Sunday, September 24, 2006

BBQ 101

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My first trip to RO’s was supposed to be life-changing. It was supposed to be monumental. It was supposed to be blog-worthy like my jaunt to the Chuckwagon. And while I am taking the time to write about the experience, sadly there’s not much I can tell you.

Marty has talked about RO’s forever so when we decided to stop by and get some BBQ on the way home from synagogue yesterday I was thrilled.

“My parents used to come here on dates when they were teenagers,” he said. “This place has been around forever and they have the best BBQ.”

As we drove through Gastonia, I tried to imagine what we would encounter. I pictured some ramschackle building in downtown Gastonia with blue haired ladies running BBQ to long time patrons. I pictured big pots of simmering sauce and huge hunks of pork butt being shredded and minced for sandwiches and vats of home made slaw. I pictured plastic tables and holey vinyl benches and bad lighting – you know that wonderfully stale and decrepit atmosphere that is completely offset by the deliciousness of the food being served?

We pulled up and Marty asked me, “What do you want?”

“What do they have?”

“I don’t know. BBQ. I guess you could get fried chicken if you want.”

“I mean – can we go in and look at a menu?”

“That’s not part of the experience.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you don’t go inside. They take your order out here and bring it to you. You’re going to ruin the traditional RO’s experience and then you won’t be able to write about it on your blog.”

I looked around. We were in a regular parking lot. Nothing indicated that this was a drive-in like the Chuckwagon.

Marty pointed to a group of 3 teenage boys in green RO’s polos and aprons, hanging out by the back door. “They take your order,” he said. Given that they were hanging around so casually (one may have been smoking a cigarette), I had naturally assumed they were on a break.

“But where’s the menu?” Did people just come to RO’s and automatically know what to order? I look at the menu when we go to Don’s and everyone knows you go to Don’s for hot dogs and cheeseburgers (except me – I frequently get the grilled chicken plate or the French dip). “I mean – do they have BBQ plates or do I have to get a sandwich?”

“I don’t know. I always get 2 jumbos to go.”

That didn’t help me. “Fine,” Marty huffed and got out of the car.

RO’s was indeed in the type of small, plain jane building I’ve come to learn can house some of the South’s best cooking. A neon sign stuck out above the restaurant and a sign in one window said since 1946.

As we walked across the parking lot I tried to make Marty feel better about the decision to break with tradition. “You know sweetie – I can’t very well write about sitting in the car. I need to see what it looks like and get a feel for the atmosphere.”

Of course, we opened the front door to find a wall of people. I didn’t even see what the inside looked like. All I saw was 2 people’s backs and not much else. So I can’t tell you much about RO’s and if it all lived up to my fantasy version.

We turned around and went right back to the car and flagged one of the green-shirted boys to come take our order.

“What can I get you,” he asked?

Marty looked at me and I shrugged. “Just get me whatever you normally get.”

“Four jumbos,” Marty said to the boy.

“Shredded or sliced?”


“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” the young man said.

I looked at Marty. The order seemed anemic to me. Shouldn’t there have been a side order – some slaw or something.

“I guess we still have some slaw at home,” I muttered.

“You don’t need slaw,” he replied. “It’s on the sandwich.”

Oh. Maybe I would have known these things had I seen a menu.

“Did we really need 4 JUMBOs,” I inquired?

“I always get an extra one and stick it in the fridge and eat it cold the next day. That’s the thing about RO’s. You can eat them hot, room temperature or right out of the fridge and they still taste good.” More lessons learned.

Less than 5 minutes later a bag of food was brought to the car. Marty handed it to me while he paid. It was heavy.

As it turns out, RO’s does make excellent BBQ. The sandwich is a simple combination of shredded pork (perfectly cooked and not too dry), some slaw and the vinegar-based BBQ sauce North Carolina is famous for, all piled onto a soft, doughy, slightly sweet roll. My only issue was that the sandwich could have used a little more sauce.

Marty said that the ratio of meat to sauce was off – that whoever had made these had put too much meat, that normally it was a thinner layer of meat.

Still, the sandwich was delicious and I was glad I had one more in the fridge for the next day.

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And if that ain’t country, I’ll kiss your…