The Original Ronnie’s, Henrico County, Virginia

There are things I don’t love about The Original Ronnie’s. Right now, they just have curbside service, so you can’t go inside and sit and eat and talk with the other customers. And, well, that’s about the only thing I don’t love about Ronnie’s.

The rest of Ronnie’s is great. You drive up and see a low white building — there are some big cookers off to the side — and your heart soars. Now that’s a barbecue place. The very sight makes you feel good. It’s like coming home.

I went to Ronnie’s as part of my Campaign for Real Barbecue duties to identify, confirm, and certify Virginia and DC Metro barbecue places that cook the meat exclusively with wood. I’d learned about Ronnie’s from Joshua “Fitz” Fitzwater of Southern Grit magazine, a Hampton Roads-based journal that you really ought to investigate in print, on line, and on Youtube. Fitz has been exploring and promoting traditional Virginia barbecue techniques, such as whole hog and those big chicken barbecues. He also celebrates edible native heirloom plants and other things tied to Virginia tradition. As I drove up, I saw the cars lined up — there actually are two lines, one for pre-orders and one for curbside — but I wanted to look around and confirm that they cook only with wood. I also wanted to talk to someone, so I parked where I shouldn’t. Ronnie came out and explained the system to me. I explained my system to him. We talked some and we are now fast friends. Here he is next to the ribs.

I dutifully got in line and ordered a rib box — four (actually 5) ribs with two sides (I chose collards and green beans) and cornbread. Where to eat? I drove over to the side parking lot and saw a picnic table occupied by a man and a woman, and I naturally joined them. They lived nearby and were thrilled by Ronnie’s. Ecstatic isn’t too strong a word. They just couldn’t wait until they got home to eat, so they’d stopped to just try just one. And the ribs were so good, better than any ribs around here, that, well, why not try another?

I opened the box and tried the ribs.

Despite their appearance in my characteristically poor photo, the ribs were very good — exceptional. Here’s a better shot of the ribs in progress:

The ribs were tender and very smoky, and tasted great. The collards also were good. There was an interesting flavor that I couldn’t quite pin down, but I liked them. The green beans (hidden under the cornbread in the photo above) were absolutely, positively wonderful. The best green beans I’ve eaten in years, peppery and cooked with lots of ham. You show me better green beans and I’ll eat a plateful on the spot. Maybe two plates full.

The cornbread was good of its kind. I’m going to start dividing cornbreads into categories: cooked with bacon, without bacon but no sugar, and with sugar. They really are different foods, sort of like whole hog and pork shoulder, and there’s no sense comparing them. I am a true believer in “with bacon,” but I’ve learned to appreciate other types of cornbread for what they are. This cornbread was “with sugar” and among “with sugar” cornbreads it was very good. I enjoyed it. Coming from a purist background, however, I just drank the pot likker rather than crumbling or dunking. Baby steps.

Whatever your views on cornbread, hop in your car and drive to the Original Ronnie’s. Get some ribs and definitely get some green beans. Or get the chicken, which Fitz says is really good. Or the pork. Dale Fine, the Roadfood maven, swears by the pork. Whatever your pleasure, go to The Original Ronnie’s. The people are as nice as can be, and the food is delicious.

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