RICHMOND, Va. — Sometimes the love for Buz and Ned’s is too much. The deification of the Richmond barbecue joint, now two restaurants strong after expanding to the West End, has been ongoing since it opened under a Boulevard billboard in 1992.
This peaked when Bobby Flay had a “throwdown” — do I owe Flay’s lawyers now? — with Buz on the Food Network. This episode is played, apparently, on repeat at the original location. It came on twice, back to back, when I ate there in early March. Buz won his throwdown (spare ribs), but I maintain that Flay tanked those things by always adding ancho chiles. The restaurant also sells”The Flay Slayer” T-shirts.
Buz, it’s time to let it go.
So I dismissed Buz and Ned’s. I sneered at their barbecue and championed Alamo, and even Extra Billy’s, which is underrated, even though that’s their fault. It has, like Buz and Ned’s, two locations, neither of which are that alluring, thanks to a dowdy atmosphere not dissimilar from a hospice. If it had any ambience, Extra Billy’s would do better.
I used to skip Buz and Ned’s, but not anymore.
I’ve been twice in March, the first time because it was close to an event I was covering in Richmond for the newspaper. Geography dictated the second visit too — I bought a new car, and the restaurant was just up the road from the dealership. So I took my dad on a date to reaffirm the first visit.
Buz and Ned’s is now in the rotation. It’s not an ace but it will give you innings every five days. I remember thinking the pulled pork was over-sauced. I also remembering thinking the portions were too small. It’s still more expensive than a lot of barbecue, but the flavor is there. The pork is deep-smoked and barky and served in sandwich form on a potato roll, which is unequivocally the best roll for barbecue sandwiches and cheeseburgers. The sauce is complementary in a modest way.
When I ate at Buz and Ned’s for the first time in probably five years in early March, I thought, “How long has this not sucked?”
The barbecue wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it’s still very good. So good that I went back that time to the West End location, which has more space than the little one-room heap on the Boulevard.
The West End-site decor is what you’d expect from a barbecue restaurant in 2014. There are cement floors, lots of wood, a giant fan, a modicum of pig art, and a big window. It’s appetizingly industrial and not unlike Dinosaur BBQ in Brooklyn. The atmosphere matches the look, and it’s enhanced by blues music. There was Son House, Muddy Waters, others, too.
I even liked the bathroom.
It’s possible that my expectations were so low that there was no way Buz and Ned’s could have disappointed. I was so prepared for such unmitigated suck that anything they served had to be better than what was in my head. But that’s not what happened. I liked the ‘cue for the ‘cue. So Buz and Ned’s, I’m sorry.