Monday, April 18, 2011

Buz and Ned's Real Barbeque: Richmond Bucket List #3*

Buz and Ned's is a must-go place in Richmond, a local place that came to national attention when Buz beat Bobby Flay in a Throwdown back in Season 2. (I thought this was a bigger deal until I found out that Flay loses more throwdowns than he wins. This makes sense given that he challenges chefs on their home turf on their signature dishes. A New Yorker, his record against southern chefs is particularly poor. ) The episode loops endlessly on a wall-mounted tv screen, beside which are autographed photos of Buz and Bobby and a sample "Flay Slayer" t-shirt. 

But all this hype is unnecessary. The food speaks for itself, as do the customers who line up to order at the counter even during off-hours. I mean this last bit literally. I had forgotten my reading glasses that day, and Chris was reading the menu to me as we stood in line at around 2pm on a Saturday afternoon. The guy in front of us, impatient with my indecisiveness about whether to choose pork, beef, or chicken barbeque, turned around to face us and said one word: "pork".   Okay, I was up for taking a local's advice. Then I further exasperated him by dithering over which pork ribs to get: spare ribs or baby back. "Baby back," he pronounced, now almost pitying my ignorance. Alrighty, then. Chris, a local herself, was not cowed (pigged?) so easily. She opted for the hand pulled bbq pork sandwich. Between us, we got fries, hush puppies, cole slaw, and cinnamon bourbon apples as sides.

Our order placed, we settled in at a booth to wait. "This is not fast-food," a sign at the counter had warned. Since it was a rainy day, we opted for the indoor seating, which is somewhere between a dive and a diner, a cozy place that we were happy to relax in for the fifteen minutes or so until our name was called.

My first surprise was that my ribs did not come with sauce, though it was readily provided upon request. In retrospect, I understand that Buz and Ned's prefers not to smother the flavor that they have worked so hard to get just right, which is what inevitably happens when you pour on generous amounts of red sauce. I learned that, for some, good barbecue is determined by how much the flavor of the meat is allowed to shine through the preparation. But at the time, I had recently come to the conclusion that I do not like vinegar-based North Carolina bbq, and I was hankering for the red stuff. Next time, I will give the ribs "desnuda" a chance, but this time, I thoroughly enjoyed them  "vestida".

Baby back ribs "desnuda" (without sauce)
Baby back ribs "vestida" (with sauce)
Hand pulled BBQ pork sandwich with sides

My second surprise was that the sides were pretty mediocre, though Chris disagreed. Our opinons split especially over the hush puppies. Not that it mattered very much; my half rack was keeping me thoroughly busy and satisfied -- the kind of satisfied where you don't talk much -- and even ignoring the side dishes, I could not finish the whole plate. 

My belly full and my face and hands in need of a wet-nap, I was surprised for a third time: no wet naps here. Buz and Ned's insists on a sustainable supply chain, and all of the products they use are compostable or biodegradable. Meaning, if a product cannot be broken down naturally by microrganisms, or if a managed process cannot produce compost from it in about 180 days, they will not carry it. So far, there are no wet-naps that meet these criteria. (Unlike the flatware that is made from potato flour, the cups that are made from corn and the to-go containers that are made from sugar cane, for example). So, if you need to wash up, you must go to the rest room and use (presumably biodegradable) soap and water. Quite civilized, I thought.

Is Buz and Ned's the best bbq in Richmond, as claimed?  Well, I enjoyed my meal, and I will happily go again, but I have a ways to go eating my way through all the contenders. Famous Dave's is definitely up there, though it is a chain. Alamo has been highly recommended. Bill's BBQ is ruled out (they do the North Carolina, vinegary, kind, but even so, the food there has a processed, inconsequential feel to it). Where else should I go?

*Note: As a result of "On Fumes Alone", Chris created a bucket list of Richmond restaurants for us to visit. This is the third of such visits. For a full list of visits, click here.

Photo credits: Chris Svoboda

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