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2024 Feb

Decadent Pie + NC-Style BBQ

Meet Player and learn about her hobby-turned-side-hustle-turned-blossoming business.

Amidst Player Butler’s earth-toned living room, a pink pig grins from atop a shiny white freezer.

This is no decorative faux pas. Rather the appliance in Player’s Virginia Beach living room marks a foothill of her “second mountain.” It’s one that fans of downhome Southern fare should be grateful she’s chosen to climb.

By day, Player is a paralegal, has been for decades. By night, she is the “Aunt P” of Aunt P’s Butts, her hobby-turned-side-hustle-turned-blossoming business.

It all started a few years back when this Carolina girl proffered her eastern North Carolina-style barbecue at neighborhood gatherings to rave reviews. Then, two years ago, her law firm sponsored a hole at The Noblemen’s charity golf tournament.

Did you make this barbecue? golfers asked.

“I told them that I sure did,” she said, in her Carolina-tinged accent. And when golfers gushed that they’d like to buy some of her ‘que, Player started thinking maybe there’s something here.

That led to a series of experiments. Each weekend she loaded a pork butt onto the little electric smoker on her back porch, tinkering with time, temperature, method and rubs.

“Folks at my law firm loved me,” she said.

Player started offering ‘que to friends. Demand increased. Her boyfriend gifted her that freezer, and finally this year she secured space in a commercial kitchen and officially launched Aunt P’s Butts, offering a greatly expanded menu of ‘que, sides and desserts—most from family recipes—and packaged as pretty as presents.

Aunt P’s Butts is her “second mountain,” her post-retirement plan. It’s also “a gift of recovery” from alcoholism, she said.

“I could never have done this without being sober,” she said.

The star of Aunt P’s menu is, of course, Player’s eastern North Carolina-style barbecue, that vinegary-peppery, shredded pork that a lot of us here grew up with. Player injects her butts with a mix of apple and cider vinegar, rubs the outside with yellow mustard and a top secret blend of spices, and loads them into a smoker with hickory and apple chips.

She hand pulls the cooked meat, careful to include the perfect amount of fat. And each tub of smoky goodness, whether a pint or a pound, has a few browned slabs of bark. The sauce, a bold vinegar-pepper blend, comes separate in a little Mason jar with a googly-eyed piggy sticker on the lid.

The requisite cole slaw, her mother’s recipe, combines crisp cabbage, a few shards of carrot, and a speckling of celery seed in a light, tart-sweet sauce, the perfect partner for the ‘que. None of that gloppy mayonnaise stuff here.

The pimento cheese? That’s her daddy’s recipe: finely shredded cheddar flecked with pepper and pimento. She rightly recommends, “Get your BIG spoon ready!” It really is that good.

A recent addition to the lineup is “Sue’s Mac n Cheese,” her boyfriend’s mother’s recipe, fat ziti pasta fused together with a generous blend of stretchy cheddar dotted with bits of chewy-crispy rind.

Sweet tooths will rejoice at the sweet potato dumplings, soft, orange potato discs wrapped in pastry, baked, and drizzled in a sugary, buttery syrup.

Best of all is Lucy’s Chocolate Chess Pie, which is unlike any other I’ve tasted. It’s really more of an experience. The filling, all dark and dreamy chocolate, is topped with an oh-so-thin disc of delicately crunchy, sugary goodness.

Aunt P’s also packs boxed lunches with pork or chicken ‘que or chicken salad, perfect for business customers. Each comes with a side, a mini Moon Pie, and biodegradable cutlery.

Player works out of a commercial kitchen, but she adds a bit of soul by using heirloom implements, like her grandfather’s butcher knife and her grandmother’s measuring cups and roasting pan.

“It pays tribute to family,” she said, “and also carries on the legacy.”

Food Find:

Aunt P’s Butts

Instagram @aunt_ps_butts,

and on Facebook

Also at Portsmouth’s Olde Towne Farmers Market beginning Feb. 17, 2024
- - - - - - -

Pork or chicken barbecue: $15 pound

Lunch box meals: $10-$15

Sides: Mac’n’cheese, $5 ½ pint, $25 pan;

Slaw, $4 ½ pint, $10 quart;

Pimento cheese, $7 ½ pint, $12 pint

Desserts: Sweet potato dumplings, 4 for $8, 16 for $25;

Chocolate chess pie, $15;

Pecan pie tarts, $2.50 each

Ordering & delivery: Free delivery across S. Hampton Roads. Call 2 days ahead for small orders and 5 days ahead for larger orders.

Ask about Aunt P’s Super Bowl Special.

Lorraine Eaton

Lorraine Eaton, former Staff Epicure at the Virginian-Pilot, is co-author of the “Food Lover’s Guide to Virginia,” and author of “Tidewater Table,” a local bestseller. She has won numerous state and national writing awards, and her work has been included in “Best Food Writing,” an annual anthology of the best American work in the genre. Lorraine has a daughter, Peyton, who is attending university. She resides in Virginia Beach.

Give Your Child a Healthy Start to the School Year

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Help ensure your child enters the new school year healthy and without delay with these tips from the Virginia Department of Health.