I’ve been talking a bunch of smack about our local food scene lately, bemoaning the state of pizza, carping about the dearth of great independent restaurants, complaining that no one seems to understand what the word “bistro” means.
In doing this, I lost sight of one of our most revered culinary tradition: the chopped barbecue sandwich. It’s nothing fancy, just meat and bread and slaw, but when it’s done right, the results can be sublime.
That’s why I hit Little Richard’s Lexington BBQ the other day, the location on Country Club Road in Winston-Salem on the outskirts of town, which shares a lot with a car wash. It looks like it’s been sitting here for 50 years, though the menu states that it’s only been open since 1991.
It’s everything you would want in a down-home barbecue joint, with vintage cigarette ads in the walls, servers who call you “darlin’” and a logo of a pig with a pompadour, as fine an example of suicide food there is.
The menu leans towards the basics: hot dogs and burgers and wings, with a few fried goodies as sides. But I came for the barbecue, which comes sliced, chopped or coarse. A tray gets you slaw and either rolls or hush puppies.
I got the large with rolls, so I could make my own sandwich, and was within minutes presented with my food: two soft and shiny rolls, a tray holding more red cole slaw than anybody could eat and a huge plop of barbecue chopped so finely it looked like it might have already been chewed — I mean that in a good way.
I piled the ’cue as high as I dared on the first roll, slathered some house sauce made from ketchup, vinegar and spices on top and then hit it with a layer of slaw. With bread this soft, I was able to sort of seal the edges, so very little fell out onto the wax paper.
I’ve found there is very little swing in a barbecue sandwich — either it’s very good, or it totally sucks. Most of this hinges on the meat. It needs to be done right, slow-cooked until it’s falling apart, seasoned with natural smoke and an effective rub. True to form, Little Richard’s uses only pork shoulders cooked all day long in the house smoker. The result is an exceptionally tasty product, which does just fine without the accoutrements of slaw and sauce — but who’s gonna turn that down?
My large tray provided me with pork and slaw for two gigantic sandwiches, which I washed down with an excellent sweet tea (side note: if you’re eating at a barbecue joint with lousy sweet tea, you’re eating at the wrong barbecue joint) and enough would have been left over in the tray for a third if I hadn’t doused it with Texas Pete’s and forked it down.
I took out as much of the slaw as I could, but as I’ve said, nobody can eat that much slaw.
Instead of dessert, a slate of homemade cakes, I grabbed a chocolate B&G pie on the way out and ate it on the way home. As I chewed the delicious confection, with the sweet pork meat filling my soul, my faith was renewed in the local culinary tradition. Our barbecue may be simple and formulaic, but when it’s done right there’s nothing better.
Little Richard’s Lexington BBQ; 4885 Country Club Road, Winston-Salem; 336.760.3457; 5353Guntree Road, Winston-Salem; 336.769.4227 eatmopig.com