by Eric Ginsburg

SONY DSCAfter eight years in the South, Little Richard’s is what I’ve come to expect from a barbecue place. Smoke from the pit curls out of chimneys, wafting over the street; a neon light depicting a running pig announces the restaurant.

The venue may be situated on Country Club Road, but this is a working-class joint, where it isn’t out of place to dine adjacent to auto mechanics, spot a NASCAR shirt and notice the server wearing a camouflage apron, or even run into the Forsyth County sheriff.

The aesthetic choices — heavy on old Winston cigarette ads —  provide comforting familiarity, too. Like other roadside BBQ diners, practically everything except the meal is red, from the seat cushions to the food baskets. Every song that plays is a slow dance, drifting gently over packed tables and a waiting line before most of the lunch crowd clears out by 2 p.m.

Unlike the rest of the decorations, Little Richard’s expends no time on the frills of presentation. Wax paper suffices as a plate, a metal fork arrives in a plastic sleeve and most of a Styrofoam cup of water is actually crushed pebbles of ice, served with a default lemon. These specifics aren’t trivial — it is part of the package of North Carolina barbecue whether delivered through a drive-up window or at a table.

SONY DSCThere are other things on the menu at Little Richard’s: baked beans, hamburgers, wings, fish & chips — but the only real options are plate or sandwich.

Plate, in this case, actually means a deceptively deep disposable bowl, heaped with twin mounds of coleslaw and barbecue. The small “plate,” for almost $6, a preferable choice over the classic (and slightly cheaper) sandwich with less meat and slaw, is more than enough. And that’s even without considering the spherical, tasteful hush puppies that put hotspots like Cook Out to shame.

Some feel that barbecue is best served slathered in sauce, but Little Richard’s leaves that up to the individual, placing their own vinegary sauce on the table. It’s worth a few quick extra dashes, but let the chopped meat do the talking instead of drenching it with superfluity.

As a strong adherent to the school of thought that humans actually have a separate stomach for dessert, it just wouldn’t seem right to pass on the banana pudding. Arriving in a small Tupperware, suggesting it was premade and packaged like a present, the mass of yellows and white is not to be missed.

I made the mistake of trying to talk through dessert, but my friend closed her eyes briefly and said, “I need a moment,” devoting all of her faculties to the singular task of enjoyment.

Located far enough west from downtown that it makes sense to jump on the highway, a sign on the return trip from Little Richard’s for Winston-Salem indicates how far on the fringe it is, but the commute is worth it. Just be willing to loosen your belt or unbutton your pants when you’re done.

Little Richard’s, 4885 Country Club Road, Winston-Salem, 336.760.3457

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