Pierce’s makes me want to cry.
We stopped on the way for a quick trip to Virginia Beach for some Operation Smile training for Nancy’s trip to Vietnam. (They have a new software system.) Pierce’s gets a lot of attention when barbecue places in Virginia are rated, so I was eager to try it. They cook over a pit. (The “Pitt” in the name reflects a sign painter with poor spelling skills or a fascination with the letter “T”; or maybe he was paid by the letter. The parking lot was full and the building is ugly — another good sign. My hopes were high.
Pierce’s is very popular, highly organized and, alas, inflexible. You order at the counter and your food appears promptly.
I ordered a salad with pork for Nancy, but was not allowed to go back and ask her what kind of dressing she wanted. I chose Ranch, accurately judging that Ranch would be the least offensive option. I ordered a pork plate with slaw and green beans, for myself. It came with hushpuppies. I asked for the meat with no sauce, but they refused: the sauce is mixed in with all their meat: a cloud on the horizon no bigger than man’s hand.
Such rigidity was surprising in a barbecue place, but perhaps their Prussian efficiency made for great barbecue. We approached the first bite with eager anticipation.
The beans were quite good, the hushpuppies were good, and the slaw was not bad.
The pork … alas, the pork. It came finely chopped, thoroughly mixed with lots and lots and lots of their sauce. It tasted of their sauce –- an undistinguished sauce at best -– and nothing else. There was no pork taste. It could have been any meat, for all I could tell. Or tofu. There was no smoke taste, just sauce. It tasted a little better when I mixed in some slaw and some hot sauce, but nothing could make it taste like pork.
I also had ordered a slice of coconut pie. It had a nice, custardy texture, but for some reason, they had added a whole lot of cinnamon to it. You could hardly taste the coconut. Perhaps they thought it was rice pudding. I sighed: another lousy barbecue place.
As we were leaving, we walked around to see where the meat is cooked. You couldn’t really see inside but the pit man came by pushing a wheelbarrow full of hickory and red and white oak, and he invited us in. There we saw the full scope of the tragedy — tragedy in the Classical Greek sense of true nobility brought low by a fatal flaw.
It’s quite an operation.
Each pit holds 60 pork butts, and they have more pits on which they cook the brisket and chicken: good separation of grill for the different meats. I have nothing but respect for the pit guy, who works in incredible heat all day to produce huge quantities of good-looking meat.
I was laughing to keep from crying. He was a great guy and clearly loved his work, but he seemed unaware that all of his labor would be most foully murdered every day by drowning it in all of that lousy barbecue sauce.
What a waste! What a tragedy, one worthy of Aeschylus! I can’t write any more.
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