Helen Schwab

Area ’cue in running for voters’ award – but Alabama opponent is ... Charlottean?

This old postcard advertises Bridges Barbecue Lodge, better known as Red's.
This old postcard advertises Bridges Barbecue Lodge, better known as Red's. OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Garden & Gun magazine’s “Ultimate Barbecue Bracket” is down to the championship, with voting (here) ending at 10 p.m. tonight, and Charlotteans would seem to have an obvious hometown favorite – Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby. Obvious, that is, until you discover that the Alabama opponent, SAW’s BBQ, is run by ... a native Charlottean.

That’s Mike Wilson, aka “Sorry Ass Wilson” (he doesn’t offer to explain that), who graduated from Myers Park High in 1991, got a degree in restaurant and hospitality management from the University of Alabama, then returned to Charlotte and was a sous chef at Dean & Deluca. Next, he cooked in a test kitchen in Birmingham, then began bottling his own sauce: “It’s vinegar-based, with a little ketchup in it, like Lexington (style) but a little more balanced than some of those ... it’s versatile, for marinade, and adding to Bloody Marys.”

So he’s doing N.C.-style ‘cue there in Birmingham?

“Yes. We hand-pull it to order... Dry rub it, smoke it ... and we use Boston butts.”

He now has four restaurants plus a barbecue food truck.

He’s overwhelmed, he says, to be in the final: “I told my mother I’m just happy to be in the same bracket” with ‘cue luminaries like Big Bob Gibson (he beat Gibson in round two) and Franklin (which he beat in the Final Four, after topping the famous Rendezvous). The Franklin victory “about brought tears to my eyes.”

Bridges, meanwhile – and that’s Red Bridges for people in the know, not Alston Bridges (another Shelby stalwart) – was topping Skylight Inn and Lexington Barbecue from our area in its march to the final. (Sweatman’s fell in the second round.) Bridges opened in 1949.

It was Inland Seafood’s Brent Schilb that let The Observer know the Charlotte angle on the championship. Schilb says he’s been after Wilson to open a SAW’s in Charlotte. “Oh, yeah,” says Wilson. “He’s been asking me...”

Wilson says he’s never been to Bridges, but always thinks of it when he thinks of barbecue in these parts. “About eight years ago, somebody was telling me it was one of their favorites. ... Now I definitely have to go.”

The winner will be announced April 2.