texas couple introduced themselves; they'd noticed my copy of Roadfood: The coast-to-coast guide to 500 of the best barbecue joints, lobster shacks, ice cream parlors, highway diners, & much more by Jane and Michael Stern.
The Stern's included Keaton's in the 2002 edition of the regularly updated dining guide, and the Texas couple–on vacation–were at Keaton's because of that excellent review. Jane and Michael describe how the chicken is prepared, and present their own mouth-watering description of its goodness. There's a seductive photo of Keaton's chicken in the Stern's restaurant review on the Roadfood Web site.
Among Keaton's side dishes, the hot vinegar slaw is good beyond description; I had no idea such slaw could be so delicious. Their homemade macaroni and cheese is baked and patrons brag about the cornbread muffins. A hot version of Keaton’s red sauce is available, and it's impressive too; it’s not very hot, just spicier.
In his barbeque dining guide, North Carolina Barbecue: Flavored by Time, Bob Garner says of Keaton's, "Here the chicken isn't actually barbecued, but deep-fried, then immersed in a memorable, mysterious barbeque sauce. No matter. Keaton's is an absolute must-stop." I agree! Keaton’s is indeed a must-stop for we, who, what love this kind of food (as Pogo would say).
If given an opportunity to tell the world about only one special food experience, I'd sure have to choose my late mother's chicken and dumplings. However, Keaton's chicken would be runner up. Apparently this chicken fills me with a missionary zeal.
17365 Cool Springs Road
Phone numbers: 704-278-1619; 800-278-1619
Open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday.
Hours: 11 to 2 and 5 to 9.
Orders are placed at the counter for both eat in and carry out.
Keaton's is out in the countryside, several miles east of Statesville, but it’s an easy off and on from Interstate 40, exit 162.
Directions from Interstate 40:
When traveling west, take exit 162 and turn left onto Hwy. 64.
Drive south/west on Highway 64 for about 1.7 miles to Woodleaf Road.
Turn left onto Woodleaf Road, which turns into Cool Springs Road,
and drive 1.6 miles to Keaton’s. Keaton’s is on the right; there's a small sign in front of the tan concrete block building.