The Political Agitator’s response: I agree the food and the atmosphere is Fa bu lous ta stic!
The Prime Smokehouse: Barbecue & Beyond is North Carolina’s No. 1 dining destination for travelers, according to a new survey by Yelp, the leading social-network site for ranking restaurants and other businesses based on user reviews.
The recognition is the first for a Rocky Mount-area restaurant, with the honor traditionally bestowed upon dining establishments in the state’s larger, more bustling destinations, such as Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham and Ashville.
Exceptional food — everything from savory smokehouse brisket to homemade gumbo to deliciously healthy fare — and an inviting ambiance are essential to the restaurant’s success because Prime is off the beaten path, about 10 minutes from Interstate 95 to its west. Among the nearly 500 reviews on Yelp, on which Prime has a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars, many diners note that the six-mile detour off Interstate 95 is well worth the trip.
“I don’t have to tell anybody how tough this business is, especially during this whole COVID-19 mess, and we work like crazy hoping customers will be happy they took a chance on us,” said Yalem Kiros Wiley who, along with her chef husband Ed, opened Prime about 12 years ago. “Sometimes our restaurant is more than half full of travelers from everywhere. I feel really blessed to be appreciated by our many friends here in Rocky Mount and by people from so many distant places.”
To ensure that food-fixated road warriors can continue to safely fuel up on Prime’s menu, the Wileys and their crew have set up a spacious outdoor tent that allows patrons to dine while distanced. In addition, those who have pre-ordered can easily drive up for a touch-free meal pick up.
The Yelp recognition confirms what local and national leaders have long known about The Prime Smokehouse.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, who has dined many times at The Prime Smokehouse, praised the restaurant “on being recognized as the No. 1 travel destination in the state of North Carolina and for making history in Rocky Mount!”
Gov. Roy Cooper, who was born in nearby Nashville, said he was happy to see his local hub get the honor.
“Congratulations to The Prime Smokehouse on being recognized by Yelp as the top dining destination for travelers in North Carolina,” he said. “Proud to see national recognition for a place close to home where I love to eat.”
Ed and Yalem first opened The Prime Smokehouse in Garner in 2008, two years after moving to North Carolina from the Washington, D.C., area. Two years later, they relocated the business to the capital city of Raleigh.
In 2013, city officials recruited Prime to Rocky Mount, where its acclaimed cuisine has been recognized by such national media outlets as Travel + Leisure, which ranked its macaroni and cheese among “America’s best,” and The Washington Post. In 2018, the state Commerce Department acknowledged The Prime Smokehouse and its owners by naming them North Carolina Main Street Champions “for their commitment to downtown improvements and strong communities.”
In addition to the wide array of recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation, Ed Wiley attributes much of the restaurant’s success to his wife’s touch. Yalem, who worked many years as a registered nurse before joining forces on the restaurant, ensured that the menu included many healthy and gluten-free choices.
“She also makes sure staff keeps the restaurant immaculately clean, and that there are fresh flowers and candles on the tables,” he said. “Customers always want to come back to a place that is welcoming and has good food.”
As the name suggests, Prime features meats from its famous smokehouse — spareribs, Carolina pulled pork, beef brisket, house-made sausage links, wings and chicken — but there are also hand-cut filets and steaks, grilled salmon and other fish, lobster tails, jumbo shrimp, homemade deep-dish lasagna, roast turkey, beautiful salads and unique twists on traditional southern favorites.
Wiley has named the gumbo after his wife (“Yalem’s Amazing Gumbo”); yams are cooked with oranges and fresh ginger; fresh collards are married with smoked turkey; and the mac is melded with five cheeses. The placard-sized menu, another traveler attraction, is rife with stories about Wiley’s famous jazz musician father (saxophonist Ed Wiley Jr.), who taught him to cook, and the origins of the food.
Now Run, Run And Tell That!