I left Montross and the excellent Northern Neck BBQ, and continued to my next meal on my Campaign for Real Barbecue trip to check and verify that barbecue places cook the meat as they should — exclusively with wood. I’d had a tip about Rudy’s Pizza and BBQ, just across the Norris Bridge over the Rappahannock in Topping, a moderately wide place in the road in Middlesex County.
Rudy’s has a narrow front in a small shopping center.
There’s no mention of barbecue on the front, but a vertical “BBQ” banner by the highway, flanked by two “PIZZA” banners, offers some hope. I’m not one to judge a book by its cover, but this was not shaping up as a normal barbecue.
As you approach, you see a sign on the door stating that masks are mandatory for all. I hadn’t seen that anywhere in a while, least of all in such a rural area, and this was well after the CDC opened up things pretty completely. But I was happy to comply. I entered a small space with two four-person booths. Both were covered with plastic tarps and stacks of stuff on the seats to prevent seating. The small counter was behind glass with only a small slit through which I could pass my credit card. This was the most COVID-protected space I’d seen. Neither of the two people working there looked especially vulnerable, but you never can tell.
Over the counter I saw a remarkably haphazard bill of fare.
I volunteered that I wanted some barbecue, and settled on a pork sandwich, sauce on the side, and paid. Making conversation, I said that I’d heard they cook with all wood or charcoal, no gas. The response: “Why do you want to know?” I explained about the Campaign for Real Barbecue and the many benefits that flow from certification, and again asked whether they cooked the meat exclusively with wood or coals. “We don’t share our secrets.”
Have you ever felt as if you were suspected of being connected with the Illuminati or the Trilateral Commission, or at least Jeffrey Epstein’s death? Perhaps it was the DC license tag on my car. Anyway, I received my sandwich through a secret passage and returned to my car.
The results were mixed. The pork had been very finely chopped, and was well on its way to drying out. There was some smoke flavor, but an odd smoke flavor, from a wood I couldn’t identify: not bad, but unusual. I’d asked for the North Carolina sauce, and it was a very good sauce — and a very spicy sauce. It was made with fresh peppers rather than, or perhaps in addition to, cayenne; and it had a lot of black pepper as well. My small container seems to have come from the bottom of the bottle, where all of the spices had settled, and what thick with pepper. As I say, it was very spicy, but in a good way. Your results may differ.
I drove around to the back of the shopping center, and there was no sign of a cooker or wood or vehicle tracks through the grass to deliver a cooker or wood. Oh, well. I tried. I drove off with sort of a Twilight Zone feeling, as if Rod Serling were narrating my departure.
When I got settled in my motel in Williamsburg I noticed that — in addition to the fact that I’d accidentally deleted my picture of the sandwich — the sign on the whiteboard in the corner by the menu: “For Sale $45,000.” It was a reminder that my life is truly and thoroughly blessed, free from the troubles that weigh down so many of my fellow creatures. Last year was a rough year all around, but my worst day of 2000 was better than the best day of so many people’s lives.
If you ever get near Topping, go by Rudy’s for a pizza, whether you want one or not. They could use the business, and the pizza gets good reviews.
And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box. Or bookmark us and check in from time to time. If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the city, state or country for good restaurants (in Europe, usually close to sites, like the Louvreor the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event). Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome. And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.