After a wonderful second lunch (a light one) at Countryside, I got back on the 26 Essential NC Barbecue Places trail and set my sights on Richard’s in Salisbury.
I stayed at a motel in Mooresville, which you may know better as NASCAR, USA. Mooresville is the home of the Earnhardts and the Busches, among many others, and 60 NASCAR-related businesses. The town is doing very well. They also have an Indy team there now.
But NASCAR wasn’t the attraction for me. I wanted to stop by Davidson College, Liza’s alma mater. It’s a wonderful college with great academics, a clear sense of what they are doing, and an unbelievable level of adherence to its honor code: I remember seeing a $10 bill taped up to a wall, apparently near where someone dropped it. Liza loved it and we loved every visit, especially the times that the Royal Shakespeare Company was in residence on campus. The actors and company worked with the students (Liza was taking a Shakespeare course during their first visit) and put on two plays each year. Each of the plays was presented wonderfully — especially A Winter’s Tale, with the audience on stage and rain coming down on the actors in one scene — and brilliantly acted. I don’t regret one cent of the tuition and other payments, the completion of which I remembered fondly as I walked around the campus.
But on to barbecue. Richard’s is right on Main Street on the edge of downtown Salisbury.
Contrary to the photograph, the restaurant doesn’t actually list to one side. I guess I do. It’s a nice place, cozy but not crowded, with eight stools at a counter and perhaps a dozen tables. Richard’s has been at its current location since 1979, and their efforts have been spent on good food and service rather than frills. The walls are cinderblock, decorated with some pigs and some NASCAR stuff, all very appropriate to a barbecue place. It’s a pleasant, homey place.
Richard’s has a full menu, at which I glanced, and a modest salad bar, the presence which I was vaguely aware. I came for barbecue, though, and ordered a pork plate with green beans and greens. As you can see, I also ordered some black eye peas. A growing boy needs his vegetables. The plate came with five or six hush puppies. At least one seems to have disappeared before I took the picture. Camera shy, no doubt.
Let’s take a closer look at the plate.
I’d call that a medium-fine chop on both the pork and the greens. Very good.
Definitely eat at Richard’s. The pork is moist, tender, and flavorful, with a mild smoky flavor. Richard’s cooks exclusively with wood, and has been recognized by the Campaign for Real Barbecue. The wood-cooked pork is enhanced by a sauce that leans toward Eastern North Carolina. The sauce’s vinegar and pepper balance the rich pork flavor nicely. Richard’s sells very good barbecue.
The green beans are also good, but the real treat was that the greens were turnip greens, not the usual collards. I have nothing against collards: they are good, and exceptionally good for you. I eat them all the time when I’m in the South, but not when I can get turnip greens. Turnip greens taste much better than collards, and are just as good for you. They taste almost as good as mustard greens. (Kale is not in the ballpark.) And the black eye peas were sensational, nutty and with a good texture. You could make a meal of vegetables at Richard’s, and I’m sure that many people do.
The hush puppies also were good, although you really don’t need to eat all of them. The portions are generous, especially if you’ve had a breakfast and two lunches, but the food is so good you just have to eat it all. If you’ve only had one lunch, you might try one of their desserts. I didn’t, having eaten my fill and then some, but Richard’s looks and feels like a place that would have good desserts. You also might try their barbecued chicken, which I hear is top notch, and I saw some chicken and dumplings that made me want to try them.
The genius behind Richard’s is Richard Monroe. He’s been making barbecue for 51 years, and still personally chops the pork by hand. Richard, like everyone else there, customers included, is as friendly as can be, and helps give the place a nice, family atmosphere.
Doesn’t he look like a nice person? And note the legible text on the television behind him, below. That, my friends, is a Sign.* Richard’s is open from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Saturday. It’s close to I-85, and unless you just stopped for a big meal just up the road in Lexington, as well you might have, you have no excuse not to stop at Richard’s. Especially since you can’t get your vegetables at Honey Monk’s.
*If you’re reading this on an iPhone, the text on the television screen is, “you might get pounds of meat.” You might indeed, and take some home.