Way too much time had passed since my last culinary revelation. As a Michigan native, barbecue is not a natural staple for me. An aptitude for recognizing great barbecue is not one of my birthrights, and it wasn’t until I moved here in 1999 that I learned of such a skill existed. Don’t get me wrong — I love barbecue. It’s just that I’m not very wellversed. Not to blaspheme, but I’ve never been to Lexington or any of the local barbecue “institutions” (sorry, Stamey’s).
I walk into Bib’s Downtown with full intent to right that wrong. As I make my way to the counter to order, I notice some amplified chatter in the dining room. I’m so focused on making the right order that it only slightly registers. I finish and turn around to learn that I’ve walked into a taping of the Triad Sports Coverage radio show. I couldn’t be happier, really. I’m not sure if it’s the amusing dynamic or the fact that I honestly forgot that this sort of thing still happens, but the novelty value is high for me.
Plus, I’m a huge fan of sports, sports talk and listening to podcasts/ radio while eating. If there’s anything I learned when I fruitlessly tried to watch a new “Mad Men” episode while eating a steak last month, it’s that I can really get engrossed in my food. If I consume any media with my meals, it’s gotta be audio.
I sit down to wait for my food and soak it all in and can already tell this is my type of place. Everything about Bib’s, from the décor to the business model, is simple and unpretentious. Bare light bulbs hang from the ceiling, illuminating the large dining area. Two sides of the room are completely transparent, providing cool views of 5 th and Spring streets. Granted, it’d be kind of hard to screw up the ambience here. The building, a former Firestone tire store, just screams “Retro!” I’ll admit I swooned before I even entered the door.
It’s relaxing here — I don’t think it’s just my comfy chair or the sound of friendly conjecture about Cam Newton. I like that once you receive your food, you’re on your own. As much as I value full service, there’s a time and a place. Here, there’s no sense of being rushed or coddled. If you need a drink refill, you get it yourself. Bib’s is adaptable, too. If you just want some take-out, you can do that. If you want to grab a beer and watch a game on TV, you can do that too.
Before I know it, my food — a plate of pulled pork, French fries, slaw, hushpuppies and toast — has arrived. Savory and incredibly tender, the pork is worth the hype. It comes dressed with some pretty neutral sauce, and while it’s good, I definitely waited too long before experimenting with the spicy sauce at my table. That stuff is simply awesome. The seasoned, cut fries are akin to the ones at Five Guys, just a tad skinnier. In a similar fashion, they’re a bit inconsistent yet still enjoyable. Andy Rooney might’ve called this meal a French fry plate with a side of pork, but for less than eight bucks, I’m not complaining one bit.
Pulled pork may be uncommon up North, but its appeal has always made sense to me. The allure of hushpuppies and slaw, on the other hand, has eluded my Yankee sensibilities. Until now, that is.
The hushpuppies, fried to perfection and laced with spices and onion bits, might be the highlight of a meal full of them. I ordered the red slaw, with barbecue sauce and vinegar, instead of the white, mayonnaise-based variant that I’ve been accustomed to and by which I’ve been perennially underwhelmed. I’m glad I did, too. I’ve had it like this before, but not quite this fresh and flavorful. It’s taken me 14 years, but I finally get these two Southern staples. More accurately, I finally experienced them prepared properly.
Bib’s Downtown; 675 W 5 th St., Winston-Salem; 336.722.0007; bibsdowntown.com