While not the real meaning behind Memorial Day, cookouts and barbecue do come a close second and if there is one thing Richmond has no shortage of, it’s good barbecue joints. Coming in as many types and varieties as the grilled meats themselves, you can find barbecue vendors large and small across town, and of varying quality and reputation. Of course, few have as much as of a reputation as Buz and Neds Real Barbecue.
Having been a staple in Richmond for twenty years now, Buz and Neds has a reputation for serving some of, if not the best barbecue in town, and have been one of the town’s foodie meccas ever since being featured on an episode of Man vs. Food, alongside Black Sheep, a favorite sub joint of mine. In spite of their reputation, I’d never made it down to thier location in downtown Richmond, so with the recent opening of their second location at a former Fuddruckers, some friends and I felt it would be the perfect time to try the local legend for ourselves, and get our required beer and barbecue quota’s met for the Memorial Day Weekend.
I will say this much for Buzz and Neds, the one part they knocked the ball out of the park with was the look and feel of the restaurant’s atmosphere. Helped a little by the former Fuddruckers that occupied the building, the outside looks like an old western saloon, between the wide open dining hall and the mixture of classic rock and modern country playing on the stereo on the inside, it was just sawdust on the floor away from being the perfect picture of what a barbecue joint should look like. What they lack in sawdust, they make up in quirky designs around the restaurant, which include change glued to spots on the floor, a bathtub near the entrance for washing your hands, and what has to be the largest ceiling fan I’ve ever seen. Having watched the remodeling of the building for the last year or so, you can tell the design was a labor of love for those running the show. I only wish I could say the same for the service and food.
The service, much to my surprise, was below average. The girl on the register seemed far more concerned with talking to her co-cashier then with either taking my order or my money. They have servers wandering the floors, though for what I cannot tell, as not once did they speak to my group or any of the other groups seated near us, leaving us to get our own drinks and pick up our own food – not that I mind, but if you do that, why have servers? That was the one bright spot of the service, as the food was ready for me to pick up as soon as I’d gotten my drink and a table. To an extent, I will forgive a lot of this, as I expect much of the staff is new, but the folks in charge need to get them to step up their performance – a place this snazzy needs service to match.
No, the only thing I truly have to complain about was the food, which was surprisingly bland and middle-of-the-road for a place hailed as some of the cities best. I ordered the beef brisket with hush puppies and cinnamon apples on the side, and while none was bad, none of it was good either. The beef brisket, which is best served well flavored and juicy, was rather dry and lean, though vastly improved with their admittedly good sauce (tomato based if your curious). I could hardly taste either the cinnamon or the apples in the cinnamon apples, and it was served gold, and the hush puppies were some of the saddest scraps of cornmeal I have ever seen. The only truly bad part about the meal was the sticker price – if your going to charge twenty dollars for two small sandwiches and two small things of sides, it had best be some of the best barbecue I’ve ever put in my mouth, and from what I had, this wasn’t the best by a long shot. Worse still, I was ill half the night with what felt to be a mild case of food poisoning.
As a whole, I could hardly imagine being more disappointed with Buz and Neds. Given their local reputation for serving some of the cities best eats, the bland and barely serviceable offerings fell far short of anything being called Richmond’s best barbecue. Maybe it’s the new location or new workers, but given my experiences today, you’d be hard pressed to make me give Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue a second chance, and building aside, they have a long way to go before they live up to their reputation.