Fireplace season is still a few weeks away, but the aroma of wood smoke is already in the air.
In Chapel Hill, fragrant wisps are wafting from the building that once housed The Barbecue Joint. Now it's home to The Pig (630 Weaver Dairy Road; 942-1133; www.thepigrestaurant.com), a counter-service eatery where owner Sam Suchoff says he is transforming humanely raised North Carolina whole hogs into Eastern-style pork barbecue.
By no means, however, is The Pig just another barbecue joint.
Suchoff, who has worked at Neal's Deli, Lantern and The Barbecue Joint, brings charcuterie skills to the table, too, turning out homemade bologna, smoked sausages, jowl bacon, pork belly sandwiches and specials such as pork chop plates and pineapple-laced Hawaiian hot dogs.
The chalkboard menu isn't limited to the restaurant's namesake animal, either.
Tempting alternatives include barbecued beef brisket and chicken (both humanely raised), smoked fish salad and a wide assortment of scratch-made sides ranging from fried green tomatoes to Buffalo mac and cheese.
There are even a few nods to Suchoff's former vegetarian lifestyle, including smoked mushrooms and chicken fried tofu. What, you say you didn't see that "former vegetarian" coming? Suchoff explains: "I became a vegetarian when I was 13, because I objected to the inhumane way animals are treated. Now, I'm just taking a more active approach to doing something about it."
Meanwhile in Durham, the perfume of hickory wood smoke mingles with live music on Thursday-Saturday nights at The Blue Note Grill (4125 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd.; 401-1979; www. thebluenotegrill.com ).
The vibe is family-friendly, though, and you can sample the smoky fare any day of the week (except Sunday, when the restaurant is closed).
Bill Whittington, who owns The Blue Note Grill with his wife, Andrea, describes the pork barbecue as Eastern style, but with a texture that's a cross between pulled and chopped. The compromise makes sense (as do the two sauce options: vinegar-based Eastern Carolina, and spicy-sweet Texas style) when you learn that Bill is from Hillsborough and Andrea hails from the Lone Star state.
Other options include wet or dry rub ribs, sandwiches (including burgers made with six ounces of house-ground brisket), and a sampling of Southwestern fare ranging from Texas style chili to burritos and quesadillas.
Andrea Whittington says she's waiting until she perfects her barbecued beef brisket before adding it to the menu. In the meantime, the hearty brisket pot roast that's offered on Tuesday nights ought to tide you over.